Responding to the Call for Equity: LM’s Journey of Tackling Leadership Issues

by Dana Pauley, CFRE | Interim Executive Director, Leadership Montgomery 

Leadership Montgomery’s (LM) mission is simple– to educate, inspire, convene, and connect leaders to advance Montgomery County. We are an organization that was founded to bring together leaders who wanted to improve the community that they lived and worked in. We have been responsive to major events in history, brought people together to have honest conversations about topics that affected our everyday lives, and provided the opportunity for them to come together to address and bring solutions to issues.

I joined the LM team in mid-2018 as Vice President, Philanthropic Investments, excited about the opportunity to lead a superb team across marketing, membership, fundraising, corporate partnerships (including our Corporate Volunteer Council), and events. I did not know the transformative journey that was just ahead as we embraced an emerging role to lead equity, inclusion, and diversity work in the community.

Earlier in 2018, LM was invited to be a part of a group of community leaders to participate in the inaugural REI workshop in the region. LM was then asked to host the workshops so we began devising a pilot project with initial investments from foundations. The plan included nine (9) workshops and registration opened in June. Within weeks, all workshops were sold out and we began to receive inquiries for additional workshops and requests to determine how to take the learning further. We decided to engage in a listening tour– talking to elected officials, nonprofits, foundations, and business partners to learn how people defined equity and its impact in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Overwhelmingly, we heard that people wanted a shared language and to address inequities in their workplace, but they wanted guidance on how to begin.

Simply put, one of our profound learnings is that equity is a leadership issue.

Our former President and CEO, C. Marie Taylor remarked, “We should do a program” and from there, we took off. Together, she and I sketched out the bones of a program, from bullet points and notes. There were two main issues that emerged as we started our planning: there was no program staff person to lead the work and we needed to secure funding to help it launch. So, we did what any other small organizations would do and put on the additional hats needed to move the work forward.

To garner critical funds needed to launch the program, I developed a proposal that was the framework of the program: the overview of session topics, the timeline of the expansion of the equity work, and the budget. An organizational development and equity consultant (Wayfinding Partners) was hired to take the design to the next level and serve as the program manager for the newly named program, Racial Equity Action Leadership (REAL) Inclusion, which was purposely named because the plan was to work towards addressing all inequities that exist, but we needed start with race since the United States was founded through racist practices.

To prepare for the launch of the program, we embarked on a new tour, reaching back out to many of those stakeholders, changing the conversation from, “What do you need?” to “Here is how we can help”. I successfully secured funding from government and foundation sources that covered a portion of tuition prices and allowed us to provide scholarships for 9 of the 32 participants of the first cohort.

As part of the implementation of the program, I added a few more hats as I worked with the session faculty members, participated in the ongoing design of the program, and served as a program liaison for the participants. At the same time, I was writing new language for our website and marketing materials to reflect our focus on equity while working in lockstep with partners engaged in their own equity journeys.

Equity drives Leadership Montgomery’s commitment to inclusion across race, gender, age, religion, identity, and experience.  We provide programming, trainings, and experiential learning that strong and engaged leaders need to address disparities and embark on the work it will take to eliminate them. Our race equity trainings & workshops are aptly named so there is no ambiguity.  We provide a safe space where learning, growth and organizational culture shifts are possible.

In October 2020, I was appointed the Interim Executive Director of Leadership Montgomery, amidst a pandemic and racial unrest, but with a phenomenal team and an unwavering commitment to meet the ever-increasing demand for connected leadership and equity. We have evolved as an organization, embracing the platform that the leadership programs have given us to work with various leaders and decision makers to address how they want to lead. We listen when people talk about how we are a trusted source and a thought leader for what is going on in the county. We love to bring people together, and give them information, that they can put into practice or use to enhance themselves, their workplace, or their community.

It continues to be an uncertain time, and, in this moment, that is what is moving us forward. We have many things to offer leaders right now to address many issues facing our community– the third cohort of REAL Inclusion begins in February; applications are open for our three Class of 2022 leadership programs; ongoing trainings are available for race equity and professional development topics; and we are  launching our inaugural LEAD Forum, a full-day conference for leaders. As we continue to work with individuals and business, we strive to be intentional about conversations addressing how we approach our work so that by helping those who are traditionally oppressed, we can change the narrative to one where everyone is thriving.