In the business world, we’re familiar with the initials, D&I. Across the board, companies have been focused on improving their practices of fostering diversity and inclusion. But, we believe there is a letter missing from these initials. Any discussion about promoting diversity and inclusivity must also include a discussion about equity in the workplace. So, for the first time, the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and Wake County Economic Development, a program of the Raleigh Chamber, organized a conference focused on diversity, equity, and inclusivity.
We held the Diversity, Equity & Inclusivity Conference on Aug. 22 at the Raleigh Marriott City Center. The goal of the half-day conference was for people to have tangible takeaways that they could use in their own workplace. With insightful speakers and more than 400 people registered to attend, the inaugural DEI Conference did not disappoint.
(You may skip ahead if you wish to read about a specific section of the conference.)
Business Case for Diversity
Continue, Stop, Start, and Takeaways
Business Case for Diversity
The conference opened with an address from Dr. Richard Warr, interim associate dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs at NC State’s Poole College of Management. Warr discussed the business case for diversity and why firms that promote diversity and more innovative and more successful in creating new products.
“Diverse teams tend to make smarter decisions more effectively,” said Warr. “Diverse teams tend to be more objective and examine facts more carefully. Surveys also reveal that more diverse teams tend to be more innovative.”
Warr discussed how firms can measure pro-diversity. Some of the strengths of pro-diversity firms, he said, are that they promote women and minorities, have CEOs and board members that are women and minorities, offer strong work-life benefits, have pro-LGBT policies, and employ underrepresented groups and disabled individuals. Concerns would arise if companies don’t have these characteristics or are involved in controversies, such as harassment lawsuits.
There also is a direct correlation between pro-diversity and innovation, said Warr. But, it is not a two-way street. “We have found that firms that have more pro-diversity create more innovations,” he said. “But more innovation does not lead to more pro-diversity policies.”
He added, “Firms that are innovative and promote diversity are more valuable than those that don’t promote diversity. Simply put, diversity is just good for business.”
In our executive panel discussion, we explored why DEI is important to a company’s culture, the bottom line, and our region’s ability to attract the best and brightest.
Audience members heard from Sonja Hines, president and CEO of H&S Resources Corporation, Terrence Holt, president and CEO of Holt Brothers Construction, LLC, Lauren Hood, senior vice president and diversity & inclusion executive with Bank of America, and Paul Rea, senior vice president of BASF Agricultural Solutions, North America. Gail Manley, director of diversity & inclusion with Fidelity Investments, moderated the panel.
Manley opened by asking each to share the journey that their organization has had with DEI.
“We were very concerned when we started with how we were going to handpick our people,” responded Holt. “We’ve been dedicated to looking like the rest of the world.”
“We’ve learned that diversity is not enough,” said Hood. “It’s really having an environment where people can be different and bring their differences to the table.”
Rea told the audience, “We realized that people really held the answers. We now have 13 employee resource groups. We focus also on inclusion. No matter your background, everyone must be included. Everyone has something to offer.”
The conversation moved to how to address unconscious bias in the workplace.
“Optics are everything,” said Hines. “We want to be a company that is perceived as open and welcoming to everyone. We put our pictures of our executive leadership team on the internet so you can hopefully identify with some of them.”
Hines added that, as a woman, minority-owned company, she has to make sure that she is inclusive to the majority.
Manley pointed out that conversation is a key ingredient toward interrupting bias.
“Interrupting the bias is so important,” responded Hood. “Develop mechanisms that enable you to notice them when they come up.”
The Diversity, Equity & Inclusivity Conference offered those who attended the opportunity to attend two breakout sessions of their choice. There were four sessions from which to choose.
In one of the earlier sessions, Pathways to Become an Ally and Accomplice, audience members heard from four panelists: Scott Deitz, vice president of public affairs with the VF Corporation, Adam Klein, director of strategy with Capitol Broadcasting Co., Inc., Catherine Lawson, associate attorney at the Parker Poe Law Firm, and Kelly Taylor, assistant director of the LGBT Center of Raleigh. Tayah Lin Butler, director of diversity & inclusion with NC State’s Poole College of Management, moderated the discussion.
Klein talked about the importance of listening to others. “The greatest resource has been the people around me,” he said. “I take the time to listen to exceptional professionals.”
Taylor encouraged the audience to reach out to organizations that interest them. “Find out what they are doing and if you’re interested, reach out to them, donate and volunteer,” she said.
The conversation turned to blind spots that people may have. Deitz responded, “We can turn blind spots into bright spots if we choose to.”
Lawson reflected on her journey to become an advocate, “Thoughtful grieving can be a path to the empathy needed to appreciate the complications that exist in our diverse world.”
