Cultivating diversity in the profession and CSHA
By Maria Ortiz-Briones
Tamisha Tague, BS-SLPA, was surprisingly pleased when she was invited, literally, to take a seat at the table and join the board members of the California Speech Language Hearing Association (CSHA) in a very important conversation.
“I had no idea what to expect, I was a visitor,” says Tague as she recalled the day when she and other members of CSHA’s new Diversity and Inclusion Committee were invited to join the members of the CSHA board during a training workshop to learn how to support diversity and inclusion in the profession and the association.
“Initially, we were seated off to the side and then they were like no, come and join us at the table,” says Tague. “It was literally a ‘come sit at the table, let’s talk about this’ moment.” It was then she realized that CSHA understands the importance of diversity and inclusion for the organization and the entire field.
The September 2019 workshop was just one of the many steps CSHA is taking to reimagine its commitment to diversity and inclusion, and move in the right direction to achieve its goals. The association intends to explore all aspects of the profession and how it can best support growth and diversity, and what all that means to CSHA’s strategic thinking about how the organization itself can imagine its most impactful future.
“The workshop was focused on letting them discuss the roles that diversity and inclusion should be playing in their organization,” says Gary Smith of IVY Consulting who facilitated the workshop. “It really starts with having a pretty deep conversation around how diversity should impact what we’re doing, what changes would we need to make if we’re going to be more attractive to diverse members, what programs we need to consider and how the organization would look different if we were to focus more on diversity and inclusion.”
Tague says she feels CSHA’s approach to diversity will also benefit consumers in the long run.
“They can see that they have options as far as who is serving them, how a person can understand them and how to make connections with their child, even with their background or their cultural history or their sexual identity,” Tague says. “There are so many ways that people can make connections, so the more diverse group of people you have helping people only improves the product. It only improves our ability to treat and help the consumer, and that’s our main purpose.”
The work has begun
CSHA Board Chair Linda Pippert, CCC-SLP, explains that one of the things the board did in the summer of 2019 when organizing the committees for the fiscal year was to look at each committee’s position and title.
“We actually changed the name of the Diversity Committee to the Diversity and Inclusion Committee because we saw that diversity was not sufficient for what we were seeing as needs in the association and in workplaces,” Pippert says. The word inclusion had to be added.
And when the board was looking at people to serve on that committee, Pippert says they considered not just selecting participants by job role, which has been always a consideration for CSHA, but also where someone was in their career lifecycle – are they young in their career, mid-career or veterans? Also considered was whether the individual represented a unique community.
“I have been very active in CSHA the last five years, partly because I didn’t see people who look like me in those board meetings,” says Tague, who was appointed to the Diversity and Inclusion Committee and has been an SLPA for nearly seven years. “I think making myself known, showing up to meetings and showing up to a roundtable that CSHA was having, that kind of just let my face and my voice be seen and heard, and that actually means a lot.”
When making appointments to committees, Pippert says the board wanted to “make sure we had representation from a wide number of communities represented by our members.”
“It’s very important that people coming into the field – new graduates or even students considering the field – see that there’s an emphasis at our state association to make sure we have a diversity of opinions, we have a diversity of cultural backgrounds, diversity of linguistic backgrounds, to make sure we are well representing our profession and the people who we serve,” says Pippert, who became a CSHA member as a student in the 1980s.
“The people we serve come from all different communities. Whether we’re in schools or medical settings, we’re going to see people from different ethnic and cultural, linguistic communities around our state,” says Pippert, who has served the association’s treasurer and on various committees. “We want to make sure that our profession at the state level is reflective of that diversity and make sure everyone feels included in decision-making as the organization moves forward to strategic planning.”
Headed in the right direction
That’s where the experts came in. Consultant Smith led a workshop designed to help the board understand and embrace the scope of work required to make meaningful inroads on diversity and inclusion, and to ensure a broad range of involvement and representation by CSHA’s diverse audiences.
“We started with what we call an executive thinking and learning session that’s designed to let boards and senior executives engage in early-stage conversation around diversity and inclusion – what it is, why it matters, what are some of the initial things that your organization is going to want to do in order to effectively implement a D and I strategy,” describes Smith.
The feedback from participants was positive and included comments like: great conversation, really helpful and I got a lot out of it.
Tague concurs, saying the workshop helped get the conversation around diversity and inclusion started and helped the group focus on their importance for the organization.
Terry Saenz, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, former chair of CSHA’s Diversity Committee and a director at large for the board, says she appreciated the opportunity to listen to members’ experiences as people of color.
Saenz says it was indicative of the sense of trust and safety that was felt in the room. “It was important for the rest of us to hear those stories. There was a lot of interaction with the board. I thought the board was extremely receptive, which was very important to me. And I also think that it was just wonderful that we had that training. It’s so important because we’re in such a diverse state and we deal with very diverse populations.”
