A conversation with diversity & inclusion leaders
This month, Utah Business partnered with Comcast to host a roundtable event featuring diversity, equity, and inclusion leaders to discuss equity in the workplace, small business growth, and success moving forward. Moderated by Sara Jones, CEO of InclusionPro and co-founder of the Women Tech Council here are a few highlights from the event.
What’s energizing you right now around diversity, equity, and inclusion?
Layne Kertamus | Founder | Asperian Nation
One of my key focuses is on neurodiversity in the workplace. I’m really excited about the possibility that we come out of this pandemic hopefully having left our old, worn out, highly problematic thinking and attitudes behind. This can be a restart for us. I see diversity, equity, and inclusion really as a blue sky opportunity for all of us and it’s in a workplace where this really can happen and be transformational.
Tekulvē Jackson-Vann | Founding Member | The Black Clinicians
One of the things that’s energizing me right now is the multi-layered conversations happening around issues of race, with Pride happening in June, and then also seeing this movement toward having Juneteenth recognized as a federal holiday. I just feel like the conversation is shifting. As a narrative therapist, I get a little geeked out when it comes to creating your own narrative. And so we’re just in this moment right now where the narrative is open and everyone’s voice can be heard. It’s energizing.
Liz Pitts | Vice Chair | LGTBQ + Chamber of Commerce
I’m energized most by visibility and celebration. [We had a great] pride month [in June] and I’m very energized by many of the organizations that I see springing up after this pandemic. I’m involved also with Project Rainbow Utah and am one of the directors of the Red Rocks Music Festival, formerly the Women’s Red Rock Music Festival in Southern Utah. And I’m excited to be working alongside and in support of the members of the BIPOC community. The People’s Pride Project is a new project coming up out of the QTPOC committee of Black Lives Matter. I’m very excited to hopefully use some of my experience to help support and be in the background and help support folks who are becoming more visible in the Utah LGBTQ+ spaces.
Katie Nielson | Co-founder & CRO | Assure
We focus on special purpose vehicles, which are an entity used to pull investors together to invest in startups. And so what is energizing me right now is the amount of investment money going into different groups who are investing into different ethnic backgrounds or people that were generally overlooked prior.
Shawn Newell | VP of Business Development | Industrial Supply
The things that are really energizing me right now are these difficult conversations we’re having about critical race theory and civics education. These are foundational to having a full understanding of some of the creations within the systems in which we exist that need to be fractured, need to be understood, and need to be acknowledged. And I’m hoping that continues and I’m gaining access to spaces where we can have impact on those conversations.
Denevia Knight | External Affairs Director | Comcast
Over the last year, Comcast NBCUniversal came together like never before. I feel proud and encouraged because of the way our company commits to educate and uplift our employees, advance equity, and reorient our support of underserved, underrepresented, and under-resourced communities. DEI is a journey―one that we will be committed to for a long time to come.
We’re steady in our commitment in many ways, focusing on workforce diversity and bolstering long-standing DEI initiatives like talent pipelines, Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), and employee volunteerism. We’ve launched several new efforts, from our enterprise-wide DEI Day about implicit bias to our DEI speaker series featuring renowned subject matter experts and authors. Comcast steadily pursues opportunities to dedicate our time, talent, and resources to social justice with a focus on digital equity and small business.”
What is “equity” and what is your personal test for equity in a culture?
Bassam Salem | Founder & CTO | Atlas RTX
Equity, simply speaking, is the degree to which our actions define us as opposed to our birth traits―the degree to which I’m judged by how I work, how I contribute and not my color, my nationality, my gender, or otherwise. And I really think if we increase the scope of your question, from corporate culture to international culture, to us here in this country, wouldn’t it be great if we could reach a point where a Black transgender woman born in the inner city could have the same opportunity as a straight white man born into privilege as long as her work warranted it? I believe that, for me, is the ultimate test for equity and culture.
Amy Fulton, PhD | Director of New Leadership Academy | University of Utah
At the University of Utah, how we talk about equity is understanding that at multiple levels―the individual, our institution, our organization or business― our systems are inequitable practices and that those practices need to be uprooted to create equal opportunity. I hate that word, but really we need to take a look at the most granular levels. In higher education, we’re looking at our students, but also our staff and faculty about how our practices over time within the system of higher education, within our institutions, have not been equitable to our students and understanding that real meaningful change must be enacted in order to uproot those practices and change them.
Sui Lang Panoke | SVP, Diversity & Inclusion Officer | Zions Bank
Diversity runs deep here at Zion’s Bank and an overwhelming majority of our employees identify as white. So diversity, thinking more broadly on how we define that term, and inclusion is reflected in our culture in the way that people feel, the manner in which we engage with one another, and the way that everyone conducts themselves.
Leading back to equity, equity is the fairness tool. That’s what it means. It means fairness, the manner in which we do business, the manner in which we go about recruiting and hiring people, the manner in which we engage with our colleagues in meetings or on projects, and the manner in which we grow our business. So all three of those pieces need to be integrated in order to create a successful, comprehensive DEI strategy.
