A Progress Report on ASJA DEAI Activities

Lisa Rabasca Roepe

May 1 marks one year since ASJA hired a diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (DEAI) consultant, and two and a half years since we began our efforts to create a stronger, more diverse freelance community.

Although the job of creating an inclusive and diverse organization is never done, it’s a good time to take stock of what we’ve accomplished so far.

Led by the board and DEAI task force, ASJA has made important changes to ensure our programming and membership reflect the demographics of our profession.

Part of the process included using grant funds from Amazon and the Authors Coalition of America to hire Janet Stovall, a diversity expert, consultant, global speaker, author, consultant, and former freelance writer.

DEAI at the 2023 ASJA Virtual Conference

Diversity consultant, Janet Stovall

We can’t change the organization’s demographics overnight, but we can choose the voices and perspectives we elevate. We’ve  worked hard to increase representation in ASJA programming. One of ASJA’s clearest accomplishments in bolstering our DEAI activities has been the emphasis on diverse voices in our 2023 virtual conference and webinars.

At the 2023 virtual conference, three sessions focused on diversity, including a keynote address by Stovall. All three are free to access on the ASJA website:

Ongoing Activities to Help Diverse Writers

One of ASJA’s main DEAI goals has been to help diverse writers gain better access to our educational programs so they have the resources and mentorship they need to pursue a freelance writing career.

Over the past two years, ASJA has offered 14 scholarships to freelance journalists and other writers and students from historically underrepresented populations to attend our annual conference. In 2023, the scholarships were funded through generous donations from board members and conference attendees. Scholarship recipients received free conference registration and were offered the opportunity to become ASJA members at a discounted price. Several recipients joined ASJA, and one now serves on the board. In fact, the current ASJA board has more diverse representation than in years past.

Some of ASJA’s activities to improve DEAI have been behind the scenes. In one example, Stovall met with most ASJA committees to recommend ways to make our activities and engagement more inclusive. In another, Stovall and the DEAI task force are creating a DEAI ambassador program. At least one member of the DEAI task force will participate in each standing ASJA committee to speak up for representation and inclusion in our programming. Ambassadors will help ensure that the work of pushing for more inclusive, diverse voices will continue after Stovall’s contract ends.

To prepare for this work, task force members are reading We Can’t Talk About That at Work! How to Talk About Race, Religion, and Other Polarizing Topics. The takeaways from discussing the book will help the task force implement the DEAI ambassador program.

The DEAI task force welcomed new co-chairs, Gabrielle Gayagoy Gonzalez and Leanna Lee, who represent diverse perspectives and who both specialize in writing about racial justice and disability. To encourage learning more about DEAI topics at the organizational level, ASJA members can get free press passes to attend the virtual Racial Justice at Work Summit, which takes place April 23 to25. Find out more about the summit and how to get a pass in Gayagoy Gonzalez’s ASJA Confidential blog post about it.

DEAI Updates to the ASJA Website, Style Guide

Making ASJA’s website more inclusive visually was a goal when it was redesigned several years ago. We’re finally making that happen. The task force is reviewing the website to ensure it is as inclusive and representative as possible.

Before Stovall’s contract expires in May, she is helping the task force create a style guide that members can consult when they have questions about inclusive writing or finding diverse sources. She’s also helping task force members develop a free webinar on how to adopt more inclusive writing through language choices, research, and sourcing efforts. The webinar is tentatively scheduled for the second quarter; look for details in upcoming ASJA Weekly newsletters.

ASJA’s DEAI efforts are getting noticed. In February, Pratt Institute, the private university based in Brooklyn, NY, invited ASJA President Emily Paulsen to speak on a panel about DEI in creative industries. See Paulsen and fellow panelists from the American Institute of Graphic Arts and the Society of American Archivists here.

Stovall’s work has given ASJA a great foundation, but there is more to do. ASJA’s DEAI work is ongoing, and as a group and individuals, we must continually revisit how we work. As one DEAI task force co-chair pointed out, there is no such thing as knowing everything about DEAI – it’s a constant learning process.

We must strive to improve and do better if we want to support a stronger, more diverse community of professional freelance writers.

Lisa Rabasca Roepe is a Washington, DC, freelance journalist who writes about gender equity, diversity and inclusion, the culture of work, and personal finance. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Fast Company, Wired, Insider, Boston Globe Magazine, the Christian Science Monitor, Marketplace, and Ms. Magazine. Roepe is on the ASJA board, and in 2023 was the organization’s vice president and chair of the DEAI task force.