I had the opportunity to attend the 2nd Annual Diversity in Aquatics Convention in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Don’t let the seemingly grand location fool you, this trip was as many trips to a convention can get- spent in a cold room in uncomfortable chairs with inappropriate lighting (ours was too low). That being said, knowledge, encouragement, ideas, and energy came out of the weekend which made the necessity of wearing pants and bringing a jacket during a South Florida summer worth it.
When I first took the job at USA Swimming, I made it a point to try to connect with other Diversity and Inclusion professionals in the aquatics industry. In my search for like-minded individuals I came across the Diversity in Aquatics website and network, which I later found out to be the brainchild of our very own Diversity Consultant, Shaun Anderson, who co-founded the site as well as the program behind it.
From my time this weekend, I realized that Diversity in Aquatics Program (DAP) was much more than I initially believe it to be. In my mind, Diversity in Aquatics as a website was a social network for those interested in diversifying and providing more inclusion to the sport of swimming. I admit I didn’t really log in often and my engagement with others on the site was limited. While the network does serve that purpose, it took this convention to be enlightened to all the work the DAP has done on behalf of the goal of greater diversity and inclusion. To name a few impressive statistics, DAP is the only organization in the world that has provided learn to swim and aquatics services on every inhabited continent and it is the only non-profit to have support of two major National Governing Bodies (USA Swimming & USA Triathlon).
Sitting in the room with professionals and organizational executives who are experts in their fields; from SCUBA, rowing, learn to swim, triathlon etcetera, I was happy, not because I was surprised to learn that other black professionals in aquatics existed but because it was just very nice to be among them. One thing that gets lost in the world of diversity and inclusion is the idea that comfort through shared experiences is essential to inclusion. While it’s not just about getting more blacks and Hispanics to participate in your sport, and there’s no guarantee that just because two people look like each other they will get along (or agree), the inherent value of being around people you know are highly likely to share life experiences with you is manifest. It’s something we don’t talk about often but as the only black woman at USA Swimming, I can assure you that it’s real.
The value of going to a convention like this is the ability to brainstorm in an environment that is devoid of the overarching idea that being politically correct is a necessity. Whether or not our real jobs require political correctness, diversity and inclusion work deals with sensitive topics and sometimes our reaction to that is to hide honesty for fear of seeming ignorant. With the few white people in attendance, it was very clear that the inclusion shoe was on the other foot for the majority of us; an observation that was a good catalyst to having conversations about how to make our own sports and organizations more inclusive and how to submit these conversations internally.
We all struggled with the duality of necessarily needing to build diversity and inclusion programming to strong foundations while also promoting the work we do. At times we wavered between knowing that we can’t live in a vacuum and also knowing that you don’t invite the press to watch you build a house. But, there does seem to be a way to take a page out of Extreme Home Makeover and show snippets of that which you’re making and still maintain focus on actually building a livable house and making a lot of noise during the big-reveal.
At the end of the day, these are neat metaphors but diversity and inclusion work is anything but neat. Years after some organizations put man-power into the efforts, there’s still not the same growth you’d expect from putting resources into other things which challenges our ability to show value. We all came together for a once-a-year huddle but we still have to go back to our organizations and try to implement, explain, and guide meaningful projects and strategies; all of this done (successfully or not) at a pace much slower than any of us wants to admit or accept. Still, bouts of collaboration like these provide that which is necessary to continue on in any difficult endeavor; encouragement. Taking that encouragement, I believe every person came out of the convention with the necessary knowledge, ideas, and energy it takes to do this work and possibly even regain a passion for it.