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A business case for diversity
A business case for diversity

Black history month brings to mind the accomplishments and the profound influence that
African Americans have had on America.  Here in Hampton Roads we are rich in history and diversity and home to two of the nation’s top historically black colleges and universities. The talent and achievements of African-American business leaders can be felt throughout the region. From Norfolk Mayor Kenneth Alexander’s victory as the first African-American mayor of Norfolk, to Suffolk native Dr. L.D. Britt, Chairman at Eastern Virginia Medical School and the first black doctor to have an endowed chair in surgery, to Barbara Ciara, WTKR-TV Channel 3, news anchor and groundbreaker in media and communications.

It is no surprise that to fully leverage a company’s potential in a globalized world; diversity must be inherent in its hiring practices and leadership.  Hampton Roads is heading in the right direction, but there is much more work to be done.  If the historic victories for women and minorities in the November 2017 election were any indicator of the power and momentum of diversity awareness and value, than the business community needs to take note and follow suit.  

Your Hampton Roads Chamber is diverse and inclusive.  Last year the Chamber created a position on our board of directors for a Vice Chair of Diversity.  Safelite AutoGlass Regional Director, James White has been appointed to that position to advise the Chamber on the issues, challenges and concerns of minorities and how to better implement hiring practices and opportunities for workforce diversity.  “First, I am honored and excited to have the opportunity to serve my community as the Vice Chair of Diversity for the Hampton Roads Chamber.  I believe the creation of this position shows the commitment of the Chamber to serve all the members of the Hampton Roads business community.  I hope to serve as a bridge for diversity, inclusion, understanding, and teamwork.”

The Chamber has also taken on the initiative of creating a diversity forum to be held in Norfolk, this April. The forum will consist of an expert panel discussion and program designed to illuminate issues of diversity and inclusion in the business community and address possible solutions.  Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax has been invited to deliver the keynote address.  Fairfax is only the second African American to be elected to statewide office in Virginia. This forum is an important step for our community to educate, create meaningful dialog and enact change.  The Hampton Roads Chamber wants to partner with business leaders to develop hiring practices and opportunities that create a diversified work force.  Having such a workforce has demonstratively proven to be beneficial to business.

The Center for American Progress reports diversity can literally drive economic growth because selecting from a diverse pool of candidates means a more qualified workforce.  “Of 321 large global enterprises—companies with at least $500 million in annual revenue—surveyed in a Forbes study, 85 percent agreed or strongly agreed that diversity is crucial to fostering innovation in the workplace,” the report said.

Entrepreneurship, another key part or our economy, will grow as well as businesses commit to meeting the needs of a diverse community.  According to the Census Bureau, people of color own 22.1 percent of U.S. businesses.

The mission is clear for the diversity forum and the Hampton Road Chamber.  We can’t underrepresent the minority community of Hampton Roads.  Our businesses and our region need their expertise and talent and our business community must reflect our population.

This Chamber is 100% supportive of inclusiveness and diversity in our region and we want the business community to reflect that as well.  The Hampton Roads Chamber is proud of the diversity of our board members and trustees and have reaped the benefits of their expertise, insights and the diverse ideas they bring to the table to meet our region’s needs now and in the future.

Bryan K. Stephens
President & CEO
Bryan K. Stephens is President & CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber.
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