And Saenz says the learning can’t stop there.
Consultant Smith assures that it won’t, pointing out that diversity and inclusion efforts will also play into CSHA’s upcoming strategic planning. And that’s a good thing.
“That planning session was really excellent for all of us – to be together and share different ideas and learn a little bit more about diversity and inclusion,” Pippert says. It was also eye-opening.
“We don’t choose who comes to the schools we serve in, we don’t choose who we see in our medical settings, whoever walks in the door is who we serve,” Pippert explains.
And that’s why it’s key that people don’t just say, “Oh, everybody come,” without also making sure the people around the table are diverse and inclusive.
Representation in the field
When it comes to looking at diversity data in the field, it’s important to remember that the numbers don’t necessarily make recent progress clear.
For example, if you take into consideration the numbers from the American Speech Hearing Association (ASHA), Pippert says, “we don’t look very diverse. Yet when you look at the under 30 age group in our profession, it’s much more diverse than the age group that I’m in as a Baby Boomer. Over the decades, we’ve become more diverse. When I walk onto college campuses, I never have a sea of white female faces anymore. I have a sea of faces from every community in the area that campus is in.”
Tague says when she attended California State University, Los Angeles, she didn’t see other students who reflected her background. “Being a nontraditional student, I really felt out of place.”
That’s changing, she says, but it’s a process, and that process can be slow.
In order to attract underrepresented groups to the profession, students need to see people like themselves represented. Otherwise, how will they know it’s a career option?
“I happened to know that I wanted to work with kids and found my way to speech through special ed, through working with the deaf and hard of hearing, and I made my way to speech that way,” Tague says. “And even in the program, I was literally the only person of color in my classes, which was rather shocking.”
Pippert, who earned a master’s at California State University, Fullerton, and is still affiliated with the university, says that when she walks onto the campus today, “it well represents the Hispanic community, it well represents our Korean community, our Vietnamese community, and then there’s a number of international students who are coming here to study as well.”
And she finds the student population in the graduate program at Chapman University in Orange County and CSU Long Beach are also very diverse.
But the available statistics might not yet reflect the improved inclusivity.
“If we start quoting diversity numbers for the entire organization, they don’t really show how far we’ve moved to be a more inclusive environment and a more inclusive profession,” Pippert says.
Tague says the importance of diversity can’t be discounted due to speech, hearing and language professionals’ roles in working with children and adults from many cultures and backgrounds.
“I think the larger pool of different types of people we have, when it comes to consumers, they have a much easier way of connecting with someone,” Tague says, even if that difference is around something as simple as a hobby.
For example, Tague is a huge Disney fan, something her colleagues are well aware of. And her love of Disney provides a connection point with kids.
“I have kids who seem like they don’t care about anything, but if I show them pictures of me at Disneyland, they are like ‘oh I like Disneyland’ and then they open up,” Tague says. “It’s just a matter of finding the bigger the opportunity for our consumers to make a connection with us in order to improve treatment for them.”
Challenges and next steps
Raquel Narain, CCC-SLP, BCBA, Board Diversity and Inclusion Committee chair, says California is by far one of the most diverse states, yet when we look at the makeup of the profession, it’s not fully representative of the state’s population.
In addition to racial and cultural diversity, Narain says getting more men into the profession also needs to be looked at, as well as how to continue serve veterans in the field while also attracting people who are just entering the profession.
“Once we are able to have this diverse organization internally, how do we start connecting with our consumers? We serve so many diverse communities,” Narain says. “How do we maximize our efforts to really reach out?”
“Going forward, certainly diversity and inclusion are going to be integral in any decisions we make about strategies for the upcoming few years of the organization,” Pippert says, adding that a lot depends on the new strategic plan and the future work of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
“It’s a work in progress,” she says, adding that CSHA is making sure “that professionals have access to resources for serving our diverse populations. We certainly do that with our convention and through our committees and our new website. A variety of courses we have to serve our diverse population at the annual convention are always a big help, as well as making sure seating at the table on various committees includes people from all of our different communities. Those are really important goals for all of us,” Pippert says.
And more goals are being set!
“One thing I really want to emphasize is the understanding that they now have around how this topic will drive their growth strategies,” Smith says. “The key now is that diversity and inclusion would be embedded into the way they think about everything they do.”
Maria Ortiz-Briones has been a journalist for more than a decade, working in California’s Central Valley. She has received numerous journalism fellowships, won journalism awards from the National Association of Hispanic Publications (NAHP), and has been a speaker and presenter at journalism conferences on the topic of covering the Latino community.