Reflecting on the Last Year and Looking to the Future: WashU IT’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force

On May 25, 2020, the death of George Floyd shook the nation. The tremors could be felt across the globe, and down to the smallest community, and WashU IT was no exception. While George Floyd certainly was not the first or last example of racial disparity and injustice in the U.S., his death resonated profoundly with Director of Organizational Change Management Regina Sykes, Project Manager Renee Lowry, and Interim Executive Director of WashU IT Russell Sharp. It was that common recognition of injustice that sparked the three to form WashU IT’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Taskforce.

“The revelation of George Floyd was what initiated the task force,” said Russell Sharp, Interim Executive Director of WashU IT. “but there were other contributing factors. For example, I was surprised at the lack of any diversity or affinity groups within the IT community; there were certainly noticeable gaps in the diversity movements I’d seen within the University. From my perspective, when these things happen, we should do something, and we can do something.”

After its initial formation, Sharp, Sykes, and Lowry began to consider what the mission of the task force should be. Beyond Sharp’s observation of a lack of affinity groups, Sykes noticed the abundance of workers who felt they could not discuss the impact of George Floyd’s death on them, leading to the conclusion that many did not feel safe in having discussions surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion. Lowry pointed out distinct and continuing equity gaps between men and women in IT as well, noting how men dominated the organization, particularly in leadership positions. It was clear that there was a long road ahead, but Sharp, Sykes, and Lowry were steadfast and hopeful as it meant WashU IT had room to improve and the ability to change for the better.

“We wanted to really look at our own organization,” commented Regina Sykes, Director of Organizational Change Management. “We wanted to ask ourselves. Are we really diverse? Are we inclusive? Do we practice having equity? Can we have these discussions openly? And if we can’t, what else can we do within our organization to make sure we’re not just doing the right thing, but also coming up with our own specific goals and changes to make DEI an integral part of our organization’s daily functioning.”

The task force additionally, connected with the WashU Academy for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to both seek support and direction on how to most efficiently move forward, as well as ensuring their goals and mission were aligned with that of the Academy. It was critical to the task force that there be a shared understanding of what DEI truly meant, and what the best practices were for creating a cultural change within the work force that supports DEI principles. From there, the task force only grew and became stronger, enriched with the voices and strengths of employees from all levels of the organization. This variety of perspectives gave the task force a powerful boost forward, propelling them towards new goals, and making it possible to accomplish even more. Since then, the task force has developed a webpage, created a DEI newsletter, conducted several interviews with WashU IT staff on how they integrate DEI principles into their daily work lives, and formed a hub for DEI-related events and training.

Although the task force has accomplished much in its short time, they are already looking towards the future, and have developed a timeline of measurable short, mid, and long-term goals ranging from standardizing all documentation to use gender-inclusive language to reforming the hiring practices at WashU IT to be more equitable. Beyond these goals, however, the task force also hopes to see its numbers grow, with more people across IT engaged and invested in creating a more equitable and inclusive environment.

Regarding the group’s future, Project Manager Renee Lowry, had this to say: “I want to see us actively creating a culture that is deeply invested in DEI, having everyone absorb and consume it as just an average, everyday experience that they welcome instead of seeing it as a controversial topic. I know we can and will make a difference for countless people.”