VA’s Office of Resolution Management, Diversity and Inclusion (ORMDI) focuses on ensuring Veterans feel seen and heard, ensuring VA meets people where they are.
Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) can be uncomfortable for staff to navigate without a guide or additional resources. Pamela Black, Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) manager at Orlando VA, had an idea to change that.
A history of compassion
Black is an Air Force Veteran. She learned about camaraderie and diversity in the military. That isn’t something she had experienced in her hometown of Memphis. Raised by her grandparents and single mom, she developed a passion for helping others, particularly the marginalized and underserved.
Black began as an EEO assistant at the Department of Defense (DoD) before applying for other EEO roles at VA. Because she wasn’t yet qualified for the positions, she left her 15-year career with DoD to join VA as an EEO intern at the West Palm Beach VA.
After being promoted to EEO manager at the Orlando VA in 2020, Black began questioning her capacity. “Am I really doing a service to these people on my own? I can’t be everywhere at once, but I can equip others to serve.”
Diversity and Inclusion advocacy
Needing support to grow D&I advocacy, Black applied to the VHA Shark Tank Competition. At the same time, VA Secretary McDonough and his team were looking for D&I projects to grow. Getting support from her facility’s innovation program, the VA Diversity & Inclusion Advocate Program (VADIAP) went live in January 2021.
VADIAP trains staff to be D&I advocates, supporting VA employees and Veterans alike. Creating a culture of inclusion, diversity, equity, and access (I-DEA) and building a strong VA-wide Special Emphasis Program are just some of these advocates’ responsibilities.
Supervisors nominate one or more employees to serve as a service-level Advocate. The nominated Advocate is trained by EEO staff, Special Emphasis program managers, and other VHA stakeholders. Black is looking for people who are just as passionate and active about the work as she is.
After three DoD Civilian tours in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Black says her service has drawn her closer to the work she does. “As a civilian, the empathy and compassion it takes to serve Veterans helps me and shapes my work because I know what they’ve gone through.”
A Veteran with a hearing impairment felt he was not being heard or treated fairly because he talked loudly. Black drew upon her compassion to better understand. She was able to advocate for the Veteran and educate other staff on how to better serve Veterans in similar situations.
Get involved in innovation
“Learning about people and the importance of taking the time to get to know them, that’s what advocacy is all about,” said Black. She has already seen a positive culture shift through open I-DEA discussions.
If you are interested in learning more or adopting this program in your local VA, head to the Diffusion Marketplace site for VADIAP.
Want to support VHA IE’s innovation revolution? Visit our website (https://www.va.gov/innovationecosystem/) to learn about opportunities to become involved in innovation at VA.
Innovation Revolutionary is a recurring series from the VA Innovation Ecosystem. It focuses on VA employees who are disrupting the status-quo, breaking down barriers, and attempting to radically revolutionize Veteran care and the employee experience.