DEI: A journey, not a destination

Last month, we received a very special honor. In a worldwide survey of technology organizations, Computerworld ranked OCLC first among midsized IT enterprises worldwide for demonstrating excellence in advancing workforce diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

It’s gratifying to see our years of work in DEI acknowledged. Recognition like this is a milestone, a marker—and an opportunity to consider the questions that need to be answered as we continue our journey toward a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace.

It’s a journey because we cannot claim we have arrived. Persistent reflection and action are required to keep moving forward. We can share what has been achieved so far. What more needs to be done? What can we learn from each other?

In 2020, I shared a blog post calling all of us to action. On this day when we honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I’d like to provide an update on where we’ve been and what we’ve learned.

Center on people

At OCLC, centering DEI values in our organization means putting people first. Putting people at the center of our work requires us to have the wisdom to understand and accept that we all have different experiences. It requires both curiosity and humility to respectfully explore those differences. Some of those conversations can be challenging, but they’re necessary so that we start with a shared understanding of where we are and where we need to be.

Here are some of the people-first strategies in our DEI work:

  • Focus groups. In 2022, dozens of people participated in our DEI focus groups to help us, as an organization, understand what creates a sense of belonging at OCLC. What did people feel we were doing well and where did we have opportunities to grow? This effort followed an organization-wide employee opinion survey through which we regularly measure DEI progress. What did we learn? We heard that the combination of our technology services and a mission to serve libraries gave people a personal connection to the organization. Inclusive benefits and flexible work policies helped people feel they were seen as individuals. A culture of kindness nurtured collaboration and a strong sense of belonging. We also learned that the “niceness” characterizing our culture could make it hard to dig deep in tough conversations. And, we heard that the pandemic and remote work made it harder for new associates to connect and belong.
  • Working groups. In 2020, we established a staff-led Advancing Racial Equity Working Group to provide OCLC leadership with an assessment and series of recommendations in six key areas: culture, membership, leadership, products and services, staffing, and research. That group has evolved to our current DEI Working Group with an expanded focus on people, policy, and programs that support diversity both seen and unseen, as well as equity and inclusion initiatives to ensure all are welcomed, supported, and valued.
  • Employee resource groups (ERGs). There’s a powerful bond when we connect with others who are living our same experience. Groups like JumpStart (earlier-in-career) and OWN (OCLC Women’s Network) are two of our ERGs. An important learning here is that groups need to be led by passionate and dedicated people rather than organized as a corporate program. The degree of activity and impact is directly linked to champions who want to engage and lead.
  • DEI understanding and competence. All our associates engaged in learning on unconscious bias and how to identify inappropriate or harassing behaviors. We also have a full catalog of DEI courses available for self-paced learning for team members along with a special focus on Black history, native American culture, LGBTQ pride, and several others throughout the year.

“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… . Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Intent is not impact

Intent without action is meaningless in this work. From staff development to community engagement to the solutions we create for libraries, we strive to apply DEI principles to impact people and organizational outcomes.

  • Hiring. Just hoping for diversity in hiring isn’t enough. We also have hiring goals and metrics focused on diverse representation and gender representation in our workforce. For our early-in-career opportunities, local universities provide diverse, top technical talent. We have a strong inclusion internship program with a focus on students from underrepresented groups in the local community. We retain a high number of interns by offering full-time opportunities to students upon graduation or after additional certifications.
  • Development. We reach out and sponsor various conferences and meet-ups to attract diverse technical talent. We Can CODE IT, Color Coded Labs, Codemash, Tech Elevator, and Stir Trek are examples of local partnerships. We encourage associates to be active in external diverse organizations such as Black Tech Columbus, the Black Data Processing Association, and the National Society for Hispanic Professionals. We sponsor Society for Women Engineers events, the Junior League Leadership and Lattes program, Ohio Celebration of Women in Computing (OCWiC), getWITit, and Women in Technology International events to help promote and develop our female technology leaders.
  • Community engagement. OCLC is a member of the Columbus Women’s Commission initiative (The Columbus Commitment) to highlight and tackle gender pay equity in central Ohio. We are also a member of Ohio Business Competes, a nonpartisan coalition of businesses committed to achieving LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination policies at the state level to attract the best talent, increase business-to-business and business-to-consumer relationships, and grow Ohio’s economy.
  • Software and services. With support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the project Reimagine Descriptive Workflows was a series of collective, community-centered efforts that explored opportunities for reforming and charting a path toward implementation of antiracist and inclusive language in metadata descriptions at scale.  Our newly created role of Accessibility Strategist and our Dewey editor-in-residence both are working to address DEI considerations in data and software experiences. Our WebJunction platform offers many free tools to library staff and leaders, including Resources for Advancing IDEAs (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility), Creating Pathways to Civil Legal Justice, and our “Let’s Talk Race” Toolkit. And most recently, we were honored to publish a reading list curated by Martin Luther King III and his family on

Patience is more than a virtue

I’m not known for my patience. When I see a problem, I like to solve it—and solve it quickly and decisively. When doing DEI work, though, it’s important to remember the context in which we’re working. We cannot undo centuries of discrimination and harm with empathy or quick fixes. Moving at the speed of trust involves taking time to reflect and learn. It’s part of doing the work, part of the journey forward. But we can—indeed must—take concrete actions. At OCLC, we embrace a collective responsibility to advancing DEI. People at all levels take steps on the journey together.

  • Leadership. I often say leadership is personal, not positional. Everyone has leadership opportunities. This is particularly true in advancing workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion. Yes, top leadership support is important. But real change happens in day-to-day interactions. It happens when we come together to learn about bias, challenge our assumptions, and listen to lived experience. This kind of leadership requires courage and patience. It requires everyone to lean in.
  • Staff engagement. Because this work can’t succeed from a top-down perspective alone, we established a cross-functional group of employees in what we now call the DEI Working Group. The team includes people from our membership, product, technology, library services, research, WebJunction, marketing, human resources, legal and senior leadership groups. The role of this team is to wrestle with difficult questions, develop recommendations, and ensure that our DEI work aligns with and supports the needs of all OCLC associates.
  • Community engagement. Librarians are among the most dedicated advocates of DEI anywhere. We are fortunate to serve a community with the desire and passion to right injustices and make real advances in DEI spaces. We’ve learned to listen to the important voices of people who use our services in meetings, convenings, surveys, and research. This helps us drive future research agendas and product enhancements.
  • Balance. When starting out, it’s tempting to make sweeping and immediate changes. But knee-jerk responses don’t right historical injustices. As you move along this journey, you realize how complex the issues are. Fearful of making matters worse, there’s a strong desire to step back or pause until you have a complete understanding of the issues and impacts. It can appear that progress is too slow. At OCLC, we’ve tried to strike a balance by making changes where the decision is clear, and spending time in dialogue and thought when the changes are more expansive or nuanced. Work like the Reimagine Descriptive Workflows project, removal of harmful language in products and marketing, and increased DEI awareness in our software development processes help us move forward while we continue to work on more complex DEI challenges.

The DEI journey can feel arduous. We can feel hopeful and hopeless at the same time. Despite the challenges, we will not stop. At the core of our work is an incontrovertible value we share with our library members. We honor the dignity and value of every person. Beyond political, social, or historical contexts, this value drives us to do better and be better.

I hope my sharing of the points along our journey is helpful. I’ll close this post with the same words I used in my 2020 post:

May we reflect; seek first to understand; and may we all learn to love and learn from each other more tomorrow than we did yesterday. —Skip Prichard