Inclusion Is In My DNA with Pamela Weidner

Pamela Klier-Weidner is the Executive Director of ORT Chicago. Recently, Holistic was able to learn more about Pamela, her background, and approach to fostering diversity and inclusion at ORT and in her day to day.

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Tell me about your background.

When I was very young, my mom was involved in ORT and even though I had no idea what she and her “ORT friends” were doing or why, I knew it was fun and very important to everyone involved. ORT was magical to me as a little girl. Actually, that’s a primary reason why I interviewed for ORT when the position of Region Campaign Director opened up. Once I was hired in 2016, I quickly realized that everything I had ever learned personally and professionally up to that point, led me to ORT to be an agent for change.

I was promoted to Executive Director of ORT Chicago several months ago.

I spent many years as a professional dancer, singer, and actress and then transitioned to become an international speaker and trainer for many Fortune 500 corporations. Before I found my niche in the nonprofit sect more than a decade ago. I spent more than 25 years in corporate training, public speaking, voice over, production, and speech writing through More Moxie, Inc., a corporation I founded and led.

After working in the corporate world for years and volunteering for various nonprofits in Chicago, it became clear that I was meant to work in the nonprofit sector and so, an immensely fulfilling career was launched. I’ve been doing nonprofit work ever since.

For eight years, I was the director of development and organizational advancement at the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA.)  At JCUA I was immersed in community organizing, Human Rights, various social justice issues and specifically, in and around Chicago, the root causes of oppression, anti-Semitism, racism, Islamophobia, homo/transphobia, etc. My experience at JCUA changed me forever. It was the place where I learned how to live out my Jewish values, “pray with my feet,” and never, ever stand idly by.

While at JCUA, I also served on the board of directors for Prevent Child Abuse America.

After I left JCUA, I was hired as the director of development and institutional advancement at The Family Institute at Northwestern University. Mental health and fighting against stigma is a passion near and dear to my heart.

In 2016, I joined the faculty at DePaul University Continuing and Professional Education. I developed a unique fundraising course curricula for individuals who are already working in or seek to enter the world of nonprofit development. In my spare time, when I can, I author, lead and facilitate REALLY UNIQUE nonprofit workshops for a variety of organizations and institutions, in volunteer management, fundraising, conflict resolution, and team building.

I am a divorced mom with two daughters, Juliette, and Charlotte (15 and 12). We have three furbabies, Polly, Erin, and Kishke.

What do diversity and inclusion mean to you?

Simply stated, for me, it equals the creation and implementation of an intentional environment where ALL races, religions, genders, ages, disabilities, socioeconomic statuses and sexual orientations are represented equitably. I also think in order to do it as best as we can, we have to be straight up about our own biases, and we have to know what the inequities are in each community before we can actually do diversity and inclusion right.

How much do diversity and inclusion matter to you?

Diversity and inclusion almost feel like a part of my DNA that has been nurtured since birth. From the time I was a young child, as a little girl, I would lash out at injustice and immediately feel moved to do something to try and change it. When any specific individual/group was excluded or treated differently or hated or simply not considered at all, I had zero tolerance for it. I have been fighting against root causes of oppression and micro and macroaggression long before people were even saying those words.

How do you foster diversity and inclusion?

First and foremost, inside and outside of ORT Chicago, when I see, hear or witness anything that has even a hint of racism, anti-Semitism, bigotry, LGBTQ-phobia, Islamophobia, etc. I know I must have an open and honest conversation. Most of the time, the person or group I’m speaking with has absolutely no idea what they said or did. I have found the real conversations, especially where I talk about my own biases, past and present, helps the conversation immensely. I consider this my responsibility as a director, as an employee, as a mother, and as a human being.

Until recently, ORT in the Chicago Region was almost exclusively women. This has changed (very intentionally so) in the past few years and finally, as of this year, there are women and men on our local executive board. Of these men and women, there are multiple generations, various socioeconomic statuses, professions, and local geographies represented.

