This is a historic year in the history of the Commonwealth. 2019 marks the 400th anniversary of events in Virginia, which continue to define America. The founding of the House of Burgesses at Jamestown in 1619 shaped the democratic process we continue to enjoy today. However, 2019 also marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans to be sold into bondage in North America. While Hampton Roads is blessed to be filled with so much history and to be at the heart of our nation’s birth, we must recognize how the actions of our founders have left a tarnished legacy and created systemic challenges in our society that 400 years later we are still working to overcome. In the midst of Black History Month, in the midst of a Virginia cast in horrid tumult and portrayed on a national stage for its errors and its often ugly history, the Hampton Roads Chamber sees this as a strategic turning point and a catalyst for our future. We cannot change our history but we can and must learn from it and focus on a better future, one of equality and inclusivity.
The Chamber’s Diversity in Business Forum was held on February 21st where we openly discussed diversity and inclusion in the workplace. This was a difficult discussion but one that fundamentally affects every business, every leader and every citizen of our region. When an issue like this arises which affects the business community we address it. We are not an “ostrich” Chamber. The Hampton Roads Chamber will not stick our heads in the sand and hope it goes away. We work hard to find solutions, we collaborate with our members and partners, we research and educate, we address issues and challenges head on. And when it comes to diversity and inclusion practices in the workplace, we must lead the way.
Why? Because our primary role in the region is to set the conditions for businesses to succeed and we know undeniably, there is a positive business case for diversity and inclusion in business. There is an abundance of studies spanning over forty years to substantiate it. The importance of both diversity and inclusion in building high performing organizations cannot be overstressed. In business terms, a diverse and inclusive workforce is not something your company ought to have; it is something your company must have to be competitive in 2019. It has become a business imperative!
Therefore, it is vital that diversity and inclusion practices be inculcated into the fabric and value system of every organization. Then, as these practices ripple through the business community they will hopefully become a practice of our social community, our interfaith community, our arts and culture, our education, and as a result, Hampton Roads and the Commonwealth will not only embrace its diversity but also be a place where every individual feels respected and wholly included.
How do we do better? The business community of Hampton Roads must be the change. While we honor and commemorate the New World’s first legislative assembly, we must also remember and learn from what it means to have been part of a history of gross exclusion and division.
We must talk about these issues, we must talk about the shame and hurt, we must talk about the conscious and unconscious bias’s that exist and find reconciliation. Yes, this Chamber means business, but it also serves as an impactful advocate and inspiring ignitor. On matters of diversity and inclusion in business, this Chamber will lead the way to keep the dialogue going and to keep pressing forward.
The Hampton Roads Chamber is holding another Diversity in Business Forum in the fall and we will continue to work through these challenges together to enact meaningful change every day.