Glen Gunderson

August 19, 2021

As part of my own personal journey, I am committed to being a strong equity leader. This is the 47th in a series of blogs that will be a part of that effort. I hope you will benefit from the conversation.

I have utilized A Conversation on Race to engage with equity leaders — mentors, teammates and dear friends — from all over the country, and I’ve learned so much about them and me in the process.

As we pass the one-year anniversary of George Floyd's murder, it is my hope that the rallying cries for systemic change and our progress on social justice will only accelerate. We are sustaining our voice for change, but we must continue the work.

My 22nd guest is Lynda Gonzales-Chavez, the senior vice president and chief diversity officer of the YMCA of the USA, a national resource office that works with over 2,700 YMCAs with approximately 20,000 staff and 500,000 volunteers in 10,000 communities across the country. She is one of our nation's foremost leaders around diversity and inclusion and engagement for many years, and Lynda has blessed the Y in many capacities for more than 25 years. One key role earlier in her Y career was as senior associate director in Y-USA’s International Group, helping to train more than 500 volunteers and staff annually on cultural competence, inclusion practices and integration of immigrant and underserved communities.

A native of Albuquerque, Lynda earned a master’s degree in public service and nonprofit management from DePaul University and a bachelor’s degree in Latin American studies from the University of New Mexico.

On a personal note, though, Lynda has long been a mentor and advisor, providing me unmatched wisdom in her expertise in so many ways.

I know you'll see why I so deeply admire her in Part 2 of my talk with Lynda Gonzales-Chavez. (You can read part 1 here)

Glen: I really like the way you frame the journey and the fact that we're never going to arrive, that it's going to be a process of progress. So where are we now as a culture, broadly, and where are we as a Y?


Lynda: One of the first things that we needed to do collectively is get better at our community engagement strategies with communities where there was a gap. And remember, we did a lot of cultural competence on how best to engage Hispanic, Latino communities, populations of diverse faith and belief. How do we build the knowledge to ensure that we're appropriately in an inclusive way, serving our LGBTQ communities and all the various dimensions of diversity? How we look at that intersectionally. So we did a really good job collectively of creating our shared glossary of terms, or shared understanding and really building around cultural competence and our willingness to move into community engagement. Then we started questioning how we needed to show up in community. And one of the first things that happens in organizations — across the country, across the globe — is that we don't appropriately represent the communities we serve. And that is a really difficult one.

Glen, we've had a lot of these conversations together about, "How do we increase the multicultural leadership development pipeline?" We still have a long way to go, but we're starting now to say, "Why have we not advanced after so much intentionality?" Why does board source show that we've flatlined for 30 years, when it comes to representational diversity in the nonprofit sector? And what are those issues?

And that's where we are. I'd say now, Glen, the fact that I know that this is very close to home because literally it is your home. But when George Floyd was killed on May 25th and things started unraveling, when we started seeing the devastation of this level of institutional racism, and the horrific aftermath that's going to happen unless we start addressing this, that's when we started looking at our policies, our practices, and really at the system. And so have we begun looking at this system, when we start talking about undoing systemic racism? What are the contributors to that? What are the conversations that need to be had? And how do we even measure it moving forward?

So I would say that in in the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) space globally, there's a shift in the industry. I mean this from a very positive space is, but I recognize that the YMCA is a non-partisan organization, so how are we able to take these conversations about race and make them more about a human experience rather than a political point? And that is, I think, going to be one of our biggest challenges, not making this political, but making it about ensuring that every young person and their families and their community, have the opportunity to grow and thrive with dignity, regardless of their lived experience and background, but especially their race.

How do we collectively see this? Let's open up the conversation because in the long term, it's going to be about keeping these young people with an opportunity to live and thrive.


Glen: I am so aligned with you. I think as we're evolving, the words really matter, the language really matters, and I keep coming back to advancing human dignity for all. Finding ways to remove the political lens and really look at this through a humanitarian and human dignity lens. But we have some detractors there.

I'm curious about your thoughts on the language — multiculturalism, anti-racism, anti-oppression — as goals for our association. But there's a segment of the population that says, "Well, anti is not the right approach. What are you for? What do you stand for?"

Well, we stand for human dignity for all. We're serving all.

And I guess I would preface this by saying that it fascinates me how quickly language changes. One example for me lately has been some of the African-American women in our community, who either I'm serving through our board or are leaders in our community that I admire. Some are not interested in the BIPOC acronym. "Why am I being bucketed into BIPOC? I'm a Black woman."

So language seems to really matter and then, at the same time, we get fixated on the language versus the acts, the role modeling, the progress we're making.

Do you have any thoughts, guidance or wisdom on how do we deal with language? Are you starting to see what the next evolution is of the language we should be using?


Lynda: I would say, maybe un-bundling some of the language pieces, so some of what you're referring to is how people self-identify. So one of the things that's really important is a person's race dimensions, but many of their dimensions of diversity is giving people the opportunity to self-identify. And when you do that and try to collectively bring people together around that, it gets tricky. So I always say, with all of our cultural competence pieces, putting together a very comprehensive glossary of terms, related to how some of these terms are being utilized, and making it a very active part of your overall planning. So we're starting to call this an inclusive messaging guide, and so we actually brought together people from our employee resource groups, and started talking about the benefits that people are seeing related to acronyms, like BIPOC, but then also the limitations there.

