The Board recently sent out a statement about some of the issues it has been working on behind the scenes. The statement was an attempt to promote transparency and provide a snapshot of some of the topics that were being handled within a specific time frame. Sending out this update, though, highlighted our failure to communicate to members about the ongoing work the Board has done in service of our commitment to diversity and inclusion, a commitment that touches every part of RWA. We sincerely apologize for that failure. Diversity and inclusion are paramount concerns for RWA. We want to send the message that intolerance is not acceptable in RWA or in our industry.
In light of how important this undertaking is, we believe the topic deserves its own report. We hope this will explain some of the work this Board and previous Boards have undertaken on this broad topic. When we discuss diversity and inclusion, we are talking about issues impacting members who come from a historically underrepresented background. These backgrounds include, but are not limited to, underrepresented communities of race, color, ethnicity, age, gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, and religion. This report does not mean to suggest these are the only initiatives and our work is done. Far from it. We have made an ongoing commitment to provide a safe, welcoming, and nurturing environment for all members. In the past, members from the historically marginalized groups have felt unheard, unseen, and unrepresented. We are confronting those issues, taking responsibility, and putting programs in place to address some of the mistakes of the past.
Those efforts take the form of policy changes and ongoing initiatives. Some of these may seem broad, but they are part of an overall refocusing of RWA priorities, so we are including them here. Others are more specific. We have also included a section on items we are working on for the future. These items are not guaranteed and, normally, we would not include them because a myriad of factors could change them before any Board vote, but we thought it was important to show you our thinking.
We have done and are doing the following:
1. Broad Policy Initiatives
- Added a commitment to diversity and inclusion to our Strategic Plan. This means the idea of promoting diversity and inclusion is now part of RWA’s policy and a guiding principle of the organization.
- Created an anti-harassment policy for the conference, which specifically addresses harassment on the basis of offensive comments related to race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, or religion.
- Revised the non-discrimination policy regarding membership and membership renewals to expand the groups protected to race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, and religion.
- Revised our Ethics Code provisions as to members and as to industry professionals to make sure issues of discrimination and harassment are more fully covered.
- Adjusted our mindset from having programming about diversity to having programming and panels that are. This means we are working to ensure that conference panels, class instructors, and programs through RWA University include individuals from historically marginalized groups. We are doing the same with contributors to the RWR.
- Conducted a Diversity Survey. A report summary will be released within the next two weeks.
2. Website, Conference, and Contest Changes
- Changed the way we hold workshops and panels at conference to assist individuals with disabilities, including mobility issues, to be able to attend and participate.
- Added closed-captioning at the conference for the keynote speakers and awards ceremonies.
- Committed to the construction of a new RWA website, which will be ADA compliant and more usable for all members. The website is scheduled to launch on November 1, 2018.
- Hosted a Diversity Summit at last year’s conference to meet with publishers and editorial staff in a closed session about diversity and inclusion. Due to the need for open, honest and sometimes difficult conversation, the Summit was not open to all conference attendees. The invitees included members of the Board, Diversity Committee members who were conversant in the relevant issues, and representatives from CIMRWA and the Rainbow Romance Writers, who represented the membership’s interest. RWA 2016 Librarian of the Year, Robin Bradford, moderated the discussion.
- Instituted the Spectrum Grant to assist authors from underrepresented backgrounds in gaining access to the conference.
- Offered reasonable accommodations and staff assistance for members with specific disabilities to be able to participate in RWA events like RITA judging.
- Revised the title and description for the inspirational category in the Golden Heart and RITA to Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements to clarify that this category recognizes all beliefs.
3. Committees and Task Force Changes
- Created a Diversity Task Force as an initial starting point that delivered a report with suggestions for improvement. The Board has used and continues to use the report to inform initiatives and policies.
- Chartered and charged a Standing Diversity Committee. The Committee serves as a resource to the Board and members and assists with specific programs. Members of the Committee also sit on other committees in an advisory capacity to ensure inclusion interests are addressed on those committees.
- Restructured how we choose members for committees and added a provision that requires committees to be diverse. After the volunteer list is consulted and committee chairs make suggestions, the Board now has the ability to add additional members to committees to ensure a diverse makeup on each.
4. Chapter Changes
- Created a Chapter Code of Conduct that all chapters must adopt. It addresses harassment and discrimination at chapter conferences, meetings, events, and on chapters forums.
- Established a Task Force to offer suggestions for creating programming and tools for chapter leadership that focus on diversity and inclusion education.
- Worked with two chapters that had specific racially insensitive incidents where members of underrepresented communities were made to feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. Both chapters have created a plan of action to address the issues and improve behavior.
5. Additional Outreach
- Issued an apology to the membership as a Board for a previous attempt, years ago, to redefine romance as one man/one woman.
- Communicated with Pocket Books about a situation that arose at a Publisher Spotlight and communicated with the membership about those ongoing discussions.
6. RWA Staff.
- RWA staff has completed training sessions on the issues of harassment and discrimination. They are scheduled to take additional training in these areas.
Additional items we are investigating and/or working on now:
- Another Diversity Summit for this year’s conference for publishers and editorial staff to meet with invitees including but not limited to members of the Board, Diversity Committee members who are conversant in the relevant issues, and representatives from CIMRWA and the Rainbow Romance Writers in a closed session about diversity and inclusion. The plan is to continue the open, honest and sometimes difficult conversation on these topics. Robin Bradford will, again, moderate the discussion. Information about this year’s Summit will be released on Monday.
- An additional review of the Ethics Code to ensure we have addressed potential issues to the best of our ability.
- The hiring of a professional with an expertise in diversity training to talk with the Board and offer suggestions for chapter leadership education.
- A restructuring of the Diversity Committee to optimize the assistance these volunteers provide to all of RWA.
- A possible funding of summer housing allowances to assist individuals from marginalized groups who accept a publishing internship.
- A review of RITA and Golden Heart judging to look at potential judging bias, including the collection of judging data.
- Adding voluntary demographic questions to membership applications and renewals so that we can have a greater understanding of who our members are and focus on ways to better serve them.
- A review of the Policy Manual to clarify that the non-discrimination language included in the membership and membership renewals section extends to all aspects of RWA.
- Creating programming and tools to aid chapter leaders with diversity and inclusion training.