How SWHPN Is Addressing Diversity

Last month, more than 125 SWHPN members, social work professionals, and students joined together for our virtual June Summit, “Cultural Competency in Hospice and Palliative Care.” Held on Juneteenth and during Pride month, we wanted to use the day as an opportunity to go beyond didactic presentations to showcase meaningful, actionable steps social workers could take to address racism, explicit and implicit bias, intersectionality, and more. During the post-Summit “networking happy hour,” attendees stayed online for an extra hour and a half to continue the discussion. It’s clear there is a hunger for more information about how to dismantle inequitable systems that harm Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color (BIPOC), whether they are patients, families, or social workers.

Post-Summit, what is SWHPN doing to address the changes that are needed?

Before we make any moves to impact the hospice and palliative healthcare fields, we’re working internally to improve a few things. At the staff level, I’m the organization’s first Executive Director, and while I’ve held this position for five months, I’ve been involved with the organization behind the scenes for seven years. Besides me, there’s Natalie Kovacic as the Director of Education and Outreach (yep, there are only two of us that work full-time at SWHPN). Together, we implement and carry out all of the organization’s educational programming, webinars, and membership duties, in addition to the “usual” non-profit administrative, financial, website, database, and other IT duties.

But though we be small, we’re mightily attempting to use our work to make changes, such as making sure that we intentionally seek a diverse (read: not just white) pool of contractors and consultants when we have additional projects for the organization, and suggesting clinicians that represent different intersections of race, ethnicity, gender, and so on when we are invited to add speakers to events. We are putting together a list of resources addressing race and equity specific to social work and hospice and palliative care, which will be more deeply expanded upon soon. We are finding ways to improve the experiences of non-white members, whether through SIGs, improved mentoring experiences that include culturally congruent mentors, and more.

At the Board level, we've made the decisions to:

  • Forego having a “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity” sub-committee, instead choosing to make sure each of the existing committees address issues of race, ethnicity, and intersectionality throughout their work.
    • For the Conference Committee, that means looking at the speakers and topics for our annual event and working to ensure there are no more all-white panels for plenaries, for example.
    • For our Education and Student Committees, it means making sure the topics we offer include explicit conversations around race; for example, when discussing leadership, we need to address how navigating the team dynamics and supervision may look different when the leaders are white and you are not. Because to not do so perpetuates the structural racism within the workplace; we need to explicitly address that the “rules’ are different if you are a person of color, and then offer ways to help dismantle those.
Talking about, and then acting upon, EDI tasks and topics are now recurring agenda items across all committees.

We are actively working on what Board accountability looks like on these measures, such as publishing them in an annual report to members. We will be finalizing the first round of Board plans for EDI at our next Board meeting on September 9, 2020 but will also be continuing to discuss these plans on an ongoing basis so that this is not a one-off item.

In the past two months, I have been a part of more conversations related directly to race, ethnicity, and intersectionality than ever before: from what books are being taught in postgraduate palliative care programs to how to impact HR departments to hire differently, it feels like finally we are acknowledging ways to change #socialworksowhite so that non-white patients and families can receive better care, and non-white clinicians can feel safer at work. (with immense gratitude to Rachel Cargle for her work in educating me and others with that hashtag).

For our BIPOC social workers, I imagine there is a sense of “what took so long?” I know, and I realize that even now, it may still feel so slow as we try to catch up - but I can promise that we are working as fast as we can to make sure that we intentionally move forward.

Jessica Strong, Executive Director

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