Diversity Star Spotlight: City Year Baton Rouge

BRAC created the Diversity Star Award with a goal of highlighting exceptional business practices taking place in the Capital Region that leverage the value of diversity in organizations. The award seeks to honor and recognize regional businesses that have championed diversity and inclusion at their businesses or in the community. The 2021 winner of the small business category, City Year Baton Rouge, provided some insight below on how to better embrace diversity in the business world.  

Responses have been edited for clarity and length.  

Q: Explain the importance of diversity and inclusion in your organization and the community.

The “creation of the Beloved Community,” one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s most enduring
visions, is a driving force for City Year nationwide. The coming together of individuals from all
walks of life, to not simply tolerate each other, but to work, live, and serve together builds a
stronger, more equitable community. As City Year’s mission is to advance educational equity, we
recognize the importance of inclusion in achieving that goal. From our staff and AmeriCorps
members to our donors and champions, it is essential that everyone be invited to the
conversation and be invested in the students of this community. With such diverse perspectives
within our village, we are able to serve an even greater population of students more effectively!

Q: How do you hold yourself accountable in consistently hiring a diverse workforce?

City Year Baton Rouge has the benefit of being part of a national network. There are several
shared services that support our local work with headquarters-based departments, including
our recruitment and admissions department. In collaboration with this department, City Year
Baton Rouge strives to recruit a diverse corps of young idealists. Working closely with our
national team provides accountability on both sides – headquarters can continue to reinforce
the goals and strategies of City Year, Inc. while we can continue to share the individualized
needs of our site here in Baton Rouge. Furthermore, at its core, City Year is here for the
students, so our desire to serve the students of this community to the best of our ability is its
own source of accountability. We want to make sure that the students that we support can see
themselves in both our corps and our staff, so it is essential that we ensure our village reflects
the diversity of the community. Inclusive hiring practices lead to inclusive and effective service.

Q: What are some of the struggles you encountered when originally implementing your inclusion practices? How did you overcome them?

Dr. King said, “Everybody can be great, because everyone can serve.” City Year believes this
whole-heartedly. We recognize, however, that service like City Year is not always accessible to
everybody. For example, not everyone is able to choose a volunteer opportunity over a higher paying position, nor is everyone able to move to a different state or city for such a program. City
Year did not want these barriers to be a limiting factor for anyone wanting to serve, so both
headquarters and the Baton Rouge site have worked to address these types of struggles to make
serving more accessible to everyone. For example, AmeriCorps member stipends have been
increased network-wide, and relocation reimbursements have been enacted for those relocating
from more than 50 miles away. Here in Baton Rouge, we have developed a partnership with a
housing complex near LSU, offering extra benefits to residents serving with City Year. These are
just a few of the strategies that have been implemented, and we continue to initiate more
progress in an effort to make our program accessible to all.

Q: What tips would you give to local businesses trying to integrate stronger diversity and inclusion practices into their organization?

Each business or organization is unique with its own goals, offerings, and clients/service
recipients. The practices that any business or organization puts in place has to work for them
specifically. If you’re not an education-based non-profit that works with young AmeriCorps
members, it probably won’t make sense to copy our practices word for word. These efforts first
and foremost must be sincere, not performative, and to be so, must meet the needs and culture
of the individual business. Additionally, these practices need to be infused into every element of
what a business is doing. To simply have a handful of people think about diversity and inclusion
once a month at a specific meeting is not enough. It has to become a part of everything that is
done. Evaluate the equity of all practices, policies, guidelines, etc. Seek out diverse perspectives
on all projects, not just those labeled “D&I.” These practices need to become fundamental to
your work, not an accessory.

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