Miriam's House

In spring of 2005, issues of race and diversity were becoming evident at Miriam's House (MH), a Washington, DC, "caring residential community for homeless women living with HIV disease that empowers recovery from homelessness, disease, and addictions in an environment of compassion, integrity, and accountability." Fifteen staff, including several interns, provide direct care, counseling, social services.


The challenge

  • The top of the organization was mostly white.
  • All the direct service providers were African-American, except for one white Latina.
  • The interns were young, generally white, relatively well-off, well-educated women.
  • All of the residents were African-American and poor.
  • Class issues on staff were expressed as "book learning" valued over "street smarts."
  • Culture and style issues were shown in varied views of "professional behavior" including, suitable ways to engage in meetings, disagree, interact with each other and the residents, and more.

What we did

Provided comprehensive diversity and inclusion consultation that included

  • Coach the Executive Director individually.
  • Work with the Diversity Committee. Develop their skills in working with each other and addressing differences and inclusion. Jointly plan the project including data collection and workshops.
  • Interviewed all staff to learn their perceptions.
  • Facilitate an introductory two-day workshop and a mix of short and long workshops with staff over the next two years.
  • Provide ongoing coaching for the Committee to implement ideas and commitments from sessions so that diversity work transitioned from workshops to daily life at the organization.
  • Coordinate with another consultant working with Miriam's House to establish an explicit connection between diversity and other staff work.

 

Results

  • Staff were more open during feedback and performance reviews.
  • Tools developed by staff during meetings and workshops are incorporated into our work life: annual peer feedback process; inclusion of diversity discussions and reflection at staff meetings; Respect and Requests document; Three Pillars of Diversity Work.
  • Awareness of and commenting on diversity-type discussions as they come up during our day.
  • Diversity Notebook containing articles; minutes, handouts and notes from workshops; documents and tools developed.
  • Template for other non-profits to use for their own diversity work, "Confronting Racism and Promoting Diversity: A Journey".

Miriam's House is a residence for homeless women living with AIDS.  Work here is intense, varied and never predictable.  We have always sought out professional advice and consultation for staff support and organizational growth because of the intensity of the work.  Ms. Berthoud has been, over a period of seven years, a wonderful support in various ways: she has provided mediation services for staff members; consulted on organizational development; provided racism and diversity training; and cooperated with another consultant to ensure congruence between Miriam's House's areas of learning and growth.

We found Ms. Berthoud's work style is both straight-forward and flexible.  She brings to the consulting relationship a refreshing honesty and ability to listen well, respond with forthrightness, and also to help pull together or summarize the disparate viewpoints expressed.  We appreciated and responded to her passion about her work; I always felt she had the ability to bring the best out in us.  There is something about her attentiveness to the group and the individual that feels so respectful and focused.

Ms. Berthoud's work, for three years, with our staff on our racism and diversity issues has made an immense difference for our organization.  What she shared, taught and discussed, she modeled, and I think that is what made this often difficult work go a bit more smoothly.  We now have tools and concepts for difficult conversations, for naming racism and other -isms's, and for a new kind of teamwork and dedication to our mission due to Ms. Berthoud's work with us.

Carol Marsh
Executive Director
Miriam's House