Making History During Women’s History Month: Meet DEIB program manager Kendra Neal Wright

Kendra Neal Wright

Kendra Neal Wright

Women's History Month takes place each March as an opportunity to learn about and celebrate women who have played a key role in our country’s history – including here in Johnson County.

This year's Women’s History Month theme is "Women Who Advocate for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion." Kendra Neal Wright serves as Johnson County Government’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Program Manager.

From spearheading the county’s VIBE program to serving as staff liaison for the Johnson County Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Coalition to serving on the planning committee for the county’s annual Juneteenth celebration, Kendra is creating a legacy for county employees and the community alike.

Kendra has worked in diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging for nearly 10 years, and began as Johnson County’s first talent and diversity specialist in 2020 – a role that in 2023 expanded to DEIB program manager.

But what does DEIB mean? For Kendra, it’s all about acknowledging and embracing diversity – with the ultimate goal of equal opportunity for all.

“It’s an outcome that you expect that, as you navigate in Johnson County, you would feel accepted and valued. We’re aspiring for this outcome for everybody, regardless of your background, regardless of your ability, regardless of your age. We want you to feel like you belong,” Kendra said.

Promoting diversity in the workplace

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the workplace began in the 1960s, as a result of the Civil Rights movement. At this time, equal employment laws and workplace diversity training were becoming a part of organizations across the country. What started initially as a focus on racial issues has since evolved to include a focus on religion, gender, sexuality, and ability.

“It’s something that’s timeless. The work has stood under many variants, many names. That being said, I think it’s a story that needs to continue to be told, and to be better understood,” Kendra said.

Kendra’s role varies from day to day. It could be meeting with a department about issues that are impacting them. It could also be providing support with recruitment efforts, including specific efforts for vulnerable populations who may have obstacles to employment. She also gets to bring out her creative side – whether she’s preparing a video or giving a presentation.

What is Johnson County’s VIBE?

VIBE Advisory Team members hold t-shirts with the VIBE logo

Kendra Neal Wright (left) with members of the VIBE Advisory Team

Another part of Kendra’s role as DEIB program manager is leading VIBE – Johnson County’s Voices of Inclusion, Equity and Belonging. This internal program, advised by a committee of county employees, promotes diversity and inclusion organization-wide through education and activities. 

The VIBE advisory team spearheaded the development of the county’s VIBE mission and vision statements, while also formulating the core definitions crucial for employees' comprehension of important concepts.

For Kendra, VIBE is meant to embody the word “vibe” itself – an atmosphere of a place as communicated to and felt by a person. She said, “What we hope is an environment where people feel like they matter, feel invited to contribute, have access to the support they need and so much more.”

Kendra’s work has made an impact across the organization. In the most recent employee survey in 2022, more than two-thirds – 68 percent – of county employees said Johnson County Government is progressing toward greater diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. With time, that number continues to grow. 

Whether it's providing employees with avenues to share their cultures or hosting training opportunities to educate staff, from the smallest interactions to large-scale projects, this work not only fosters a sense of belonging for employees but also enhances our ability to serve the diverse needs of our community.

Addressing diversity needs in Johnson County

In 2023, Kendra also recently began as staff liaison for one of Johnson County’s newest community coalitions: the Johnson County Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Coalition.

The Board of County Commissioners established the Coalition to better understand and address the needs of the county’s diverse population. This includes those who have historically been underrepresented or subject to discrimination because of their background, identity or disability.

“The Coalition will be fostering an inclusive community where all people feel connected, safe, and have a sense of belonging, and it aims to cultivate a welcoming, diverse community where all people are valued,” Kendra said.

The Coalition kicked off with its first meeting, a joint meeting with the Sustainability Coalition, on Dec. 6, 2023.  There are currently 13 members on the Coalition, including community members, local leaders, subject matter experts and more.

Leaving a legacy for future generations

DEI Coalition Members

Kendra Neal Wright (fifth from right) with members of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Coalition

Additionally, Kendra serves on the planning committee for Johnson County’s annual Juneteenth Observance event, which features storytellers, poets, musical performers and more.

Between her efforts in the workplace and across the community, Kendra’s impact in Johnson County is wide-reaching. She said she owes it to the many women who have inspired her throughout her life, from family and parishioners to teachers and mentors. Now, as DEIB program manager, Kendra is writing her own history – and she’s grateful to do it at a place like Johnson County Government.

“I’ve loved the journey at Johnson County. From day one, I've loved how embracing and supportive our county managers have been, how supportive our county manager has been. I have enjoyed so deeply working with our staff,” Kendra said.

For Kendra, knowing that she played a part in what matters so much to so many people — empowerment, culture, and knowledge-sharing — is the legacy that infuses her efforts with profound significance.

“The stories, their knowledge, their skills – It's an amazing thing to have the privilege to move from department to department and interact with our Johnson County employees. They are phenomenal.”

Hear from Kendra in these videos on our FacebookInstagram and YouTube.

Human Resources