littleDecorGrand Challenges of Workplace Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Actions for a Better Today

In 2016, the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare initiated The Grand Challenges of Social Work, and within ten-years, it hopes to address and correct perpetual societal disenfranchising issues within three sectors: individual and family well-being, support paths to a stronger social fabric and just society.  Within these three overarching critical issues, they identified twelve social challenges to:

  1. Ensure healthy development for all youth
  2. Close the health gap
  3. Stop Family Violence
  4. Advance long and productive lives
  5. Eradicate social isolation
  6. End homelessness
  7. Create social responses to a changing environment
  8. Harness technology for social good
  9. Promote smart decarceration
  10. Build financial capability for all
  11. Reduce extreme economic inequality
  12. Achieve equal opportunity and justice

It is their collective vision to provoke thought and action on these critical issues affecting all of our lives and specifically those whose lives have historically been excluded and today continue to be over-represented in poverty, well-being and mental health disparities and homelessness to name a few.  In addition to defining what each of these challenges means and how they operate in our society, policy recommendations have been published for each of the challenges through multi-academic institutions collaboration and are accessible at It has been over three years since the Grand Challenges initiative was launched and there is still a vast unawareness of the initiative within and outside social work services.

It is my profound belief that the twelve grand challenges impact organizational cultures and their workforce on some level if not more. Following are issues I believe impact all levels of the organizational culture:

Getting On The Same Page and Reading of History.

For me, these social challenges are embedded in the preamble of our Constitution. I believe that the twelve challenges are not stand alone issues but are deeply connected , and that they are symbiotic systemic problems that take us back to the founding of this nation and the policies and laws that were formed to prescribe meaning and value to each of our lives, then and now.  For all of American history, some of us had more value, and therefore more rights and privileges than others.  We cannot allow history to perpetuate and continue as such.

The two issues that have continued to be prevalent in our society despite the Civil Rights Acts and Affirmative Action mandated efforts are racial discrimination and income inequality.   Civil Rights Era activist, philosopher, and writer, James Baldwin,  wrote prolific and spoke out publicly about the notions that America was a house built on an ideology rooted in demonizing others.  Baldwin was a truth-teller and an image evoker, and he saw America as a grand house built on a foundation cemented in ideologies rooted in slavery and fueled by an unchecked capitalist greed. A home built mostly with the help of people who did not fit the mold of "American" and relegated to the position of otherness, of not belonging, of strangers in their own home.

A few years back when I first heard the campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” of then-Presidential candidate Donald Trump I couldn’t help but recall images of water fountains with “Whites Only” signs. While those types of signs have been long gone the stigma of otherness has lingered in peoples minds and perhaps hearts.  It seems that lately, I read about the many ways the President is acting on his campaign promises of immediate deportation of undocumented immigrants, building a wall, and the exclusion of Muslin refugees.  The recent DACA repeal and the numerous travel restrictions targeting Muslims along with attempts to regressing Obama era policies like the Healthcare Act, and marriage equality, and transgender service in the military are demoralizing.  As a former-child-undocumented Guatemalan immigrant and now U.S. Citizen, seeing ‘Keep America Great’ I worry about how far back can one individual, whose election and administration is celebrated by half the nation can rescind these protective laws?

While I may feel anxious about our political and social climate, I do not lose hope because I also read or hear of those individuals who are taking public stands, or take a knee, to denounce those deeply seeded xenophobic and nativist sentiments rooted in a frustrated White Supremacist ideology.  Yes, we will continue to fight and push back and frustrate all those whose belief system drives to create a supreme majority-ruling race.  As Americans, we cannot let that happen ever again.  It is one of the reason’s I was encouraged to reach out to my congressional district representative to find out what they have done or are doing to denounce divisive policies publicly and offer solutions.  Sadly, I live in a state where terms like diversity, equity, and inclusion are trigger words for my representatives. So, while my personal influence how I will vote next election, I profoundly believe that racial divide and disparities are a bipartisan problem that runs deep in all aspects of our society.


What Can Be Done to Reduce Extreme Economic Inequality & Achieve Equal Opportunity and Justice?

In a research study published in 2015 by JJ Rözer and Beate Volver in the Social Science and Medicine Journal, they found that income inequality is highly linked to poor mental health and well-being.  While their study focused on adolescents, they argued that the younger an individual experiences poverty the consequences on health and mental health may follow them through their lifetime. The study found three common threads in income inequality and poor health outcomes over a lifetime: relationships to others, segregated neighborhoods, and the third, which they called “neo-material pathways,” focused on policies measures. This last one was the result of low investment in public services that promote well-being such as healthcare, education, and housing.

Another study conducted by Beverly Araújo and Luisas Borrel and published in the Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Science sought to understand the link between discrimination, mental health, and life chances among Latinos.  The evidence they found was overwhelming and indicative of the negative impact that discrimination has on the income levels, educational attainment and mental health outcomes. What was more compelling was that while Latinos as a whole did not experience discrimination at African-American levels, however, levels rose to African American levels when intersects such as immigrant status, level of accent, darker shade of skin, and gender were accounted.

