Business leaders evaluate their role in diversity efforts


I have a title with the word “chief” in it. Because of that, I feel a greater sense of responsibility to help develop and grow not only my company, but my community as well. One of the ways I am doing this is by working to positively affect our diversity and inclusion efforts in West Michigan.

Many community organizations discuss and act on this topic, but I wanted to see how others in roles of leadership were affecting change. This March, I joined the Diversity and Inclusion committee for TALENT 2025. TALENT 2025 is a “coalition of 100 CEOs covering 13 West Michigan counties with a mission to act as a catalyst to ensure an ongoing supply of world-class talent in West Michigan.” As the organization worked to increase the qualified candidates in West Michigan, members saw an opportunity to achieve their mission through focused diversity efforts. For the “Community of Practice” centered around Diversity and Inclusion, 23 employers have committed their executive-level leadership to meet regularly and share methods for improving our efforts.

I now look at the topic of diversity and inclusion just as I would any other lesson I would teach my children. First, we need to make them aware that there is an issue. Second, we explain the importance of why we need to address it. Third, we provide them with the tools they need to learn how to address the issue and, finally, we assess how well they grasp what we’ve taught them.

I know, that sounds way too easy. But that’s because it really is. As business leaders, we need to lead by example. We need to articulate — loudly — the business imperative (to stay competitive) and the moral imperative (it’s the right thing to do) to continue to move the needle on diversity and inclusion efforts in West Michigan.

In West Michigan, we need to leap ahead and show other communities why these efforts are so critical and what steps they can take. Based on 2010 U.S. Census data, Grand Rapids is No. 5 in a recently published list of the 10 most diverse spots in the state (based on racial, age, income, and education diversity). However, other studies show Grand Rapids as one of the worst cities economically for African-Americans. The way I see these numbers, we have a lot of opportunity to grow.

I believe we are making progress, but we still have a long way to go. We need to continue to demonstrate our commitment to diversity and inclusion (making people aware). We need to continue to practice intentionality around creating and fostering a more diverse workforce (one solution to the talent shortage). We need to equip ourselves and our teams with the support and tools needed to create an inclusive culture (addressing the issue with action and holding people accountable). And, we need to measure our progress (we all know the old adage — if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it).

As leaders, we need to create the vision of a diverse and inclusive environment and then we need to practice what we preach. We need to make the vision a reality.

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