PLLIP Diversity Summit 2021: Using Personalized Experiences to Apply DE&I Initiatives in Your Library

By: Ana Ramirez Toft-Nielsen, Research Attorney; Jill L. Kilgore, Research Librarian; and Autumn Collier, Assistant Librarian II, at Littler Mendelson, P.C.

Our experience attending the virtual 2021 Diversity Summit was unexpected and invaluable. Each of us left with surprise takeaways, including some that hit close to home. In particular, the panel and breakout sessions provided us with more than one perspective or dialogue on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. We agreed that these personalized sessions made this a reflective experience. The personal stories were affecting—whether allowing us to relate to someone else’s experience, or by showing us a glimpse of what marginalized groups experience regularly. Being aware is a priority, but what’s next? As individuals, we should evaluate how to apply our experiences from the 2021 PLLIP Diversity Summit. What actionable steps is your workplace taking? What actionable steps are you taking? Let this be one phase in your progress toward change.

Leading where you are

We can lead in this work from where we are by identifying the initiatives and commitments made to DE&I at our institutions. We all work at Littler, where leadership supports Diversity, Inclusion and Equity opportunities for our library department. Examples of opportunities include attending conferences such as this Diversity Summit, internal initiatives, and organizational involvement. For this Summit, our director provided the team with the program’s information, supported the registration costs, and provided us with coverage for our daily work, enabling us to focus solely on the conference. When a call to write was sent out, we were urged to write about our experience. With other conferences, such as the AALL Leadership Management Institute, we were encouraged to attend, and offered guidance and assistance with alternative ways to reimburse our costs or help in applying for grants. This encouragement and financial support made us feel empowered to learn and grow. We have the latitude to reflect on these experiences and bring back what we learn to our team.

Within the “walls” of our library, opportunities for open dialogue and professional development abound. We can subscribe to newsletters, including a Littler library-curated weekly newsletter with a DE&I section. We have round-table discussions on a rotation of topics in our book club; this month we are taking time to discuss our experience at the Summit and share with our colleagues.

Our leadership wants us to take an active role to further Littler’s overall Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion goals. Many of our team members are involved in special interest or other professional organizations. Given the uniqueness of our library department, we have the option to attend development opportunities offered not only by AALL, but also by the American Library Association, local chapters, the International Legal Technology Association, and many other professional organizations. These experiences allow us to bring back new knowledge to team members who might not make that step. We can increase awareness and open discussions in our team meetings, book clubs, and newsletters. The work is ongoing. We will continue to explore DE&I initiatives and continue the conversation that brought us to the Diversity Summit.

Additionally, firm initiatives such as Littler’s Volunteerism Program provide a means for employees to voluntarily participate in social justice opportunities. Employees donate their time, and in exchange, Littler will make a monetary donation to an organization of the employee’s choice. Messages of support flow from the Managing Director and are always accompanied with personal growth and learning opportunities.

Leading the change

The personal touch of this Diversity Summit set it apart and made those “uncomfortable” discussions easier to address and discuss. The individual stories, backgrounds, and experiences brought to the forefront some of our own struggles. Some we had not put into words, and we had not encountered others with shared experiences. It validated those feelings and thoughts that are not commonly discussed in the workplace. It made us feel “seen” to hear from our colleagues attending the summit, who also experienced marginalization whether they identified as BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and people of color), disabled, neurodiverse, first generation, or queer.

For others, it showed us we are privileged enough to put on the “lens of diversity”, while others have seen through the lens their whole life. We drew from other experiences to learn how to cope and speak up for ourselves and others. Each of us identified with several speakers and were able to take away valuable lessons for our situations. These valuable lessons made us comfortable to open dialogues with our team and reach out to other attendees to continue the conversations.

Engaging with people with an array of identities and experiences makes it possible to detach from discrimination and oppression. Conferences like these begin the work toward open discussion, active listening, learning, and taking actionable steps in our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives. They afford space to hear how others are affected by institutional racism, disability discrimination, sexism, classism, and to investigate how each of us participate in continuing these practices. The work may be uncomfortable, but it is vital. This Summit provided a wide range of personal stories from people with varying backgrounds, and pinpointed aspects of diversity including ethnicity and neurodiversity. These stories impressed upon us that DE&I is not a one-size-fits-all program. We noted that even law firms with robust DE&I programs primarily focus on attorneys, and not on the corporate or support staff. However, recognizing the importance of these programs, our library department and leadership have provided us with opportunities and support.

Now is the time to evaluate your workplace, your department, yourself. Ask the tough questions. The uncomfortable questions. Keep working on these DE&I goals and be open to listening to the personal experiences of those around you. As Michelle Silverthorn, the Summit’s keynote speaker, reminded us in her seminar: we attended this conference for a reason. Who wants change? Who wants to change? Who wants to lead the change? Be the change moving forward and take time for self-reflection. Set the example for those around you, speak up, and be intentional.

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