These types of research studies are critical in informing us in ways we individually, as engaged citizens, and collectively as policymakers can impact change. Considering that the education condition of Latinos has improved according to the Factbook: The Condition of Latinos in Education published in 2015 by ¡Excelencia! in Education, an advocacy group, focused on Latino education attainment, Latinos held less than 2% of CEO positions in Fortune 500 Companies in 2015 according to the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility, an organization that seeks to advance the inclusion of Hispanics in Corporate America at a level equal to our economic contributions (¡Andale! Can I get an amen!?!). Before I get too excited as a Latina and woman of color my chances of a decent wage or a possible leadership position get even lower.  According to Catalyst, currently, Latinas hold less than 1.2% of Executive/Senior-Level Officials and Manager positions in S&P 500 Companies.

Ensuring economic equity and well being through enforcement of anti-discriminatory policies for all workers starts at a local and organizational level.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) website has a comprehensive employment discrimination class action and other employment-related data archive. According to “Workplace discrimination and the wellbeing of minority women: Overview, Prospects, and Implications” a study done by Gwendolyn Combs and Ivana Milosevic found that class action “charges from 2007 to 2008 rose to a record high of 95,402 (15 % increase). Charges reached 99,947 in 2011 with 99,412 charges in 2012. Race and gender charges comprise 33.7 % and 30.5 % respectively of all charges in 2012.”  Class action charges dropped in 2013, 2014 and 2015. However, they rose back significantly in 2016, and today have stayed in pre 2008 levels. These statistics show that workplace discrimination is pervasive, also important to note and further research is needed to substantiate, that during the low incident reporting years the EEOC had launched E-RACE (Eradicating Racism And Colorism from Employment), a five-year initiative, which sought to improve data collection and analysis and action, improve quality control, develop strategic modules to address emerging issues of discrimination, enhance the visibility of EEOC E-RACE efforts and engage and promote voluntary compliance of E-RACE.

In the fall of 2017, The Los Angeles Black Worker Center and the National Employment Law Project proposed that local elected officials enact alternative ways to identify and redress Civil Rights violations.  One way that local governments can assist, address, reduce and eliminate workplace discrimination is by offering training such as implicit bias that facilitates awareness of how systemic issues impact and inform us all as well as offer other outreach initiatives to employers.  They can also create coalitions with their local Congressional Budget Office (CBO) as well as with community-based organizations, which increases the likelihood of better access to workers in diverse industries and communities, and impact proactive and outreach and education.

What impact will have the most significance? Given the historical disenfranchisement and exclusion of ethnic and minority communities and the strides we have made toward inclusion in society, we live in a time where the threat to our well-being and future is real and not imagined.  The first significant impact we can make is to take a public stand and denounce the divisive tactics and reach across the aisle and offer solutions that will work toward a more equitable society.

How policies have informed and empowered me?  Coming of age as a Guatemalan child and undocumented immigrant in Los Angeles indeed exposed me to many forms of oppression, violence, and discrimination both at home, school, my community, and later at places of work.  While I did not have a language for those experiences then, I was able to overcome many obstacles.  I found ways to better my life, and later the lives of my children by trial and error but mostly through access and support of programs like free night school classes that helped me get my G.E.D. (General Education Diploma).  Programs like California AB540 encouraged me to get my A.A. (Associates Degree) and enrolled at Santa Monica College in 2001.  In 2007, I got accepted at the University of Southern California (USC), and I was able to continue my dream of a higher education through the tuition assistance that I received through my mother’s benefits as a USC permanent food-service worker.  I lost that benefit because of a change in policy in 2009 and had to put my academic studies on hold for several years.  In 2015, I received a full scholarship to complete my undergraduate degree. In May 2019, I graduated with a Master in Social Work, with the assistance of FAFSA and a few scholarships.

Currently, I am a first-year doctoral student at Adler University’s Industrial and Organizational Psychology Ph.D. program.  I received a fifty percent tuition discount as an AmeriCorps alumnus, and received a small Adler scholarship as well as able to qualify for a small FAFSA subsided loan.  Without the initiatives and policies in place both in the public and private sectors that afforded me these opportunities, it would have been almost impossible for me to pursue my academic and professional goals.

As a diversity, equity and inclusion advocate, strategist and consultant while pursuing my Ph.D. it is my hope to assist organizations take steps toward a more equitable, diverse and inclusive workforce.

For further consideration toward a better today:

  • Do any of the 12 Grand Challenges of Social Work impact your organization?
  • If not, what would the Grand Challenges of your organization look like?
  • If you list one or ten or more Grand Challenges who they impact the most?
  • Is your organization working or ready to work on improving the lives of those impacted by your organization’s Grand Challenges? How? And by when?

Reach out directly if I can assist your organization in answering one or all questions.