Steps Toward Equity, Diversity, and Understanding.

By Paulina Erices

Last March, I was honored to be invited to lead the Conference Development Task Force for the International Lactation Consultants Association (ILCA).  The goal of the CDTF was to create recommendations to align future conference planning with the ILCA core values of knowledge, diversity, and equity. In other words, we want annual conferences to speak loudly about the values of ILCA, to move beyond good intentions, and take steps towards measurably more equitable outcomes.

I had been working on equity initiatives locally through the LLL Groups, other organizations, and in my own job in the public health department, but I had been mostly working as an individual. It was not for lack of knowledge that I had not peeked into the bigger picture; indeed, it was a very purposeful action. I get profoundly overwhelmed; inequities and their intersectionality are terrifying to me because I cannot fix them and they require very hard conversations. The truth is that you don’t make many friends when you become an equity advocate and that is by itself a reflection of the complex work involved.

The invitation from ILCA started a rollercoaster ride for me. With the support of LLL Alliance for Breastfeeding Education, I was able to attend the 2017 ILCA Conference—my first ILCA conference. From 7 am to 11 pm, six days in a row, I was surrounded by people speaking different languages, talking about the big picture, and having open and honest conversations about inequities based on race and gender identity/expression.  While many people walked away in discomfort, irritated, or offended, I saw many people embracing those feelings and staying. Change is not easy. Discomfort pushes us beyond our preconceived notions and invites us to change. I stood in the middle of everything, driven by curiosity and feeling deep emotions that had been hidden for a while. Supported by other ILCA members, many of them LLL Leaders as well, I have been able to dive deeply in a process of self-discovery that has made me question the alignment between my behaviors and my own values. The good and bad thing about equity is that when you see its absence, you cannot stop working for it. I am hooked for life! Here are a few things I can share:

  • My beautiful and thoughtful intentions are irrelevant and a waste of time for anybody, including me, except when channeled into motivation to help create measurable change. We make changes when we look at the outcomes of our behaviors and adjust those behaviors for the outcomes we want. Good intentions, more often than not, stay as good intentions.
  • When we talk about equity, people have very distinctive reactions: love it or hate it. Talking about equity is, in the very least, uncomfortable. People with privilege get easily hurt and defensive. We rationalize, we explain, we find excuses, but at the end of the day, most of the time we stop listening and walk away.
  • Marginalized communities, LGBTQ communities, communities of color, etc. have spent generations working for equity. I cannot expect them to teach, to explain, to defend, or even to cuddle me when my feelings are hurt. I have a lot to learn. ILCA, NACCHO (National Association of County and City Health Officials), and other organizations offer wonderful trainings.
  • Diversity doesn’t mean inclusion. Inclusion is what you do with your diversity. Is everybody’s voice at the table? I have been a “warm body” and “box to check” when organizations want to meet their diversity quotas. I had accepted it thinking that at least I was holding a space; however, as soon as I ask for action, I can see the push back. This is where the hard conversations start.
  • To learn about equity we have to be willing to be challenged, make mistakes, be called out, sing the wrong tune, step on each other’s toes, recognize that there will be parallel truths, and connect with each other’s experiences even if they are not our own. More importantly, we must be authentic and ask for forgiveness as well as forgive.

It’s been a bumpy ride, but a really positive one. I am facing my own biases and my internalized racism. As a cisgender women, mother, Latina La Leche League Leader with a lot of privilege, my equity journey is just starting. Thank you LLL Alliance Staff for not walking away from the hard conversations. Indeed, thank you for seeing me the way I am.

Paulina Erices is the mother of three children ages 14, 12, and 6, a La Leche League Leader with LLL of Mountain Plains in Colorado, and an IBCLC in private practice. Originally from Chile, she moved to the US with her husband and her older baby in 2003. Initially, she didn’t speak any English, and she found a home in La Leche League of Fort Collins, Colorado, where she signed up to become an LLL Leader without realizing it (language barriers’ best outcome ever!).

Paulina holds a BS in Psychology from PennState and is completing her MS in Organizations and Leadership at the University of Denver. She works as a Maternal Child Health Specialist at the Jefferson County Public Health Department in the program for children with special needs, as well as in other projects on lactation and Latino communities.  She volunteers for Special Kids, Special Care building systems of support for families with medically fragile infants. She serves as a mentor for the Every Ounce/Cada Onza lactation team, a feeding group for families from diverse backgrounds.