The conversation about inclusion and systemic racism has developed quite a bit in our community since the Annual Meeting of 2019, when we were rightly challenged about racist aggressions that we were perpetuating in our store. Although we had begun some work on our understanding, we clearly had much to learn, and I recommitted our organization to a more rigorous and focused attention on inclusion and equity.
My own journey has been rich and helpful, and I am continuing, as hopefully we all are, to deepen my understanding of all the points where change is necessary to impede the structural impact of racism in all aspects of our society. In the meantime, the growing sentiment nationally spurred on by George Floyd’s murder propelled us to be more active, and our Co-op has begun to integrate education about diversity, equity, and inclusion in many ways.
One of the highest priorities has been to educate ourselves. We had several workshops and initiatives in 2019 and 2020, but were continuing to seek the best partner for our work internally. We have now partnered with Tabitha Moore, who, as a Vermonter and a well-respected trainer and educator, has laid out a path with us to strengthen our commitment to equity and inclusion in a sustainable way. We all recognize that this work will continue for years, and laying a solid foundation is most important to ensure a lasting and effective change. So we have begun with a four-part management training, to be followed later this summer by an all-staff organizational assessment to begin coaching and training sessions in a variety of safe settings through the beginning of 2022.
This work cannot be done in isolation, especially in an organization that is so very much tied up with the community as our own Co-op! So, we are thinking about ways to incorporate listening sessions with our community, comprising both current and future shareholders, to ensure that our Co-op has a better measure of the needs of those community members directly. Our Board of Directors’ Community Engagement Committee, together with our trainer Tabitha and our core management team, is incorporating these ideas in plans to roll out listening sessions in the fall.
After this work, we hope to develop a more comprehensive Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion action plan to ensure continued progress well beyond 2022. The team involved in that process will include community members, as well as staff and board members, for more thorough shepherding.
We are also working to diversify our product selection, reaching out and following up with suppliers that might increase diverse representation on our shelves. Our national cooperative, NCG, has defined diverse supplier as “a business that is at least 51% owned and operated by an individual or group that is part of a systemically underrepresented or underserved group, including businesses that are women-owned, BIPOC-owned, LGBTQIA+-owned, veteran/service-disabled veteran-owned, or owned by persons with disabilities.” This is a preliminary working definition, but we are following it closely, and working on a regional level as we uncover new suppliers to bring in and support.
We have reached out to community partners in multiple ways to ensure that we are supporting initiatives around the county to improve the situation of BIPOC families. The amazing people over at SuSu CommUNITY Farm have been very helpful and unflaggingly active in moving the needle within our own community. The Co-op is proud to support them in several ways (including via Commitment to Community work hours), and we are hoping to figure out a few more over time.
And finally, we are continuing to work towards a more diverse workforce, even as we struggle to fully staff our store. We ask staff to self-identify, and we are glad to see that the number of non-white members has nearly doubled in the past two years, but 10% is still a small percentage. We will continue to explore our recruiting methods, and actively seek improvement.
If you are part of the dominant culture in our community, what are you doing to further your support of change? Are you talking with your neighbors and friends about your learnings? What movie, podcast, or book has moved you most recently?
And what is your next step?
See you in the aisles!
By Sabine Rhyne, General Manager