Eastern Iowa organization provides diversity training, navigating executive order barring businesses from using federal funds

Published: Oct. 2, 2020 at 1:01 PM CDT
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A group of eastern Iowa women said their diversity training business, Captivate, is in greater demand than ever, but a new executive order from President Trump now bars organizations that use federal funds from certain race and sex-based trainings.

“Our goal is that everyone is culturally proficient and that diverse populations will want to stay in Iowa,” Kimberly Fitten, an education collaborator with Captivate said.

Growing and retaining a diverse workforce are central to the business, Captivate. An Iowa City based organization that provides training solutions to ensure businesses are culturally proficient. With a nation-wide focus on inclusion and racial inequality -- from movements such as Black Lives Matter, “Captivate” said it’s ready to meet the demand.

“If you want to show up for justice, for racial justice, you kind of have to search yourself. So just like all of us, we all carry a certain amount of implicit bias,” Laura Gray, founder of Captivate said.

However, implicit bias, specifically “unconscious bias” is outlawed in a new directive from President Trump. All federal agencies, including private companies receiving government grants, like Collins Aerospace, have to comply. Collins Aerospace wasn’t able to share the type of diversity training it now provides, but RTX, the parent company of Collins Aerospace said in part, that it will invest in the resources required to assure a culture of belonging. Another governmental entity is embracing the trainings “Captivate” offers - the city of North Liberty.

“This is a community-wide effort and the more folks, more allies that are on board, the more people that help share that load and make a change,” Nick Bergus, Communications Director for North Liberty said.

The Trump Administration said it’s just protecting “millions of tax dollars” from being spent on “anti-American propaganda.” The White House said in a memo that employees in the executive branch have had to attend trainings where they are required to say that they’ve “benefited from racism.” It specifically calls out trainings about white privilege, defined as the social advantage White people have over other racial groups is a society characterized by racial inequality.

“We take the elements of restorative justice and embed them in our training so it’s not about calling people out or making them feel guilty. We understand that these systems of inequity existed before any of us were born,” Gray said.

North Liberty said it’s investing in these learning opportunities because that’s what residents asked for. The course it set up for free online filled up within days.

“I think they are ready to do the work, I think they are interested in being a just community, I think it shows that people care,” Bergus said.

“We know a lot of white people who you know, want to do the work, we know a lot of white people who are wondering am I the person to do this work, am I an ally? So out of care for that, we developed this course that will really take them down a reflective path,” Gray said.

With this new rule, certain employers can’t host these trainings and her team sees that as an opportunity lost and a familiar frustration.

“This is a barrier, but just one other barrier that we have had, we’ve had tremendous barriers in our careers and doing this kind of work. It’s not easy work and we didn’t sign up for easy and so we are not really worried about it, we are unbothered,” Fitten said.

Unbothered and undeterred, and potentially unable to grow their business in sectors that receive federal money.

Captivate is planning a virtual conference on October 24th, 2020. More information can be found here.

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