By Heidi Turner,
Chelsea Bonini is a fierce advocate for equity, inclusion, and civil rights. Her experience as a lawyer, as a mom of a child with a disability, and a former elementary school teacher enables Chelsea to use her legal expertise and her unique perspective to advocate for change in systems that are meant to serve and support our communities.
As the founder of Kiski Law, P.C., Chelsea advises clients on corporate formation, governance, transactions, and agreements.
In addition to her work as a lawyer, Chelsea was elected as a Board Trustee on the San Mateo County Board of Education in November 2020; she serves on the San Mateo County Commission on Disabilities; and she serves on the Board of Directors for NAMI San Mateo County (National Alliance for Mental Illness). Chelsea also served as a Board Trustee in her own school district in San Mateo, California from 2013-2017. In 2018, Chelsea co-founded Not Without Us, a non-profit that is dedicated to increasing awareness of ableism and civil rights, encouraging community leadership, and creating a seamless and coordinated system of supports for more equitable and inclusionary opportunities and better outcomes in our schools, communities, and workplaces.
Chelsea leads workshops on understanding systemic ableism, becoming anti-ableist, and embracing inclusive and equitable practices in education for Conscious Inclusion Company.
What led you to advocating for people with disabilities?
I have a son who was diagnosed with a disability at age 5. He is now 13, so I’ve been learning to navigate our educational and mental health systems for 9 years. It’s been eye-opening to see the silos in services, the lack of transparency regarding early supports, and the severe gap in crisis supports for children and their families. Early in my journey to ensure that my child was receiving his education, I moved into a place of advocating, learning about existing systems, and seeking opportunities for community input. I also started a non-profit with some friends to provide a source of community support for parents in crisis and to build momentum for systemic change locally and beyond. We realized that the information we had about services, supports and paths forward has been learned by chance, and that many families were struggling with similar issues related to all kinds of disabilities. So now, my work in the public and advocacy spheres focuses on equity, inclusion and accessibility related to human and civil rights for all persons with disabilities and paths to change current practices.
It is more common for the legal system to be used in attempts to uphold civil rights, rather than relying on education, sharing information about resources and rights, and empathy building, but I truly believe that if people know better, they do better. This mindset has led to my work in sharing experiences and creating empathy with leaders in positions to make policy changes, as well as to my own public service. To create long-term impact, we need work together to change our broken systems, not just litigate these issues on a case-by-case basis.
How can organizations create job descriptions that are more diverse?
When seeking diversity in new employee candidates, a company’s focus should be on accurately representing the inclusive nature of the company when writing a company profile related to a job description. A focus on the company’s inclusive culture is more likely to draw a diverse group of candidates.
It’s important to acknowledge that systemic opportunity gaps likely limit efforts to build a diverse and inclusive workforce. Identifying aspects of a job that are preferred versus essential may alleviate the common problem of initially screening out excellent and diverse candidates who may not have the same experience or may not have attended the top schools from which you typically seek candidates. This will open your access to candidates who are often very qualified and who will be committed to the success of your company.
What are some creative ways to proactively find candidates from underrepresented communities?
If your organization isn’t typically diverse, you really need to try new ways of reaching qualified employee candidates. The same efforts will get you the same results, so it’s important to think outside of the box.
Companies should focus on building relationships with diverse organizations, educational institutions, and regions outside their scope of typical recruitment practices to proactively find candidates from underrepresented communities.
Tapping into the insights of people already in your organization to find out their ideas, connections, and networks for viable candidates could also be very effective in diversifying your candidate pool.
What is your biggest piece of advice for getting started with diversity and inclusion?
It’s important to review and honestly assess your current company culture and hiring practices. If your company has not been able to build or maintain diversity, it’s likely because you have some inclusion work to do. It is unrealistic to think that you can create a sustainable diverse and inclusive culture by just assembling people of different backgrounds. Examining why your company is not diverse and inclusive is an essential first step to creating change.
If people don’t feel they belong or that they have opportunities to make real impact, they won’t stay at your company. Developing a culture of inclusion will support ongoing efforts to retain a diverse and productive workforce.