Yvette Russell participated on the Understanding Diversity and Inclusion Panel at the annual meeting of the Church Benefits Association.
Yvette Russell describes the work of the Board of Pensions' diversity council as "a journey — and a deeply personal one for me." Ms. Russell, who is Vice President, Customer Engagement at the Board and council Chair, was invited to speak about that journey at the annual meeting of the Church Benefits Association (CBA), held virtually December 1-3, 2020.
As a participant on CBA's Understanding Diversity and Inclusion Panel, Ms. Russell reviewed the activity of the Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion Leadership Council (DEILC). The Board established the DEILC to advise senior management on diversity initiatives. The 14-member council broadly reflects staff makeup, embodying a range of professional expertise as well as racial, ethnic, and gender diversity.
Under Ms. Russell's guidance, the DEILC has moved deliberately to define the scope of its work and develop a mission statement. The year-end goal is to have developed DEILC strategy for
Kimberly Reed, the Chief Transformational Officer at the Reed Development Group, is the facilitator for the DEILC. In support of DEILC work, Ms. Reed has moderated conversations among staff on bias, diversity, and inclusion in both the workplace and everyday life. Staff training in these areas will continue in 2021, Ms. Russell said.
As a Black woman with 32 years at the Board, Ms. Russell is intimately familiar with the agency and the experience of its minority and female employees. In her early years as a young staffer, her voice "was one that was welcome," she said, and that helped her grow professionally. Her experience supports the growing call today for adding belonging to discussions around diversity and inclusion.
"You're there because you're supposed to be there — that is belonging," Ms. Russell said. "And when you belong to a community, it can help bring out your gifts. Everyone has a gift. I was fortunate enough, as a young Board employee, to learn that I have a gift of service and administration."
DEILC was established to ensure that all employees — no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity — can expect that their voice is welcome, that they belong, so that their gifts will flourish. This will also strengthen the Board of Pensions, Ms. Russell said.
To complement the work of DEILC, the agency's Board of Directors formed a task force on diversity, equality, and inclusion. Its goal is to expand and deepen the agency's reach among historically underserved constituencies in the Church. Directors are also aiming to make their Board, which is 35 percent people of color and intentionally diverse in gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity, even more inclusive.
"Diversity, equity, and inclusion serve a key place in our work," said Philip Amoa, Chair of the Board of Directors Development and Governance Committee, who is chairing the task force. "Yes, we all still have work to do, but I am optimistic about what we hope to accomplish."
The agency was recently recognized for making diversity and inclusion a priority with a 2020 NACD NXT award. The National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD), whose membership represents over half of the Fortune 1000, presented the award.
"The Board of Pensions has a long history of recruiting and maintaining a diverse workforce that reflects metropolitan Philadelphia, where it is located," said the Reverend Frank Clark Spencer, Board President. "But we know we can do better, for example, in expanding diversity among Board leadership. We're looking to DEILC to provide input that will help us accomplish this."
Ms. Russell said that by establishing the DEILC, the Board of Pensions made clear its commitment to move toward a workforce rich in diversity and to support diversity by providing a work environment where each employee is comfortable speaking out and feels heard.
"I want each employee at the Board to have the opportunity to grow professionally," Ms. Russell said. "I want them all to discover their gifts, and I want the Board to be a place where they can nurture them. This will not only make them stronger, it will make the Board a stronger servant of the Church."
CBA is an association of about 50 church pension boards, religious orders, and benefits programs for denominational leaders and professionals. Mainline and evangelical Protestants, Catholic organizations, and multiple Jewish traditions are represented. Rev. Spencer serves on the CBA Board of Directors, and the agency is a leader in CBA's formidable purchasing coalition, which negotiates best-in-class contract terms for benefits.