Chamber Leaders Discuss Importance of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Regional Perspective

Staff Report

Friday, June 26th, 2020

As a leading private-sector organization with businesses throughout our metro area, the Chamber felt it was important to step forward to play a key role in helping our region understand the incredible importance of an inclusive and diverse society whose members are treated and valued equally.

In the first of the Chamber’s new series, The Regional Perspective, President & CEO Bryan Derreberry was joined by Kenya Dunn, the Chamber’s new Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Executive Fellow, to discuss diversity, equity and inclusion in our region and the private sector’s responsibility to lead in strengthening our community.

Below, read more about the conversation between Bryan and Kenya on the importance of taking action in this moment, why diversity is good for business and the Chamber’s DE&I plans for the next year and beyond.

Bryan (BD): It has been an extremely difficult time for the African American community. Why, now, do we need to take action to be part of the solution?

Kenya (KD): Something that we cannot ignore happened in response to George Floyd’s death. Nearly 30 independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council issued a statement urging the U.S. to address systemic racism and racial bias. The American Psychological Association stated that racism and racial discrimination affect the mental health and well-being of African American people and negatively affect the nation as a whole. When you see organizations such as these make such impactful statements, it serves as a real wake-up call.

We’re ready and the time is right. What happened to George Floyd will be in history books; in 20-30 years, our grandchildren and their children will know what happened on May 25, 2020. We have the opportunity right now to right the rest of the story. It’s important that we take action now so that the rest of the story is that the community came together to improve society and eliminate racism in America.

BD: What do we do as individuals? How do we move forward with our own behavior in a way that leads to racial equality and inclusiveness?

KD: There have been a number of articles and op-eds touting the importance of allyship, and many people are stepping up to act. However, what must come before allyship is being educated and informed. YWCA Greater Charleston’s Racial Equity Institute does a great job of breaking it down and helping people understand what systemic racism really is in America.

After education, you must be courageous enough to reach out and engage. As business leaders, you have the capacity and ability to see problems before they become bigger ones. Identify who could use an allyship, and don’t wait to be asked to act.

BD: What do we do as a community?

KD: Overall, what we want to see in a community is people coming together to better understand one another in a safe space. Create a safe space to have the dialogue and then quickly get to the point of response and action, with a new level of understanding of each other.

For businesses, creating spaces within your organization for listening and learning is crucial. You also must develop a plan for assessing the effectiveness of programming. In business, what gets measured gets done; determine what “good” looks like, how it’s measured and what your action plan will be. Lastly, in order to ensure forward movement, you have to have accountability for the things you’re committing to.

BD: We know there is a great deal of research about why diversity is good for business. In fact, across the board, when it came to innovation, creativity, productivity and profitability, diverse teams were hands-down better able to help their companies and the economic mobility of individual employees. Doing the right thing is also the rewarding thing. How can we help the business community understand the important benefits of DE&I for individuals, but also to business success?

KD: Whether you talk about the business case for diversity or the business case for racial equity, there is a dollar amount attached to that. By 2050, the U.S. stands to gain $8 trillion in GDP by closing the nation’s racial equity gap. Lessening and eliminating disparities for others benefits everyone. One of the greatest benefits to businesses is that being educated, informed and able to not offend will be powerful tools when entering into markets that you’re culturally not familiar with.

BD: We know it starts with listening. If people have questions, what are some steps they can take now to promote dialogue and discussion?

KD: Before entering into any of these discussions, there are a couple of rules:

  1. You can’t be afraid to not get it quite right.
  2. Conversations inside businesses must start at the most senior level of your company.
  3. Don’t overcomplicate it. People want to know that what is important to them is important to you.

Statements of support are great, but how quickly you get to tangible goals and actions is important because that is what adds believability. You must be prepared to outline the things you are going to do and how you’re going to measure it.

Plans for the next year and beyond

Between now and the beginning of 2021, the Chamber will be actively working on metrics for our metro area with regard to social justice, racial equality, diversity and inclusion. We will have a set of prosperity metrics that directly measure our performance as a region and within the business community.

In the short-term, we will be developing and implementing a listening mechanism to hear from businesses – both members and nonmembers.

In the long-term, we are looking to build our own diversity assessment as a tool for businesses, paired with a way to help businesses create and implement an action plan after the assessment is complete. Research, data and feedback will be needed to develop these assessment metrics. We will also be working to determine what our accountability structure looks like.

In the implementation of the Chamber’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative, remember that although there will be some early wins, many of the milestones will take years to be fully developed. Stay ready and be open as we go on this journey together to do the work year in and year out to make our region a better place.