Diversity is a word that gets tossed around quite a bit in workplaces today. Most everyone wants to generate new and different ideas in their workplace and become more inclusive in the process. But figuring out how to achieve diversity and inclusion goals for an organization can be a daunting task and many employers don’t know where to start. This is where Jacqueline Thomas-Hall steps in.
Thomas-Hall has been working as a diversity and inclusion representative throughout most of her professional life in one way or another. She currently works at Sparrow Hospital as the director of diversity and inclusion, spending a lot of her time facilitating conversations about the effects diversity has on an organization and developing programs to help people better understand the benefits of an inclusive workplace. Although many may not think of pursuing a career in this particular field, Thomas-Hall’s work is becoming more and more relevant as our society continues to change.
“Behind the simplicity of diversity, there’s a lot of complexity,” she said. “You have racial diversity, ethnic diversity – and those two are different – [then] you have age diversity, diversity of thought … there’s so many layers and elements of diversity. So if diversity itself is complex, it creates challenges when you’re trying to get an organization or individuals to move at the same pace, because everybody thinks about it differently.”
While figuring out just what diversity means to an organization may be difficult, Thomas-Hall finds that navigating the complexities of the subject and helping others come to an understanding can be incredibly rewarding.
Some of the ways that Thomas-Hall helps to ensure that employees of Sparrow Hospital understand the hospital’s definition of diversity and inclusion are by including training in their orientation process, along with regularly meeting with Sparrow’s diversity council. Thomas-Hall says that the council has been an integral part of creating an inclusive environment at Sparrow.
“We’ve had a diversity council for many years at Sparrow, and for the last three, our CEO has led the council, and it’s been a great reward,” she said. “Some people are a little more apprehensive to have that very candid and honest conversation about diversity when the CEO is at the table. However, Dennis [Swan] has been a true advocate in creating a safe table to ensure that when you share your experiences and information that you may have heard, it really is a safe table … it’s not about finding fault, it’s about coming together and creating solutions.”
Creating diversity solutions is also a big part of Thomas-Hall’s life outside of Sparrow. Besides working at the hospital, She also serves on the advisory board for the Lansing Economic Area Partnership’s (LEAP) diversity initiative, Diversity Lansing. This initiative provides employers with opportunities to learn about becoming a more inclusive workplace.
Pinpointing exactly what an organization needs to do to become more diverse and inclusive can be difficult, but Thomas-Hall says that if organizations have the courage to embrace what they don’t know and ask for guidance, their chances of reaching their diversity and inclusion goals are much higher.
“I think a lot of times when people get a little afraid of this, it’s because they really don’t know what it is, they don’t have the words, they’re not articulate around it and they don’t want to say or do the wrong thing,” she said. “Embrace it, and know that just as with anything you do that is new there will be challenges. Anticipate those challenges and be O.K. with the fact that you may not have all of the answers. There are individuals out there who can support you in moving forward.”