DSHS’ BHA leaders become certified diversity professionals, executives

Yasmin Michaels, BHA’s EDI and staff services manager, joined in the Certified Diversity Professional/ Certified Diversity Executive graduation ceremony in January.

DSHS’ Behavioral Health Administration’s equity, diversity and inclusion efforts got a boost recently when two BHA staff members earned diversity certifications.

Yasmin Michaels, BHA’s EDI and staff services manager, and Shannon Wallace, BHA’s chief administrative officer, earned the titles of certified diversity professional and certified diversity executive, respectively, from the Institute for Diversity Certification.

In late January, Secretary Cheryl Strange congratulated them, along with other staff members throughout the Department of Social and Health Services, in a virtual ceremony.

“We have an opportunity to go far, a momentum … we have an opportunity to deal with our own unintentional ignorance, our bias and our oppression,” said Strange. “Our job is to get educated about it, and to do something about it — it’s in the thousands of things that you do each day that start to make a difference.”

Michaels said she enrolled in the course to add to her credibility as subject matter expert, and as the leader of the EDI community of practice for BHA. For Wallace, the experience increased her EDI expertise as a part of the BHA leadership team, and in particular as a leader in human resources, communications and contracting.

“It’s a lens that a lot of people don’t think of when it comes to this but we have an opportunity to increase the diversity and inclusion in all aspects of our work — including in our contracts and suppliers and purchasing vendors. As I’ve learned more through the CDE program, I’ve been able to make those logical connections to the work I do and, really, the work other people do too,” said Wallace.

The course brought together people from across different sectors — including government, corporate and nonprofit — to study together and network.

“It demonstrates how this kind of work transcends all industries and organizations, because at the end of the day it’s still humans doing the work regardless of the nature of the work it is, and this is valuable and important in every sector,” said Wallace.

Although Michaels previously gained experience in EDI thanks to her work in HR, taking the certification course reinforced the work she’s been doing and brought a deeper understanding to it. When she previously worked at the Special Commitment Center, Michaels strived to recruit veterans and explain to them how to translate their experience into profiles on the Washington state careers’ site. Her coursework went into greater detail on areas such as how to work with veterans who may have valuable experience but may not have earned related educational requirements.

Since Michaels and Wallace both passed their certification exams, they now need to complete the second requirement of the course: developing and implementing an EDI project. Together they chose to focus on helping BHA be more inclusive in its recruiting and hiring processes for manager-level positions.

“Our staff are pretty diverse and we have a very diverse client base,” said Michaels. Now she and Wallace want to work towards ensuring management and senior leadership reflect that diversity found in frontline staff.

They’re taking a comprehensive approach and are pairing up with HR to tackle everything from language used in recruitment notices to how and where job announcements are posted, and the interview process itself to include questions asked of applicants — making sure both that the language is inclusive and that the questions include a diversity component. Behavioral questions, such as describing how the interviewee helped create a more inclusive environment in previous work, could give an idea of how the candidate fits into a culture focused on EDI.

The project will also ensure that interview panels reflect the diversity of BHA, to include race, gender, age and backgrounds.

“(Our goal is to be) just truly mindful with these panels, that anyone who walks through the door could feel like they can see themselves as a part of the team,” said Wallace.

Michaels stressed that being able to see oneself reflected in leadership helps to find leaders to be more approachable, and to realize that it’s possible to advance to leadership positions in the organization.

“Just being able to look up and see people in those positions (who reflect you), it makes you feel like you’re being heard if you come to them and talk. It gives you hope to one day work your way up the ladder,” said Michaels. “It’s kind of a compounding thing where you feel comfortable speaking to leadership and gives you hope that one day, I can promote up.”