Becoming More Diverse, Equitable and Inclusive – Small Steps Add Up

Equitable is one of our core values and in 2020 my team decided to lean into this value. We started by evaluating how we were living up to the value and identifying where we could improve on it. What followed were a series of small steps that lead to a big shift in our company to become more diverse, equitable and inclusive.

Hear about our evaluation on this solocast episode of Destination on the Left

Becoming More Diverse, Equitable and Inclusive – Small Steps Add Up

Step one: Get involved.

In October 2020, I was asked to Chair the New York Tourism Industry Association’ s DEI committee. I started by seeking diverse committee members from across the NYS tourism industry. We were successful in finding 8 volunteers to join me and the committee held it’s first meeting in November 2020. During the first few meetings we shared our own personal journeys, our perspectives on DEI and what each of us wanted the committee to accomplish.

We accomplished a lot in our first year. Our dedicated committee established a mission, vision, and pillars for our committee work. We executed a survey of the NYS tourism industry to assess a baseline to measure against as we make progress. The survey also helped identify the needs of association members around DEI which informed our work plan. We organized an educational panel for the New York State Tourism Conference that was held in April 2021.

We joined Travel Unity and volunteered on the Associations working group to help create a DEI pledge for associations in the travel industry. Then the NYSTIA board adopted the pledge. The committee also crafted a statement for the NYSTIA website publicly sharing the associations purpose around DEI.  

Step two: Learn & Expand

Growth-minded is another core value at our company. So it’s no surprise that we seek out learning opportunities to help expand our understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

We started with the United Way of Greater Rochester’s 21-day racial equity challenge that provided daily emails of educational articles, links and videos designed to develop a deeper understanding of race, equity, and our collective role in improving our community. The entire team at Break the Ice participated and we spent time at weekly gatherings to reflect together. Then in the summer of 2021, our company participated in the Society of American Travel Writers implicit bias training, a two-part session designed specifically for the travel industry. We have also expanded our thinking and learning through podcasts, conference presentations and other webinars along the way.


I was invited to participate as a panelist and a moderator for the Travel Unity Summit in Lake Placid. The Travel Unity summit provided outstanding content within a safe environment. Here are a few of the takeaways:

  1. Embracing humility and vulnerability is important when addressing biases and issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion.
  2. Understanding the difference between empathy and sympathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another while sympathy is a feeling of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune. To be truly inclusive we need to have empathy for others. Being empathetic allows us to have a deeper connection with others. Empathy does not involve judgement, it allows us to acknowledge other’s feelings and to discover their perspective.  
  3. Diversity without inclusion or equity can result in tokenism. In other words, if all one wants to accomplish is diversity, then one may only make a symbolic effort to give the appearance. In this case, they have not embraced diversity. We certainly have heard the term, the token (insert underrepresented group here) in the room. But when you consider efforts to be inclusive – not excluding anyone – and add dedication to being equitable – where everyone has the same chance to participate – the dynamics change.
  4. Equity and equality are not the same. Equality means everything is the same and equity means everyone gets the same want. To illustrate this point, imagine a family of four; a mother, father, 13 year old son, and 8 year old daughter want to ride bikes together. If the family valued equality among all members then everyone would get the same exact bike for the ride. The bikes would be the same height, have the same seat, the same configuration, the same number of wheels. Can you imagine all four of these family members fitting on the same bike? Some would have a comfortable, easy ride and others would either struggle or not be able to ride at all because the bike didn’t fit their needs. Conversely if the family valued equity, they would make sure that everyone got the bike that best suited their needs so that everyone could have the same experience on the bike ride.

Checkout details on the upcoming 2022 Southeast Travel Unity summit.

Step three: Be intentional

One thing we identified when digging into our equitable core value is that our team was not diverse enough. We recognized that we had religious and age diversity but that is where it stopped. Since we were not hiring in 2020, we decided to look at our partners, suppliers, and sub-contractors. We wanted different perspectives, so we intentionally sought out more diverse subcontractors to add to our team. Through this process, we added more diversity to our freelance team and engaged with the freelance team on client projects. We did not reserve the freelance bench for projects aligned with their background. Instead, we integrated them into our team and brought their diverse perspectives to the projects that were already in place.

Step four: Open yourself up

New opportunities appear when you open yourself up. When we were invited to provide a proposal and pitch to Cayuga County and Auburn, NY in the Finger Lakes region for their Harriet Tubman/Equal Rights Heritage campaign, we were prepared with a diverse team that brought the right mix of perspectives to the project. The campaign was part of the plans to commemorate the 200th birthday of Harriet Tubman in 2022. The work that the tourism office in Cayuga County is doing to change the image, culture, and beliefs of a community where advocate and human rights activist Harriet Tubman called home from 1859-1913 is amazing.

In addition, we find ourselves working with several clients that expand our worldview in big ways. Our client, Plimoth Patuxet Museums brings to life the history of Plymouth Colony and the Indigenous homeland in Massachusetts. 2021 marked the 400th anniversary of the first thanksgiving and we helped them tell the story of the 1621 Harvest Feast. This project helped broaden our worldview of an important part of our nation’s history understanding the good and the bad. We are also engaged on a project that is currently in development and designed to honor patriotism and the history of our country. This development will be announced this year and has challenged us to contemplate the meaning of patriotic, the symbolism of the American flag, and what is possible when we are a united country.

Step five: Where focus goes, energy grows

Speaking of setting intentions, another example of expanding our perspectives and the diversity of our team came unexpectedly when we posted our latest job opening and hired our newest Associate Consultant Brittany Lynn. Brittany is our first team member that lives outside of NYS. As an Atlanta Georgia resident, Brittany gives us perspective from the U.S. southeast region. Additionally, she is our first black team member bringing us a new and diverse viewpoint. Brittany is an amazing professional and brings so much talent to our team.

Onboarding a new team member from a different state challenged our team to rethink our process on how we train and bring someone into our culture. But one thing that stood out to me was a point in Brittany’s training where I was sharing our company’s mission, vision, values and business plan. I realized it was important for Brittany to know the DEI journey that the company and I have been on for the past two years. It was important for her to understand the importance we place on DEI. It was also important to me that Brittany knew we did not hire her because she checked a box or met a diversity goal of ours. She was the best candidate that we interviewed, and it just so happened that she also brought us a more diverse viewpoint both in geography and race.

Listen to me share our DEI journey on this solocast episode of Destination on the Left

Intentions and focus achieve goals

Setting your intentions and focusing really will lead you to achieving your goals. When you set an intention and start to take action, things will start to happen. It may seem like small incremental moves at first but all of a sudden you will find yourself reflecting and those incremental moves have lead to monumental shifts and changes.

In my small company that a little over a year ago was grappling with how we fit in the DEI conversation, has found ourselves fitting in – in so many ways. What incremental steps are you making towards becoming more diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

Posted in: and tagged in:


Nicole Mahoney

Related Posts

Five Road Trip Trends

Travelers are back to exploring the world. They’re revisiting bucket lists, booking accommodations and crafting out-of-office messages for when it’s time to unplug. Some are…

Keep Reading

2023 Tourism Trends

In 2022, we saw a lot of new trends in the travel space. From abnormal travel planning cycles and travel habits to revenge travel. There…

Keep Reading