In the spring of 2021, when the National WIC Association announced the availability of local agency mini-grants related to the Advancing Health Equity to Achieve Diversity and Inclusion (AHEAD) project, the Macomb County Health Department WIC Program jumped at the chance. We were excited to get back into a solid public health quality improvement project that was not related to the COVID-19 pandemic or emergency preparedness. And we knew that our agency could benefit from piloting a promising practice related to improving equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in WIC research, policy, and practice.
Macomb County is Michigan’s third most populous county and is located directly north of the City of Detroit. The community is primarily suburban with some urban city centers as well as rural areas. In 1990, the population of Macomb County was 96% white and primarily working class. Today, Macomb County residents and employees are far more diverse racially, ethnically, culturally, and economically. However, in some ways, long-standing biases and beliefs within the community have been slow to adapt along with the changing demographics of the county. The AHEAD grant was a way to begin changing the culture within WIC, with the hope that others within our department and organization might follow our lead.
We established three (3) goals for our AHEAD project:
All of the key activities and anticipated outcomes of the project were designed to improve the overall WIC client experience. Like other WIC programs, we have struggled with declining enrollment and a lack of engagement. Our goal is to attract and retain participants and employees by providing culturally and linguistically appropriate WIC and public health services and to nurture a workplace that values diversity, equity, and inclusion.
One example is a closer examination of our hiring and interviewing processes. By making a few small changes, we hope to diversify our applicant pool and ensure that new hires possess values that are aligned with our EDI principles and mission. And by ensuring that our workforce reflects the same diversity as our clients, we hope that we can develop deeper and more trusting relationships with each other and with our clients, and therefore be more effective at health messaging and education.
Another strategy we plan to implement is continuing education for staff and the expansion of opportunities to explore and discuss EDI concepts. By having a plan, we can develop a cadence and pace to infuse and inform our corporate culture as explicitly anti-racist. We can continue to improve our workforce, and thereby improve our services, by incorporating these intentional actions:
This was the shortest grant period I’ve ever worked on; we only had 8 months from start to finish. The short timeline increased the intensity of the project and did not leave much room for errors or bureaucratic delays. During this time, Michigan WIC also underwent some major transitions that pulled our attention away from the AHEAD project. Despite some challenges, this is probably one of the most worthwhile projects I’ve ever been involved in during my 37 years in WIC.