“We are continuing the dialogue on diversity, equity, and inclusion to help set the conditions for all to succeed. Regardless of their race, gender, or sexual orientation,” said Bryan K. Stephens, President and CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber.
The Hampton Roads Chamber continues to serve as an impactful advocate, inspiring ignitor, powerful economic partner, and regional collaborator for its members and businesses in The 757. On Wednesday, February 19, 2020, the chamber hosted its fourth annual Diversity and Inclusion Forum at the Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel.
Stephens provided opening remarks about the milestones experienced in the Commonwealth regarding diversity and inclusion efforts. He said, “We are hopeful today’s discussion will be a catalyst for change and will help find solutions to the issues, challenges, and concerns of minorities in business.”
Felicia Blow, Associate Vice President of Development for Hampton University and member of the Hampton Roads Chamber’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, moderated the panel discussion with Dana Beckton, Chief Diversity Officer of Sentara Healthcare; Brian Briggs, Senior Director of Business Development and Corporate Communications of Canon Information Technology Services, Inc.; Ellen Farrell, General Counsel of Toyota; and Rony Thomas, President and CEO of LifeNet Health.
“We want to go beyond preaching to the choir, and the choir looks beautiful and expanded,” said Blow. She asked the panelists, “Diversity and inclusion aren’t always altruistic. What is a key driver for your companies D&I initiatives?”
Thomas said, “Today, one of the biggest things we’re grappling with is the millennials. Nobody wants to come to an organization that does not have the right kind of ideas. For businesses to be competitive today, you have to have the right kind of presentations and programs.”
Farrell responded, “Toyota is founded on two core principles: continuous improvement and respect for people.” She went on to say D&I initiatives are a business imperative. “Companies with diverse boards and workers outshine those that don’t. You get different ideas when you bring different people, ideas, and backgrounds together.”
Beckton added, “As the first chief of diversity officer for Sentara, we must recognize that there is diversity in the community. It’s incumbent for us to have diversity and inclusion in our company and build on that to take care of the patients we serve.”
With a focus on technology companies’ roles in diversity and inclusion initiatives, Griggs said Canon focusses on people. “Our philosophy is driven around working and living together for the common good. As an imaging and medical company, our customers are the most creative, talented, and challenging people to work. Why should our workforce not reflect that?”
Blow went on to ask panelists how their business defines diversity, equity, and inclusion. Beckton answered, “When we talk about diversity, everyone in this room is diverse. A plethora of characteristics makes you uniquely you.” She described the cognitive, social, and geographic differences that define people and expressed frustration with companies that try to limit diversity and inclusion efforts.
Beckton said, “Inclusion is important because you make every person on your team feel valued and appreciated. Inclusion is when the work comes to play.” Most companies are diverse, but management doesn’t take the next step to make the workplace inclusive for each person.
Farrell agreed with Beckton and said, “Diversity is being invited to the dance, and inclusion is being invited to dance.” Farrel stressed the importance of bringing people into the conversation to drive innovative ideas in a business environment. “It’s about valuing everyone,” said Thomas. “To start these conversations, culture must change.”
“Diversity and inclusion are about expanding, not excluding. You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” said Blow. She asked panelists how they measure the impact of their efforts.
Farrell said Toyota distributes team member engagement surveys to its workers to measure their efforts. Beckton and Briggs both agreed and said their organizations also distribute employee engagement surveys to measure success.
In closing, Thomas said, “the entire management team has to be involved.” He said it’s essential to look outside your biases and involve people who are talented and skilled. Beckton also mentioned the value of voice. She said, “Use your voice to second the other person who is bringing diverse opinions and ideas to the conversation.”
Congressman Bobby Scott and Dr. Janice Underwood provided remarks to those in attendance about the Commonwealth’s efforts to promote diversity and inclusion efforts. “As a community, we share a commitment to two key principles,” said Scott. He continued, “Diversity and inclusion make good business sense. And two, it’s the law.” Scott said, “Thank you to the Hampton Roads Chamber for creating inclusive hiring practices and expanding access to opportunities for all workers across Hampton roads.”
Underwood said, “Most organizations say they want diversity and inclusion programs but don’t know how to do it.” She encouraged the audience to build coalitions and act on a strategic plan to make diversity, equity, and inclusion discussions a reality.
In closing, Patrice Lewis, Senior Advisor at SIR, revealed the diversity and inclusion dashboard driven by empirical data collected from across the 757. The goal of the D&I dashboard is to measure the equity and inclusion efforts of the region.
“Diversity is one of the strengths of the 757,” said Lewis. She provided an overview of the dashboard’s findings and how the region compares to others in the following areas: diversity, strategy, accountability, and influence.
Lewis said much of the region is diverse. “According to envision 2020 results, we have 81% of our residents who are diverse, but businesses are lacking.” The next step is strategy. “D&I doesn’t happen by itself. It has to be intentional.” Patrice encouraged organizations to create goals and an effective strategy for diversity and inclusion efforts. “It has to start from the top,” said Lewis.
“Are we holding our management accountable?” Lewis told the audience that accountability for businesses upholding D&I efforts is low, with only 16% of companies being accountable to diversity outcomes. The final measurement is influence, and Lewis reported that 40% of employers are developing strategies to ensure diversity and inclusion practices are in place.
Although this is only the first iteration of the D&I dashboard, Lewis said it is up to the business leaders and companies in the region to make the change and spark inclusive efforts. “We are the 757, and we are committed to challenging ourselves to be the best when it comes to diversity and inclusion.”
Dr. Ron Carlee, Assistant Professor for the Strome College of Business at Old Dominion University, asked the audience what the next steps are for the region. He said to improve the region’s performance on the benchmark assessment, “We must learn to expose and dismantle behaviors that prevent successful diversity and inclusion practices.” He challenged organizations to conduct an internal analysis of their organizations to evaluate how they measure up to the Diversity & Inclusion dashboard.
“It is only through actions by individual companies that we can achieve a collective impact and achieve the competitive advantage that we want for the 757,” ended Carlee.
The Hampton Roads Chamber would like to thank the following sponsors: The Port of Virginia (Series Gold Sponsor), Cox Communications (Member Spotlight Sponsor), Colliers International, and Safelite AutoGlass (Series Bronze Sponsors).