Racial Equity, Diversity & Inclusion

Members of the Forest Preserves Racial Equity/Diversity & Inclusion (REDI) Committee.
Members of the Forest Preserves Racial Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (REDI) Committee.

We are committed to and actively working toward equity in our workplace, with our partners, in our communities and throughout Cook County. This work is ongoing, and we continue to listen and learn. Racial equity is achievable, but for that to happen we all have to acknowledge the depth and intensity of this problem. We pledge to do our part to change it. And everyone is welcome at the Forest Preserves.

On this page:


Diversity & Inclusion Statement

The Forest Preserves of Cook County is one of the largest public conservation districts in the country. We strive to protect a diverse array of ecosystems that shelter thousands of different plants and animals which provide the residents of Cook County and its visitors with clean air, healthy waterways, and many different opportunities to explore and take respite in nature.  

The nearly 70,000 acres of public land that we protect harbor some of the last best examples of our natural heritage, as well as culturally significant historic sites. We recognize that if these public lands are to thrive, they must be treasured by a diversity of residents who advocate and care for the health of the Preserves. 

We welcome and value each resident and visitor who comes with unique experiences and characteristics. We believe that we are stronger when we respect, accept and learn from our similarities and differences.  


What We Believe and What We Are Committing to Doing

We value diversity in all aspects of our work, and are committed to enhancing our cultural competency in order to best serve and engage Cook County residents in caring for the health and enjoyment of our natural and cultural heritage. 


Our Staff

We value our employees and the different talents, expertise and viewpoints that each brings to the table. We commit to providing a constructive, safe and positive work atmosphere and infrastructure that promotes mutual respect and empowers individuals to thrive in their jobs. 


Our Partners and Volunteers

We value collaborative relationships and the expertise and insight that diverse pool of partners, organizations and volunteers can provide to guide, inform, and accomplish our work. We commit to strengthening and deepening connections with existing partners and to establishing new partnerships to comprehensively advance the mission of the Forest Preserves. 


Our Vendors

We value the innovation, resilience and flexibility that accompany working with diverse businesses in Cook County. We commit to supporting and strengthening Cook County’s economy and will choose to work with a diversity of vendors, including minority-owned and women-owned businesses. 


Our Visitors

We value the people of Cook County on whose behalf we hold and care for the Forest Preserves and strive to ensure that all people feel welcome and have the opportunity to enjoy nature in the Forest Preserves. We commit to offering a variety of experiences which reflect our commitment to inclusivity and are relevant to many different individuals and communities.

To explore the wide array of programming that we offer, please visit our Events Page.


Position Paper: Moving Towards Racial Equity

Adopted by the Forest Preserves Board of Commissioners in July 2020.

The Forest Preserves of Cook County should implement its goals to connect more people to nature and to promote and protect the biodiversity of its natural resources in partnership will all the residents of Cook County, including those most marginalized by structural racism. The Forest Preserves should work with the Conservation and Policy Council and other partners to ensure that voices from communities that are impacted by racial inequity are incorporated throughout the planning and decision-making process, and by applying a racial equity lens to major policy
and budget decisions.

Recommendations:

  1. Apply a racial equity lens to all future plans, programs, policies and investments.
  2. Expand outreach to engage residents of impacted communities.
  3. Consider racial equity in land acquisition decisions.
  4. Build a staff that is diverse and promotes racial equity.
  5. Provide all residents with access to nature related recreation by ensuring major recreational facilities are well-distributed across the Forest Preserves, accessible and well-maintained.
  6. Expand the criteria for restoration prioritization to also include racial equity.

Racial Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (REDI) Committee

Formed in November 2018 and comprised of employees from across the organization, the REDI Committee focuses on restructuring internal processes to reflect our values of equity and inclusion, while educating Forest Preserves employees on how to practice racial equity in the workplace.

In 2019, three REDI project teams focused on a specific problem or opportunity within the Forest Preserves’ community engagement efforts, training opportunities and human resources (HR) processes to find ways to increase equity in these areas. Each team presented an equity-focused analysis of their problem or opportunity and explained what actions they took to address the issues they discovered.

Training Team

  • Examined possible barriers to equitable training and development opportunities by interviewing 70 full-time employees in the Landscape Maintenance department.
  • Through employee interviews, identified barriers including scheduling, work location, staffing and communication issues.
  • Made a series of short- and long-term recommendations to remove barriers and increase certification rates.

Human Resources Team

  • Changed structure of hiring panels to include: One position expert, one representative from an external department and one person from an underrepresented race or gender.
  • Added standard interview questions focused on cultural diversity to all interview questions as part of a REDI Requirement.
  • Developed a framework to increase diversity of applicants using new and existing partner organizations.

Community Engagement Team

  • Executed an equity-focused communications plan in support of a Conservation & Experiential Programming (CEP) partnership program that allows community organizations and individuals access to Forest Preserves event space, staff support and up to $5,000 in funding for approved event ideas.
  • Expanded and diversified the distribution list for the Forest Preserves quarterly Event Guide to increase the number of Event Guides and other promotional materials going to economically disadvantaged communities.
  • Created a framework to remove procurement and legal hurdles for partnering with individuals and organizations serving economically disadvantaged communities.

In 2020, the REDI committee is building on the work of these initial projects, with a focus on HR processes. The committee is also developing organization-wide training to teach Forest Preserves employees the importance of using a racial equity lens in their work.