For the Hispanic/ Latino community? Oh, we have a lot of them! Because umbrella terms are Hispanic and Latino, and I could go into a whole deep-dive on that. But  learning how the terminology is used, and making it a very living dictionary of terms and leading in with leaders on that space. Now we move into some of the organizational terminology that was lifted up.

Quite honestly, when you start looking at the term diversity, some of the earliest times that it was used was probably like in the 1940s. So in academic journals, you can actually find the use of the term "diversity." It became a very big deal after World War II, especially as you starting having returning soldiers, and they come back to a segregated country, where Black and white communities are separated. Then we start going into Civil Rights and the terminology continues, right? Then it goes into instilling what is going to be our Civil Rights Act, and then moving into what is Affirmative Action. And so think about how already some of those terminologies are changed.

And then when organizational diversity came in, it was to address the issues that weren't happening because of Affirmative Action, or weren't happening within the human resources space. And so there you have the history of diversity.

And Glen, when I first got this job in 2011, and we were the diversity and inclusion team. Before that, it was the diversity initiative, then the inclusion work came in, which is an important part of the strategy too.

But how much people despise the word diversity? How many times I was asked, "Drop the term diversity, and just make yourself an inclusion officer."

How are we going to make myself an inclusion officer when there's no diversity at the table, and we're not calling out the representational aspect!

Now we're moving into really socializing the term "equity" because that's another one that seems to be raising a lot of flags. People are now moving easier into the term equity than they were a couple of years ago, and now they're up against "anti-racism" and it's a very new word. I often say, "Give us enough time to socialize it, and to share what the intent of it actually is before you shut the door on it."

Even people from communities of many different political perspectives and ideologies are anti sexual abuse for our children, anti-hate for our children and our families. With racism being so horrifically detrimental to humankind, we can all get behind being anti-racist and leave some of the work that has to be done, and capacity building at an individual level, to people who are experienced in that field. 

But allow me to say that I want to journey into anti-racism. Not that I'm calling you a racist, but I sure would like to partner with you to create an anti-racist goal. Some people are saying, "Drop anti-racism, and just talk about multiculturalism." For my team, we have questioned our multicultural leadership development goals because we're still struggling with them. And maybe that's because we were not able to tackle anti-racism early on. Look at Fortune 500 companies. Look at the Fortune 1,000 companies. They're still significantly run by white men. 

I mean, if we start even looking at some of the more diverse spaces, like the tech industry and such, once you start moving out of the Asian Pacific Islander community, some big gaps still exist, and Latinos and African-Americans are very underrepresented. And in some cases too, Glen, it's age, and sexual orientation and gender. I mean, there's other dimensions. But in this case, because we're talking about race, it's one that we still have to address, especially when you start looking at the disproportionate numbers of Black and brown kids facing inequities in their community.

I know a lot of us at the YMCA refer to the Raj Chetty data, the data visualization journals that have carried some of that. It's powerful to see, especially as a social service organization that is so is so focused on youth. How can we allow that to continue happening?


Glen: Linda, one of the more challenging discussions that I hear happening in the Y — one that is near and dear to you and me both because we share a faith — is the Christian mission and the Christian founding of the Y and then how that reconciles with maybe more secular views, and also on our need to be engaged with, and open and serving all. This is what I wrestle with and, and I think it's tricky, it's challenging stuff.

I would love your perspective on it.


Lynda: Some of the early iterations of the diversity spectrum in the wheel, one of the first things that we did is, make our dimensions of diversity very broad. And so people from the YMCAs that are listening to this, almost everybody knows our Dimensions of Diversity Wheel. And people also know how fluid that is, so much so that we keep blank spaces in there for self-identification. But we were very intentional early on to make faith and belief a primary dimension of diversity when others weren't doing that. We really see faith and belief as a primary dimension.

And we learned that from people from many different perspectives and lived experiences and affiliations and identifications and such. So I do think that faith and belief is a primary dimension, and I think that we need to support each other in elevating that. And I feel very positive about our opportunities to explore faith and belief in an inclusive way, including our Christianity, including the historical facts that we are from a historical, Christian organization. As you know, leading the global work, collectively, in the work that we've done together, and the work that we do with the World Alliance of YMCAs. The World Y is our key partner, and we are the Young Men's Christian Association, and we become increasingly more inclusive.

I definitely think that we should hold spaces to talk about faith and belief and opportunities to deep dive into competence around sharing our Christian stories or our Jewish or Muslim stories, collectively doing that and exploring that. So I feel that's very positive. When it starts becoming either or, it's time to start talking about them. 

Where some of the conversations are getting a little tricky now is within the race conversation, some sensitivities related to the role of the church or religion, and the enslavement of many people — indigenous, African people and others — and the role in colonial racism. And coming from New Mexico, you can't have that conversation without recognizing the role, in my context, of the Spanish Catholic church and the very well documented historical facts of what was done to indigenous people in the name of the church.

I'm really recognizing the great work you're doing in the Twin Cities because you did recruit one of favorite theologians, Mr. James White. But as he and I continue talking about these race-related conversations that are important today, how can we get more comfortable through this idea of recognizing through this lens of truth and reconciliation or revisitation, or having that space and then moving it towards more positive solutions, but also at the solutions that get us at addressing more positive solutions than what we've done historically in the past.


Learn more about Lynda by clicking here. Look for Part 3 of our “A Conversation on Race” with Lynda next week.