Let me back up for a minute. I believe women MUST be elevated and frankly, as a woman myself and as an Executive Director of this region, I make no apologies for our region previously being populated by powerful, trailblazing Jewish women for all those many years. I do, however, understand philanthropy, fear, bias and collective perception. If our Region is to be sustained, this “women only” thing HAD to change. As we embark on our 2019 campaign around Girls and Women in STEM: ORT’s Work Breaking the Gender Gap, by design, we seek to amplify, strengthen and elevate women and especially right here in the field of technology in Chicago.

Throughout the world, there’s an incredible population of Jews of color and in Chicago, many of whom I know, have worked with, love and respect, and at ORT Chicago, are glaringly underrepresented. It kind of drives me nuts because not only am I driving this for our Chicago Region (and beyond our region.), but it so accurately represents ORT’s global education network and our ORT students around the world! In some areas on the periphery of Israel, ORT educates a large percentage of Ethiopian Jewish immigrants. We have had some success on the local level, but we need so much more. I believe our biggest challenge right now has to do with geography and accessibility. We are working to change that too so we can expand our diversity and inclusion.

What challenges do you face when speaking about these matters?

I think the biggest challenges are in convincing people that expanding our diversity and inclusion is a TOP PRIORITY and what it means to actually make it happen. I push our region hard on community building and I am very vocal about it on our national calls too. While ORT America is a fundraising organization and yes, I love fundraising, I think we have to do much better growing and diversifying our community in order for the great fundraising cream to rise in a meaningful way.

What are some of the accomplishments you've made by speaking of or by fostering diversity and inclusion?

While I don’t feel too comfy talking about what I’ve accomplished, when I came to ORT, I brought my friend and former colleague, Rabbi Capers Funnye in to do an important invocation for a Business Leadership Lunch and the Rabbi also served on a fascinating panel at a small ORT event, where we discussed the harsh inequities here in Chicago and also on the periphery of Israel where ORT has a number of schools, youth villages, and programs. Of course, there were other individuals of color involved in both the business lunch and the small event. Tokenizing makes me sick.

I would say that 95% of our ORT community at the time was thrilled to have Jews of color joining our community. I have also invited many other Jews of color, transgender Jews, and ALL others, to join our community. To me, this is a MUST and something I will not give up on.

What or who inspires you to be diverse and inclusive?

I have been very inspired (and ignited) by several rabbis who taught me how to be comfortable with the way I live Jewishly - Rabbi Robert J. Marx, Rabbi Herman Schaalman z’l and Rabbi Capers Funnye to name a few. Rami Nashashibi, my friends Tawfiq Farraj and Asaf Bar Tura who chose to include me in Jewish-Muslim Community Building for JCUA. It changed my life.

What is your dream for the future of our society when it comes to these matters?

My dream is for “over there-ism” to disappear and for every person to be honest about their prejudices (usually fears, right?) and through that honesty, develop a meaningful dialogue with which we can grow. All of us. Our global community.

What would you like to see happen in other people around you that would motivate and inspire others to also be diverse and inclusive?

It sounds crass, but I sure would be psyched to see an increase in “give-a-shit-ism” and a decrease of “over-there-ism.” If people around me can learn to think more globally AND can also acknowledge and feel responsible to do something about very real atrocities that exist in our city, nation, and the world against repressed communities, we’ll all be motivated and inspired together to be diverse and inclusive. I hope it’s at warp speed.

What were your dreams/goals as a young child? What are your dreams/goals now?

I wanted to be an ice skating meteorologist when I was a child. This is 100% true.

My dreams and my goals today are really to do the next right thing and be fully present with whomever I’m with, even if I’m by myself. As I said, I’m impatient and the world’s pain breaks my heart and crushes my soul. If I can just be present and live out my core values, I hope I can make a positive impact on humankind.