March 8th marks International Women’s Day, a day devoted to celebrating women’s achievements for a more diverse and inclusive world. At World Relief, we believe in equality and the importance of increasing awareness of women’s experiences, challenges and contributions in our communities every day. We are blessed to work and serve with many women from all walks of life.
Meet Lanre Williams-Ayedun, SVP of International Programs. She is one of the incredible women of World Relief whose unwavering dedication, passion and hard work serve as an inspiration to all of us!
Known amongst colleagues as a dynamic and passionate leader in the global development field, we were eager to sit down with Lanre to hear from her about how World Relief is embracing equity and equality in our workplace.
Thank you for talking with us today, Lanre! To start, can you share what brought you to World Relief, and what excites you most about your role?
It gives me great joy that I can say with confidence that the Lord brought me to World Relief and has been uniquely preparing me for this role throughout my life. I have worked in various aspects of international development for over 18 years and it has been both humbling and powerful to see my past experiences and skills come fully to bear in this position. More concretely, I am at World Relief because I have had a deep respect for the World Relief people I’ve known over the years.
I am fueled by World Relief’s vision to reach the most vulnerable by working with the local church in partnership with local communities. I get excited to see our teams serving God with diligence and excellence with their passions, talents and experiences to bring his kingdom near.
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “embracing equity.” How are you embracing equity in International Programs at World Relief?
First, as a leadership team, we have decided not to be afraid to examine where there might be inequities in our organization, whether they be related to nationality, culture, gender, disability, age or other differences. It is so important that we are mindful of healthy practices that not only encourage equity but that can actually be measured. For example, we are scoring each of our international offices against a gender scorecard and tracking results over the years.
Additionally, we are reviewing our staff engagement results on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and creating an associated action plan. Training around gender equity and disability inclusion for staff and with program participants across International Programs is also underway.
Along with consistently celebrating women and men leading together, we are also embracing a spiritual and holistic approach by participating in devotions on racism and cultural diversity as a team.
Why is fostering an inclusive work environment so important?
Right now, World Relief’s International Programs is a team of great diversity: Our staff consists of people from at least 20 different nationalities, with many ethnic and tribal differences. We are based in 11 countries, from various church traditions, and covering various age and generational groupings. 29% of our staff are female, and there is a 50/50 split of men and women on our expanded leadership team. And our work is to serve people that are themselves very diverse and have unique needs and preferences.
All of this diversity can mean that learning to recognize and honor each other for our differences and to make room for each other does not come naturally. Yet, we have to grow in our ability to work for and serve with people that are different from us; it’s our mandate from God and a testimony to the watching world.
God has called us to be different parts of the same body, and to cherish and help each part fulfill its purpose. When we seek to make offices and a work culture that allow people to bring their gender and culture to share, the employee is happier and more engaged, and the collective staff is made stronger and reflects God’s vision of Christian unity better.
How do you think World Relief and other organizations like it can embrace equity and equality?
A good start is to intentionally ensure having diverse representation at the highest levels of power — on boards and senior leadership teams — including diversity of gender, race, age, disability and culture. It’s also important to have that representation throughout the organization by making HR practices and policies equitable, and having a feedback mechanism that allows the organization to address when there are violations that hurt people and abuse authority.
Also, we should make resources available to create equitable access to opportunities for all staff while decolonizing our language, service models and structures of authority. And by recruiting and supporting diverse staff to thrive by fostering a culture of belonging and providing generous family leave, health insurance and child care coverage is essential. The work can be challenging but we must also be sure to acknowledge and fight against the systemic forces within the organization and industry that perpetuate inequities among and between staff and the people we serve.
That is so insightful. Last question — what are your long-term aspirations for International Programs at World Relief?
I want to see World Relief’s International Programs be a place where diverse people can be successful and bring their whole self to work in a culture that celebrates their individuality and promotes their well being. I want us to take the work of equity and equality seriously for our staff and for the people we serve — using our prophetic voice to call focus to the issues affecting the most vulnerable.
Jessica Galván is a Content Writer at World Relief. She is passionate about storytelling and amplifying diverse voices to reveal the beauty of God’s creation. She is also the Editorial Director for Chasing Justice and prior to World Relief, she was a freelance writer and editor for a variety of clients in publishing, most recently Penguin Random House. When she isn’t wordsmithing for the pursuit of faith and justice, she is spending time with her husband and their 3 children in the Houston, TX area.