Our Ongoing Journey to Inclusivity
Wheelhouse Group’s DEIA Story
At Wheelhouse Group, we believe a diverse and inclusive workplace is good for business and essential for our teams to thrive. Today, over 25% of our client work supports diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA). However, we believe it isn’t enough to simply assist in our clients’ DEIA practices. We must embody this culture ourselves and serve as a leader among our peers.
Since our founding, we’ve been committed to creating a vibrant and diverse workplace. In 2020 we elevated our efforts by applying the same methodology we use with our own clients to our own DEIA initiatives. We established an internal team to use our human-centered design approach and move us through the inspiration, ideation and implementation phases.
We knew obtaining buy-in and feedback from our entire team was an essential first step. But we also recognized the importance of using a third-party to conduct a DEIA Assessment to help us establish an honest baseline of where we were. With this dual strategy, we were able to document where we were while also asking our team, partners and clients to imagine the future of Wheelhouse by describing their feelings, experiences and dreams for our organization. Together we created a set of shared beliefs that we would use to guide our future work:
- We believe all team members should feel like they belong, are heard and are respected.
- We believe the diversity of our team drives innovation and improves the quality of our work.
- We believe work/life balance is essential, and we work hard to accommodate team members’ needs.
Next, we translated our assessment learnings into tangible actions. We gathered broad input and used it to define specific goals with clear solutions:
- Goal 1: Attract, hire and retain a more diverse workforce. We love celebrating our woman-owned small business with nearly 95% female staff – but we need to bring the full diversity of our potential client pool to our team.
- Goal 2: Create a culture of inclusion. Even though our assessment revealed high marks from our team for our positive culture, we knew there was more work required to ensure all employees feel a sense of belonging and are equipped to thrive. To do this, we identified specific initiatives to ensure we understand our teams, build open communication and continually reinforce our company values.
- Goal 3: Invest in our teams’ communities. We learned that our team members were invested in their communities and looking for ways to extend what we were creating internally. We decided to use some of our DEIA budget to contribute to, and shine a light on, their community work.
As we continue our DEIA journey, we’re constantly implementing, refining, refreshing and measuring our approach in partnership with our employees. We’re proud of our whole team for contributing to our efforts and making these early gains:
- Our Diverse Workforce: In 2021, Wheelhouse invested in a full-time recruiter to identify diverse candidates for all open positions.
- Recruiting: This process now begins with inclusive & accessible job descriptions created by using tools that analyze the application language to eliminate bias. We also reviewed and updated our company policies and benefits to offer flexible hours, work from home, employee assistance programs and bring-your-own technology. These policies help ensure inclusivity and facilitate the success of candidates’ varying needs and workstyles. We also utilize diverse recruiting channels, including our corporate partnership with Inclusively to proactively attract candidates with disabilities, as well as Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, Virginia Values Veterans, HBCUs, HSIs, etc.
- Hiring: We are already seeing the fruits of our labor. Over 11% of our employees identify as people with disabilities and 25% of our workforce are people of color. We know we still have work to do and have identified hiring goals at each staffing level to include Veterans, people of color and age and gender diversity. Today 50% of all new hires help us meet these shared diversity goals.
- Our Inclusive Culture: Together we have built and invested in programs by and for our employees to create a more inclusive culture, which include:
- DEIA Council: We’ve established an employee-led DEIA council to help lead the implementation of initiatives across the company – but more importantly to keep an open line of dialogue and communication as we continue our DEIA journey.
- Accessibility: To ensure all staff can succeed, we’ve committed to making our written documents, meetings and trainings accessible and compliant with WCAG and Section 508 standards. We have led all-staff training and created company-wide templates, guides and how-to’s to ensure accessibility for everyone.
- Education and Discussion: From the time of onboarding, staff is introduced to our DEIA core curriculum and Teams channel where employees share information and ask questions. This is supplemented with continuous learning and workshops like our Inclusive Language Lunch & Learn series (featuring topics like ableism, ageism, racism, culture, religions, etc.) and our Listen, Watch, Read sessions (DEIA-related podcasts, movies or books).
- Our Community Investment: To amplify the investment and commitment of our teams, we’ve proactively grown our giving to reflect the diverse interests of our employees:
- Financial Support: In 2021 Wheelhouse created a focused campaign to match staff donations – together, 42 team members made 90 separate donations in 24 hours for a total of almost $20,000. Wheelhouse matched this for a total donation of $40,000 to civil rights organizations, international aid, substance abuse services, animal welfare and education programs.
- Community Recognition: As a company focused on the Federal workplace, we started a program – Stories of Change – to create free resources and programming that celebrates the work of public servants in an effort to increase trust in government and attract people to serve. We also make financial donations to the Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund. Last year, we began to partner with the nonprofit Turn Around to provide support and counseling to victims of domestic violence and human trafficking. In addition to financial support, our staff is providing pro bono strategic planning, consulting and facilitation support to help grow their organizational capacity.