OR&R Recognizes Zero Discrimination Day by Spreading Culture of Diversity and Inclusion

Posted Thu, 03/01/2018 - 13:05
By Kristen Faiferlick, Office of Response and Restoration
A banner photo that reads "Office of Response and Restoration Committee on Diversity & Inclusion" with a variety of fish in the background.

For millions of people, discrimination is a looming obstacle in their communities, their workplaces, and even their personal lives. It holds them back from their full potential and puts up roadblocks where there should be bridges. We at the Office of Response and Restoration think discrimination on any level is unacceptable, and that’s why we are taking steps to combat discrimination, ensure that our office is diverse and inclusive, and that we offer everyone an equal opportunity. On International Zero Discrimination Day, we share a bit about what our office is doing today and every day to fight discrimination.

It’s not easy being a minority. Discrimination based on race, sex, gender identity, religion, nationality, and more is still being seen in the form of hostile work environments. OR&R recognizes these struggles, and has developed a Diversity and Inclusion Committee to tackle some of these challenges and raise awareness to support continued efforts for equality.

OR&R created the Diversity and Inclusion Committee to support its commitment to building a diverse workforce within a safe and positive working environment, moving beyond simple tolerance to recognizing, embracing, and celebrating all aspects of our differences, thereby improving the workplace for all.

A group of people posing for a photo.
OR&R Diversity and Inclusion Committee members, (from left) Kristin Fonte, Kristen Faiferlick, Sherry Lippiatt, Brian Julius, Sarah Latshaw, Jessica Pereira, LaTonya Burgess, Rosa Gonzalez, Rachel Fox, and Vicki Loe, at the bi-annual planning meeting in Silver Spring. (Image credit: NOAA).

Composed of members from every branch of OR&R — located from coast to coast, with diverse backgrounds and roles in our organization — the committee hosts an event each month as a platform for discussing a different facet of diversity and inclusion. Some of these events are tied to recent news stories, while other events focus on specific workforce topics, such as office bullying or better understanding and integrating regional field staff perspectives into our work. OR&R also takes part in larger awareness events such as Black History Month (also known as African American History Month), and Women’s History Month.

“I like the fact that the [event] topics have been varied and the Diversity and Inclusion Committee has tried to keep these events fresh,” said one attendee. “I think there have been engaging conversations and opportunities to learn during these sessions.” 

The committee also provides regular updates on news and events related to diversity and inclusion, coordinates with other offices on similar initiatives, and works with management to ensure our commitment to diversity and inclusion is evident throughout every level of our organization. All of these initiatives are tied to a two-year action plan, which keeps the committee on schedule to achieving its goals.

“I’m really grateful to work for an office that supports diversity and inclusion initiatives and doesn’t shy away from discussing important, and sometimes controversial topics. The committee strives to encourage staff to better understand and respect perspectives that are different than our own, and work toward improving the workplace for all,”  member Sarah Latshaw said, reflecting on her experience serving on the committee. “Being part of the committee has broadened my connection with OR&R staff (especially outside of my division), helped me feel closer to colleagues despite being remotely based, and made me a happier employee.”

OR&R has responded positively to the committee’s work, and some employees have also offered constructive criticism that they hope will make the committee’s work stronger. The feedback is collected and analyzed during the committee's biannual retreat.

An image depicting a circle of hands of different colors creating a globe-like shape.
(Image credit: Creative Commons).

OR&R’s commitment to an open and inclusive workplace is also reflected in the missions of its parent organizations. OR&R’s line office, the National Ocean Service, created the Equal Employment Opportunity, Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council (NEDAC) to help streamline communication between the various office committees and to advise leadership on diversity and inclusion topics. Further up the chain, the NOAA Civil Rights Office helps develop, direct, and coordinate agency programs, policies, and activities to ensure the accomplishment of EEO and civil rights responsibilities. These and many other bodies work together to ensure that we can all work towards our shared goals without fear of discrimination or harassment.

As part of NOAA's continued efforts to foster a diverse work environment that is both open and safe, NOAA recently signed a new Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Prevention and Response Policy that offers guidance for sexual assault and sexual harassment prevention and response, as well as a process to encourage employees to come forward when such incidents occur.

To find out more about NOAA’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, check out our strategic diversity and inclusion plans, or learn more about the broader fight to eliminate discrimination worldwide through Zero Discrimination Day.