Since founding my first ECM company in 1994, I have made Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity touchstones of our hiring and staffing policies. We are committed to creating opportunities for underrepresented populations to have equal access to, and participation in, jobs and programs that close achievement gaps in success and completion. The history of that commitment to inclusion is exemplified by a long- term relationship with NYSID (New York State Individuals with Disabilities) and FedCap (a NYC organization that trains people with disabilities). This partnership gave us the opportunity to hire 100+ people with various disabilities many of whom became employees. In 2016 a CASO company was NYSID’s Outstanding partner of the year. This relationship has resulted in extensive employment opportunities for individuals who have been systemically marginalized in our workforce and our society.
The importance of diversity and inclusion in our society lies in the fact that their absence inevitably results in discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or physical and mental abilities. My personal commitment to both began with early, first-hand exposure to discrimination on our society.
Growing up in a white middle-class family in Rosenberg, Texas, I experienced the last vestiges of overt segregation; the “Colored Entrance” section at the Cole Theatre, the drinking fountains marked “Whites Only”. In the mid-seventies our church youth group cut a roller-skating party short when the owner refused to let Jose Rincon, one of our group, skate because he was Hispanic. As a gay high school student in small town Texas, I was a victim of overt and covert discrimination as I learned to hide and assimilate. Those indelible lessons formed the foundation of my commitment to embracing diversity and inclusion in all its forms in my personal and professional life.
Upon moving to NYC in the 80’s I was amazed by the diversity, the acceptance and inclusion of different people from different cultures with different abilities. It was only later that I realized a more hidden, but just as insidious, form of the discrimination I had known in Texas. NYC in the 80’s and 90’s was in the epicenter of the AIDS crisis. I saw first-hand what damage discrimination and fear of the different does. In Spring of 1987, a pivotal point in my understanding of diversity and inclusion , I participated in the AIDS Coalition for the Unleashing of Power (ACT-UP) march on Wall Street to protest Big Pharma HIV drug profiteering. I realized that, even as a middle-class white child, I was a victim of discrimination just as millions of others were. I needed to stand up and fight against discrimination.
In the 90’s I toured with theatrical companies. I worked in theatres in every state in the union, most of Europe, and many cities in Asia. I saw first-hand how a lack of diversity and inclusion permeated society and contributed to widespread discrimination; from being picketed in by a church in Topeka protesting gay cast members; to the many subtle and not so subtle examples of discrimination against black cast members while on the road with “Porgy and Bess” and “Bubbling Brown Sugar”; to being refused entrance to Japanese Only clubs in Tokyo; to negotiating in Messina, Sicily for a room with a letto matrimoniale (Double Bed) for Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane to share. My travels made it clear to me that our society cannot accept discrimination but must recognize it when it occurs and work against it.
Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion are key weapons in the continuing battle against discrimination. ECM Today! is committed to that battleground.