On December 3rd, the Hampton Roads Chamber hosted the Virtual Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Forum: How Businesses are Creating an Inclusive Culture. The chamber hosts Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) events as part of one of the chamber’s four pillars, Powerful Economic Partner, “Be a Powerful Economic Partner by developing, diversifying, and improving the economy, equity, and inclusiveness of our region".
Dr. Janice Underwood, Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, Commonwealth of Virginia, delivered the keynote address. She spoke on her experience as the first Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer to be in a Governor’s Cabinet and the importance this role plays. She went over the “One Virginia Plan”, a program she and her team have been working hard on. The Goals of the One Virginia Plan include:
The forum included a panel discussion led by Jim Bibbs, Vice-Chair Diversity of the Hampton Roads Chamber and Chief Human Resources Officer of LifeNet Health. Each panelist had the opportunity to share how their organization is working towards building an inclusive culture. Following their opening statements, the panelists partook in a question and answer.
Howard Hoege III, President and CEO of the Mariner’s Museum, began the panelists’ introductions by talking about servant leadership, and how he takes an active role in building an inclusive culture, and how he is measuring their progress. He cited open communication as a huge factor in creating an inclusive culture. “About five years ago, before I started with the Mariner’s Museum, we had a 37% personnel turnover rate. This year we have 7%. I share that not to brag but to say we’ve seen the results in being above average in our communication. I have an open-door policy. I communicate regularly with all staff emails and meetings. We are also really purposeful about deliberately asking people what they think about a topic before making decisions,” said Hoege.
Kurt Krause, Present and CEO of Visit Norfolk, spoke on the rich and diverse history of Norfolk, and how he and his team had an honest reflection on what they were choosing to promote with their digital content. They realized they could do a better job showcasing diverse aspects of what makes Norfolk a great place to visit. Krause stressed that these internal reflections are important and are only successful when people are ready to seriously dive in. “To really capture and grasp DEI, you have to have an uncomfortable conversation. If you’re not ready to address the key components in a meaningful way, then reschedule,” advises Krause.
Georgie Marquez, founder and owner of Andre Marquez Architects Inc., spoke on the experiences she and her husband have as immigrants who now own a small business in America. “I was born and raised in Puerto Rico and came to the U.S. in my late teens for college. My husband was born in Haiti and came to the U.S. with his family. Because we are both immigrants, when we started our firm, we wanted to make sure we gave opportunity to a wide range of individuals. We believe in respect. We are all unique individuals and deserve to be treated with dignity,” said Marquez.
Michael Steverson, owner of Warrant Realty, spoke on how his military background inspecting foreign vessels helps him create an inclusive culture. He spoke on how being a minority and veteran-owned business plays a major role in his commitment to DEI. “I think from a small business standpoint when you are a team, you have to have those tough conversations and they are better when not everyone has the same point of view,” said Steverson.
Cathie Vick, Chief Development and Government Affairs Officer for The Port of Virginia, spoke on initiatives the port is taking to build inclusivity. She highlighted the new initiatives of bringing schools to the Port saying she believes it will inspire students to see a career path they may have never been exposed to. “Kids want to be what they see,” said Vick. Aside from hiring practices, Vick also spoke on the importance of training employees who are already in the organization on topics such as unconscious bias. “We have employee resource groups and forums where folks can come in and have those uncomfortable discussions,” said Vick.
Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston, President of Norfolk State University, addressed the audience with Presenting Sponsor Remarks. “We are proud to serve as the Presenting Sponsor for this forum. We wish we were having you here, but COVID-19 is real. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is in our DNA, we were founded on the belief that everyone should have access to higher education. This forum is critical. We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go,” stated Dr. Adams-Gaston.
Nneka Chiazor delivered the Member Spotlight remarks on behalf of COX Communications. Nneka is the incoming Vice-Chair of Diversity for the Hampton Roads Chamber.
The Hampton Roads Chamber is committed to our values of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. These forums are designed to enhance our member’s ability to succeed, grow their business, and develop their team.