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New Diversity & Inclusion role improves work culture and addresses inequities

Maserati Swanagan joined Places for People in August as the organization’s first Diversity and Inclusion Officer. Places for People created this position as a commitment to its mission and values: to improve the physical and behavioral health of the individuals, families, and communities we serve, as well as those who support the provision of these services.

In addition to her role at Places for People, Maserati is working to improve diversity and inclusion practices statewide as a member of the Culture, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee for the Missouri Coalition for Community Behavioral Healthcare.

Below, we would like to introduce you to Maserati and offer a closer look at the work she is performing to improve practices at Places for People. As our nation continues to engage in conversations about racial justice, we hope to amplify our messaging about how Maserati empowers our staff and persons served to be their authentic selves and why we believe this is so important.

What is a Diversity and Inclusion Officer? What are the duties of this role?
My role is tasked with leading and upholding diversity and inclusion within our organization. I am here to make sure that if someone has an issue that stems from lack of inclusiveness, they have a person they can talk to directly. When these issues arise, I make sure they are handled in a way that aligns with best practices! This approach also utilizes the tools of being trauma informed.

Day to day, my duties include heading the Cultural Competency Committee and Race Equity Subcommittee, as well as taking the lead on developing the organization’s Diversity and Inclusion Policy and Race Equity Statement. I also help with several other duties, like credentialing and timecard assistance, as it relates to the human resources aspect of my position.

How are you carving out your role as the first Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Places for People? Do you have any goals for the position?
I realize I have very big job and I need to do things right. I am utilizing my experience working on diversity and inclusion initiatives, as well as current best practices to inform the steps I am taking.

My goal for this position is to help create a work environment where everyone feels comfortable showing up as their authentic self. I would also like to ensure the staff reflects the demographics of our surroundings, as well as the people we serve.

My goal for this position is to help create a work environment where everyone feels comfortable showing up as their authentic self.

What inspired you to follow this direction for your career?
There were several events that nudged me in this direction. I hold a Master’s degree in Sociology, specifically focusing on race, gender, and class inequities. At my previous places for employment, I was the Chair of their Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, which gave me a look at how diversity and inclusion functions on an organizational level.

Another thing that sent me down this road was teaching Anti-Violence Education and Diversity and Inclusion to Pre-K through 12th graders in the eastern Missouri region. I learned valuable lessons from these experiences, which has given me the confidence to take this path and help create an inclusive environment for all humans.

How can the focus on inclusion in our workplace help the individuals and families we serve?
I believe it will give our staff the tools to competently navigate differing cultures of the people we serve. Overall, it will create a place where people feel and know their individualism is respected and valued.

What are you most proud of when you think about Places for People’s diversity and inclusion?
I am proud management took the initiative to hire me! With so many organizations moving toward diversity and inclusion, I think it is important to realize not everyone is on board or ready to recognize their organization has a problem.

What are some opportunities for Places for People to be more inclusive?
I think we have several opportunities to grow. One of the key areas where we would like to see change is ensuring our leadership is more diverse. It is important to our diversity and inclusion values, as well as morale, for staff to see folks in management who look like them.

What tips or techniques do you suggest for organizations who are looking to improve diversity and inclusion in the workplace?
Surround yourself with people who are different from you. If you are looking around your social and work circle and realize everyone looks and talks like you, ask yourself why. Challenge yourself to get to know someone who has a different life experience than you. It does not necessarily have to be on the lines of race — talk to someone with a different religion, first language, or ability status.

Most people associate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with causes surrounding racial justice. What does his legacy mean to you?
I think Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a leader of his time. He was and still is a symbol of hope for many people, not just Black people. He was complex like any human, but I truly think he did the best with what he had given the time in which he lived. He is also a reminder that respectability politics do not work. Someone will always have an issue with what you do and say, which is why it is so important to me that people be able to show up as their authentic self. There is nothing more demoralizing and discouraging than changing yourself to fit in and still not being valued for what you bring to the table.

I also really want people to think about where we were in the time of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and where we are today. How can we as individuals help to advance the cause of race equity? What can we do to support one another when the burden of advocating for human rights becomes too heavy? How can we continue the work without burning out?

Surround yourself with people who are different from you. If you are looking around your social and work circle and realize everyone looks and talks like you, ask yourself why.