Closed Circuit

By Eric Barendsen

Nobody booked a last-minute flight. No boxes of coffee or communal donuts rewarded the early risers. Yet WAPA’s Inclusion and Diversity Committee still held one of its most productive meetings of the year.

On March 10-11, the committee met via WebEx for its second virtual face-to-face since the COVID-19 pandemic began. One year had passed since the committee last met in-person, the same week in March 2020 that WAPA began transitioning to maximum telework.

IDC meetings typically begin with an “inclusion and diversity moment,” a practice that the committee encourages supervisors to incorporate into their staff meetings. A participant shares a thought or experience that reveals something about them and their view of inclusion and diversity.

Throughout the March meeting, attendees contributed many inclusion and diversity moments, ranging from how to intentionally use inclusive language as an endeavor to a story about a man who ran marathons to bring joy to his son who has a disability.

This was former Administrator and CEO Mark A. Gabriel’s final IDC meeting. He acknowledged how far WAPA’s culture has moved in embracing the principles of inclusion and diversity and how it makes WAPA a stronger organization.

The IDC’s senior sponsors, Interim Administrator and CEO Tracey LeBeau and Acting Senior Vice President and Colorado River Storage Project Manager Rodney Bailey, helped set the tone by disclosing aspects of themselves.

LeBeau shared some of her personal background as a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of South Dakota and discussed how the building of federal dams affected her Tribe. She also suggested ways to advance the culture of inclusion and diversity by leveraging the committee.

“We can build excitement about being a participant on this team and rotate folks though it,” LeBeau said. “As you participate hands on, you always gain more excitement and respect. Getting more people involved on this committee will go a long way toward continuing and building on our momentum.”

Bailey explained that, for him, inclusion and diversity means treating others as we treat ourselves.

“Many of you know I was raised in a very religious environment,” he said. “From the Bible, the two great commands are ‘Love God’ and ‘Love our neighbor as ourselves.’ I would like that to be achieved at WAPA.”

The committee welcomed guest speaker Shalanda Baker, the Department of Energy’s deputy director for energy justice. Her new office will implement President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative—a plan to deliver 40% of the overall benefits of climate investments to disadvantaged communities and inform equitable research, development and deployment within the DOE.

“It’s not that the president has made a significant commitment to communities of color; he’s made a significant commitment to the rest of us, to everybody,” Baker said of the initiative. “Equity is not zero sum. We all benefit.”

Baker will look for ways that WAPA and other offices across the DOE can focus their resources to support disadvantaged communities, such as through procurement of equipment and services from small businesses.

Acting Chief Strategy Officer Stacey Decker then provided an update on WAPA’s culture through the lenses of organizational development and shared language, such as WAPA’s core values and updated mission and vision statements. Driving mass adoption of inclusion and diversity requires us to put structures and systems in place which reinforce the culture we want to build, she said.

“It’s creating that vision and helping people see it for themselves,” said Decker. “And the other piece is perseverance despite the obstacles that come up.”

Financial Operations Supervisor Neilia Abban, who is on detail as WAPA’s equity coordinator, spoke about working directly with the Senior Leadership Team to develop a plan to advance WAPA’s commitment to racial and social equity.

During her detail, she is also partnering with Human Resources and the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity in identifying barriers to recruitment, retention and advancement, as well as examining policies and practices that negatively impact inclusion, diversity and equity at WAPA.

“In mapping out a three-year action plan, we are looking at a wide range of recommendations to move the culture forward, including holding conversations about race and conducting a longer-term analysis based on WAPA-wide metrics,” she said. “There are many more ways we can improve; it’s exciting to be doing this critical work at a time when real change is possible.”

The March meeting capped off a year of IDC activities advanced through remote work environments, including engagement with the SLT to develop action items inspired by last summer’s protests around racial justice. The IDC’s Racial Equity subgroup advised and provided recommendations to the SLT as it developed WAPA’s Statement on Racial and Social Justice, which was published in August 2020.

Since then, the IDC has primarily focused on updating its strategic plan to set the course for future work.

“It was time to clarify our direction and re-examine the IDC’s strategy from the ground up,” said Human Performance Program Manager and IDC Co-chair Krystall Valencia. “Stepping back to deliberate on the next phase of top-priority projects ensures we’re all aligned and moving in the same direction.”

Recent monthly calls and the virtual face-to-face meetings in December 2020 and March 2021 featured deep dives into the IDC’s strategy, led by Continuous Process Improvement Program Manager and IDC Co-chair Laura Dawson.

“By validating the group’s shared goals, identifying objectives and prioritizing specific projects within each objective, our committee can use its limited resources more effectively,” she said. “The committee has so many ideas for action that can be better achieved with a purposeful and focused strategy.”

Note: Barendsen is a public affairs specialist.​

Screenshot of IDC face to face meeting

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the IDC has been advancing its efforts through virtual meetings, engagement with leadership and the initiative of dedicated WAPA staff.

Last modified on March 5th, 2024