The folks behind the Central Iowa visioning effort Capital Crossroads gathered at Principal Park’s Cub Club on Wednesday to launch a new initiative to encourage diversity and inclusion in its work — in hopes of setting an example for other organizations.

Capital Crossroads Tri-Chair Kristi Knous and others leading the effort said the idea is to make sure that people of diverse backgrounds are at the table, and that biases don’t creep into decisions. 

Des Moines civil rights lawyer Thomas Newkirk walked through a presentation showing the many ways bias shows up in decisions, from the higher incarceration and school suspension rates for minorities to decisions on promotions and how to treat medical conditions. 

Newkirk handled a high-profile case involving allegations of gender and sexual orientation discrimination at the University of Iowa. He won a $6.5 million settlement for his clients, former athletic administrator Jane Meyer and her partner, former women’s field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum.

Newkirk said bias can creep in unexpectedly, in addition to the overt discrimination that the country has fought to overcome since its inception.

He recalled an incident when he was walking and saw a black person. Newkirk, without thinking, reached for his wallet. That incident made him realize that he, and many others, could be showing bias even when they aren’t overtly choosing to. “I thought, ‘What did I just do?’ ” he said.

Newkirk noted that the work to improve diversity and inclusion is a long road. He also noted there appeared to be just two black people in the large room with dozens in attendance. One, Izaah Knox, executive director of Urban Dreams, helped introduce the session as a leader of the Social Capital part of Capital Crossroads. The other, Michael Sadler, assistant vice president for public policy and government relations for Century Link, is a leader in the Physical Capital. 

While the issues are important and difficult, Newkirk said, “Iowa is about 10 years ahead of the curve” in addressing them.

Newkirk said he was at Capital Crossroads to “start the conversation.” Capital Crossroads plans to form a task force to look more deeply into the issue and to decide how best to proceed, Knous said. 

The work will include using a 4 Equity Tool that Newkirk and Capital Crossroads leaders developed. It’s a checklist of questions designed to guide Capital Crossroads’ efforts. The basic questions (there are follow-ups) are:
  • Have a variety of ethnic communities/people of color been informed, meaningfully involved and authentically represented in the process/decision?
  • Is there a group that benefits more than another because of this process/decision?
  • What could be one unintended consequence of this process/decision for ethnic communities/communities of color?
  • What action will be implemented to advance equity in this process/decision?