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The National MS Society is committed to empowering every person with multiple sclerosis to live their best lives as we cure MS. But no one can live their best life when they face discrimination and exclusion.
Why Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Matters
Disparities in healthcare keep many marginalized communities from getting the quality care they need. As a national health organization, speaking out is not just a choice, it is a responsibility. When we lift up those most affected by inequities in our communities and healthcare system, we lift up everyone. This makes us more effective in our work to achieve a world free of MS.
We are committed to the continual practice of identifying and responding to the root causes and impacts of inequitable norms, policies and procedures. Diversity, equity and inclusion are core to who we are as an organization. We vigorously promote diversity, equity and inclusion and define them as:
- Diversity: The range of human differences and similarities that make us unique, such as our cognitive skills and personality traits, along with other things that shape our identity; race, ethnicity, age, gender identity and expression, disability, veteran status, religion, sexual orientation, culture, education, socioeconomic status, family or marital status and any other characteristics.
- Equity: The work of equity seeks to eliminate discriminatory practices, policies, systems and social norms and acknowledges that underserved and underrepresented populations have experienced unfair treatment and denial of access due to bias or systemic structures.
- Inclusion: The act of authentically and intentionally bringing traditionally excluded individuals and/or groups into processes, activities and policymaking in a way that shares power.
- Belonging: The desired outcome of DEI as a practice. Belonging is a human emotional need where an individual feels accepted, valued, seen and supported. We want people to know and feel they belong.
We are a movement — by and for — everyone affected by MS. Hate has no place here. We have an inclusion policy that allows zero tolerance of harassment of our staff, volunteers or constituents.
Diversity, equity and inclusion has long been a core value of our organization. But we recognized we needed to do more to make the MS movement a place for all affected by MS. We know that this effort is a journey, not a destination. There is more work to do, but we’ll continue to make progress, together.
We recognize that being an organization that is safe and welcoming for all starts from within. With that understanding, we
- Championed the formation of employee-led resource groups, “ERGs,” a space for staff to build stronger internal and external networks; to offer Society-wide social, educational, and outreach activities; to create development opportunities for future leaders; and increase engagement for all associates.
The Society currently hosts four ERGs: “Inclusive Voices” for staff who identify with an underrepresented racial or ethnic identity, “Military Community Network” for our staff who have served in the military, “Society Pride” for our LGBTQ+ staff, and “Workability” for staff who live and work with a chronic mentally or physically disabling condition.
- Focused on attracting, recruiting and hiring a high-performing workforce that reflects the communities we serve by examining our practices to remove any instances of bias in our processes. Check out our Careers Page if you are interested in joining our team.
- Invited staff members to share their pronouns in personal introductions and in email signatures. This has the practical benefit of making it clear how we would like to be referred to. It also shows respect for the gender identity and pronouns of our staff — and everyone within our movement.
- Instituted organization-wide DEI training for all staff. This training included listening sessions; workshops on identity, power and unconscious bias; and inclusive leadership training for more than 70 leaders in the organization.
- Declared Juneteenth a paid Society holiday to encourage employees to celebrate, reflect and engage in anti-racist learning.
- Supported legislation that 1) codifies or increases equitable access to healthcare for LGBTQ+ people, 2) explicitly prohibits discrimination in provision of care to LGBTQ+ people and 3) opposes so-called “conscience clauses” that allow healthcare providers to refuse to provide care to individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Joined more than a dozen patient groups in siding with/praising the Biden administration’s action to reinstate protections for LGBTQ+ people rolled back under Trump. The groups also filed an amicus brief in a case against the 2020 Rule that rescinded protections for LGBTQ people in which we made clear that these communities already face significant health disparities and that allowing discrimination would further exacerbate these gaps and lead to poorer health outcomes.
- Acknowledged the painful history of indigenous people in this country by stopping our observance of Columbus Day. Instead, we made Election Day a new Society paid holiday to promote civic engagement across our workforce.
- Recite and share reflections on our DEI statement at the beginning of Society meetings to help sustain this commitment.
- See our previous statement related to our Diversity Equity and Inclusion commitment and progress as of 2021.
We will amplify the voices of all people affected by MS and increase the cultural awareness and professional expertise of healthcare providers and researchers. To begin to accomplish this, we
- Invested in research to better understand how MS affects underrepresented groups. This included a grant to study immune cell differences in racially and ethnically diverse individuals. It will show why people of specific races and ethnicities with MS tend to experience more aggressive disease. With this information, healthcare providers can create better treatment strategies.
- Joined other major organizations across the country to lay out principles that advance racial equity and justice.
- Continue to increase representation of diverse voices, perspectives and experiences throughout our work. This included dedicating an issue of Momentum Magazine to raising awareness of the MS experience in communities of color and highlighting disparities in diagnosis and treatment.
We will provide the information and resources underrepresented groups need to move their lives forward. Toward this goal, we
- Launched a monthly Ask an MS Expert program in Spanish to connect people of the Hispanic/ Latinx community to experts in the field to ask questions and learn more about MS related topics.
We welcome everyone to be part of the MS movement, by
- Developing an organization-wide DEI language guide to ensure that our words consistently foster inclusion.
- Increasing the diversity of volunteer leadership by recruiting volunteers of diverse genders, races, ages and other hidden dimensions of diversity.
This is only the beginning. As we grow as an organization, we will work toward a society free of injustice. This is the only way we can achieve a world where everyone with MS can live their best lives.