In the other early breakout session, Creating Equitable and Inclusive Cultures, audience members heard from Timothy McClain, U.S. initiatives consultant, Global Diversity & Inclusion, Military & Veterans Affairs, MetLife, John Samuel, technology services manager with LC Industries, and Willy Stewart, chairman and CEO of Stewart. The panel was moderated by Dickens Sanchez, associate director of business development with Clean, and Kristen Koch, HR business partner with ABB Inc.
Koch encouraged audience members to have a call to action. “What do you do when you go back to your organization,” she asked.
McClain said to the audience members that they should remember career, culture, community and commerce. “Reach out to nonprofits to partner with your company,” he said. “Take those four C’s and measure your progress.”
Samuel said his takeaway is focused on accessibility. “Make sure accessibility is part of your DEI strategy,” he said.
Stewart talked about the importance of culture. “Your foundation goes back to understanding what is your culture,” he said. “Know your numbers. Know the data. For employees, be proactive for working with the CEO on shaping that culture.”
Following a short break, we began the remaining two breakout sessions. In one, Cultivating and Attracting Diverse Talent, the audience heard from six panelists: Elizabeth Black, marketing manager with Personify, Stephany Connelly, business development manager with AppleOne, Danielle Pavliv, diversity & inclusion manager with SAS Institute, Inc., Van Sapp, dean of the School of Business at Saint Augustine’s University, Raymahl Sutton, the founder and CEO of Applyable, and Keisha Williams, director of marketing/communications at the School of Business at NC Central University. Ashley Cagle, vice president and assistant executive director of Wake County Economic Development, moderated the discussion.
“Diversity and inclusion are everywhere with us,” said Connelly. “Every organization has to have a leader in talking about diversity. Somebody has to be driving that ship so everybody else can get on board.”
Black talked about the importance of being authentic while hiring. “Remove unconscious bias from the interview process,” she said.
Sutton added, “If you want to increase diversity, consider your interview panel. Applicants want to know if they can see themselves there.”
Williams talked about the message she delivers to her students. “Our job is to make sure our students know how to be authentically you and bring something to an organization and its culture,” she said. “We encourage the companies to think about how much better they’ll be by having an inclusive environment.”
Pavliv said the first step toward attracting talent is understanding your data and being intentional about your focus.
Sapp told the audience, “Sometimes we look in the mirror and the lighting isn’t very good, so we need others to be the mirror for us.”
In the last breakout session, A Roadmap for Building Your Own Innovative DEI Strategy, Seth Smiley-Humphries, director of global diversity for Lenovo, talked about creating a customized plan of action for promoting DEI.
He told the audience that they will want to benchmark what competitors are doing for talent and should develop a compelling brand for inclusion.
“You will gain credibility and you will gain momentum,” said Smiley-Humphries.
Continue, Stop, Start
We wrapped up the conference with some final takeaways and with an exercise called, Continue, Stop, Start.
Danya Perry, manager of equitable economic development for Wake County Economic Development, led the exercise.
“What’s your post conference charge,” he asked. “What’s next? The easy part is done. You showed up.”
He encouraged the audience members to name one thing that they will continue after the conference, one thing that they will stop, and one thing that they will start.
Some people shared their ideas, including continuing to be an advocate for diversity and inclusion, stopping unconscious bias, and starting to have courageous conversations at work.
Adrienne Cole, the Chamber’s president and CEO, concluded the conference with the Chamber’s Continue, Stop, Start.
She mentioned that we will continue addressing DEI through everything we do, will stop avoiding having uncomfortable conversations, and will start launching a Triangle DEI Alliance, all while planning for next year’s DEI Conference. The alliance will focus on making DEI a priority for our region’s business community.
Cole added her takeaways from the conference. “Focusing on DEI is not only the right thing to do, it is a smart business decision,” she said. “Building an inclusive organizational culture starts with leadership. We need to make sure that we mitigate unconscious or conscious bias.”
The DEI Conference got a tremendous amount of attention and discussion on social media. The conference’s official Twitter hashtag, #DEIConf18, was the top trending topic on Twitter in the Raleigh area for several days and for a while during the morning of the conference was trending nationally on Twitter.
We join with our partners at Wake County Economic Development in thanking all of the speakers and panelists for their great insight into a topic that is a key component of our area’s culture and economic growth. We also want to thank all of our sponsors for their support.
To take advantage of the resources provided by sponsors and speakers from the event, visit the links below.
Building A Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Roadmap
Community Outreach Example - Clean
DEI Conference Resources
Interviewing Dos and Don'ts
Pathways to Become an Ally and Accomplice
Personify Interview Guide
Personify Work Life Integration Guide
Raleigh Chamber Handout
The Business Case for Diversity - Dr. Richard Warr
The ROI of D and I - Bank of America
Please join us on Sept. 21 at the Raleigh Convention Center for our Annual Meeting where this year’s theme is Better & Faster. You will hear from Jeremy Gutsche, advisor to hundreds of top brands, who will give you tangible takeaways for how you can adapt to change and find innovative ideas.