CWU News

WERE leadership training program building momentum in 2023

Washington Employers for Racial Equity banner

Washington Employers for Racial Equity (WERE) introduced its leadership training course this winter.

Central Washington University’s goal of helping create more equitable, inclusive work environments for people of color statewide got started in earnest this winter with the launch of a multi-institutional three-month leadership training initiative.

College of Business Dean Jeffrey Stinson, Milton Kuolt Professor of Business Andy Parks, and diversity advocate and outreach specialist Andria Keirn attended a January 12 kickoff event for Washington Employers for Racial Equity (WERE) at Seattle University, where the program was officially unveiled to the state’s business community.

The first of 12 Zoom workshops, intended for early career professionals and their mentors, took place the week after the kickoff ceremony and will continue through this month.

“These training courses are designed to teach participants leadership skills through an equity and diversity lens, which is something that’s been missing,” said Parks, one of the key figures in developing WERE’s higher education coalition.

“We want both parties to go through the training together so they can share lived experiences and understand the biases that both groups experience,” he added. “We hope that by sharing their experiences and going through a program like this together will help both parties develop more compassion and empathy for what others are going through.”

CWU lecturer Andy Parks, right, and WERE executive director Shirline WilsonParks and his colleagues from the University of Washington, Washington State University, and Seattle U have been working closely with former CWU executive director of extended learning Lauren Hibbs, who is now the director of student service for the Board of Technical and Community Colleges. Hibbs has been the project manager for the leadership training program since 2022, and she has continued to lead the group in her new role.

The program also has received strong support from some of Washington’s largest employers, such as Microsoft, Starbucks, T-Mobile, Boeing, Costco, Avista, and Delta Dental. The current cohort is comprised of 22 trainees—16 of whom are from Microsoft and Delta Dental—and a second cohort is expected to convene later this year.

To date, more than 80 employers have committed to the key tenets of the program as they look to improve racial equity in Washington’s workplaces.

“Having these large employers on board gives us a lot of momentum and confidence in the curriculum we have developed,” Parks said. “We already have a waiting list for the next cohort, which tells us that we are on the right track.”

One of the major benefits of the program, Parks said, is that it will be a platform to share and learn about other people’s experience in a safe and mindfulness-based environment. He expects this shared understanding will help build authentic curiosity and empathy among program participants. They will also walk away with a variety of new tools they can use to help their colleagues improve their approach to equity and inclusion in the workplace.

“We acknowledge that this isn’t an easy path, and it will require that these current and future leaders step out of their comfort zone,” Parks said. “Another benefit is that after the training is over, the tools and skills from this course will be used in the organizations in a ‘pay it forward’ model.”

WERE kickoff event group photo

Making Progress

Over the past two years, WERE’s higher education coalition has developed a multi-faceted plan the members believe will help effect tangible change in a system that has been traditionally unbalanced in terms of advancement and equity for BIPOC employees.

Parks has contributed his extensive background in emotional intelligence, while the partner institutions have shared their own areas of expertise: business development (UW); mindfulness-based anti-racism programs (WSU); and mentoring programs (SU).

Former Governor Chris Gregoire has been equally instrumental in the early success of WERE’s leadership training initiative. She helped launch the Seattle nonprofit organization in 2020 and served as the keynote speaker at the January 12 kickoff event. Seattle University President Eduardo Peñalver, Provost Shane Martin, and Albers School of Business Dean Joseph Phillips—along with Dean Frank Hodge of the UW’s Foster School of Business—were among the other dignitaries at the event.

“Having Governor Gregoire and the president and provost of Seattle U added even more credibility to the program because the participants felt like they were being supported and invested in,” Parks said. “We have also received a ton of support from the business community over the past two years, so it feels like things are really coming together.”

CWU College of Business Dean Jeff Stinson and a colleagueLed by Parks and Stinson, CWU continues to be the driving force behind the progress of WERE’s higher education coalition. Stinson is going through the leadership training program as a mentor, providing him with a deeper understanding of the course material so he can impart those ideas and strategies to his colleagues on campus.

CWU is also taking the lead on another major undertaking: a central repository of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) support tools and resources that both the business and academic community can easily access. Keirn, with the CWU College of Business, developed the all-encompassing internet resource as a way of providing coalition members with a shared space to talk about racial equity.

The comprehensive, user-friendly page includes national research and statistics, community of practice areas to advance racial equity in the workplace, a DEI glossary, antiracism resources, accountability resources, and much more. The content is focused on four major areas—hiring and recruitment; retention of Black talent; talent development and promotion; and transitioning from mentorship to sponsorship. The repository is still being fine-tuned, but many of the materials are being used as part of this winter’s leadership training.

“The most important thing about the repository is that it is accessible to anyone, regardless of their involvement in the program,” Parks said.

Now that the leadership training initiative is underway and interest continues to grow, Parks and his colleagues are understandably excited about what the future holds.

“Ideally, we will host three cohorts per year of up to 24 people each,” he said. “But it doesn’t have to happen right away. The most important thing is that we’re making progress. If we reach our goal over the next 10 years, we’re really going to start seeing a difference across the state.”

Media Contact: David Leder, Department of Public Affairs,, 509-963-1518