What can small businesses do to drive diversity, equity and inclusion within their organization?
Tekulvē Jackson-Vann | Founding Member | The Black Clinicians
I’ve been in Utah for the last 20 years and I was just going through my 20-year resume in my head, and can’t think of a job that I’ve had in the last 20 years where I’ve had more than maybe one or two other minority coworkers. And for me, that’s sad. Where has the diversity been for the last 20 years? I’ve worked in higher ed. I’ve worked in faith-based counseling centers and private practice. I know that we have more diversity than that in the state of Utah. And I’m wondering, are we not able to keep the diversity in the state or are we all leaving? And if we’re leaving, that’s a problem. That’s a real problem.
Nubia Peña | Director | Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs
I would like us to consider that when people hear us say, “Utah isn’t diverse,” that the perception is perpetuated. The reality, however, is that our numbers are drastically changing. By 2065, one in three people in our population will identify as a person of color. Knowing this can help inform the ways we engage in recruiting, promoting, and retention practices as well as inspire us to cultivate inclusive workplace cultures where employees and clients alike, feel as if they belong. This can go a long way in maintaining our diverse workforce and encouraging businesses seeking a new home that Utah is the right place to launch their endeavor.
We are also urging our partners, leaders, and stakeholders to rethink our Utah narrative around diversity because saying we lack in this area discounts the diverse leaders we do have. In addition, the perception that we are not diverse actually hurts us as we try to compete in the national and global market. As our state grows, as our demographics shift, as we consider pathways for economic advancement, we have an exciting opportunity to develop strategies that include and represent the intersectional needs of our diverse communities that contribute to Utah’s success story so we are better prepared to embrace and support our changing workforce. I am inspired and grateful for the many private and public sector partners already engaging in this work that are thoughtfully considering their internal practices to cultivate empowering organizations that build equity, diversity, inclusion, and access principles within their DNA of how they serve and do business.
Peng Se Lim | Senior Manager of Diversity & Inclusion | 1-800 Contacts
[Businesses can] recognize, affirm, and reach out to those people in your communities. Because for me, it was so impactful to hear my CEO or my peers say, “Hey, Cambodian New Year is coming up.” Or, “I know your family celebrates Lunar New Year, what do you guys do for that?” That started getting me more comfortable to be myself at my workplace. And it was one of the reasons why I felt comfortable sharing aspects of my identity and my culture.
So I think what we can do to really highlight [and improve] is continuing to have those conversations. Reach out to those folks who really could be the future leaders, the future advocates in their spaces, and let them know that we see you, you hear you, we’d love to hear your story, and we invite you to participate.
What will success look like?
Archana Thiagarajan | Director of Experience Design | Adobe
Success to me is two things. It always starts with doing better today. Success is not a destination, it’s going to be progress we see every day and a constant commitment to kindness, right? The willingness to say, “No matter what I hear from the other person, I’m going to listen, I’m going to listen. Might be very different from what I think, but my commitment to actively listening and giving kindness is my personal commitment.” And seeing that spread. Seeing me staying committed to it every day without losing my patience is a mark of success for me, or progressing toward that.
And this is something I love from a quote I saw: “If you’re getting the same outcome, you’ve got to go and examine your methods.” If you want something different, you’ve got to change your method. To me, success is constantly examining your methods to kind of raise the bar on the existing population starting to understand that these conversations are also about them.
Connie Washington | Senior Director of Talent & Culture | Progressive Leasing
I think success is when we see underrepresented individuals throughout our organizations at the leadership level, and that it’s not shocking or strange or weird, it’s just how we do business. Because that’ll provide that vision and that availability to our young people that are moving into the business world. I often say to our folks, “If you can’t see it, it’s tough to be it.” And in my career, I’ve never reported to a person that looks like me. And so having that and throughout our organizations, I think will change the dynamic in multiple ways.
Lianna Kinard | Board Member | Utah Polynesian Professionals
I think success starts with me and the power of the other people on this call and our opportunity to lead by example, with kindness and love. And include people in what we’re doing and share that with others. [For example], Utah Polynesian Professionals started three years ago with 20 members who had random connections to Hawaii. And we have grown to over 700 in three years. It started with the 20 of us extending that invitation to somebody else we knew―and how much that’s grown! And so I think success is sharing our differences and what makes us all so great.
Trina Limpert | Founder | RizeNext
From a business perspective, I see a huge opportunity to start looking at DEI not as a side thing but as an integrated part of business strategy. And really starting to look at this differently and making that shift from a corporate perspective of “this is about growth and profitability” to “this is something that we need to do.” I was recently working with a company that I just loved because their mission values stated that “we start with love for our employees.” And that’s where it all starts. And I think if every company were to put that [love for their employees] first and part of their value set, it would change how they look at their culture going forward.
Shaylee Skillicorn | HR Business Partner | Deseret Management Corporation
I’m not entirely sure what success will ultimately look like. I think a lot of it is going to be more of a journey. The best success we’re going to see is going to be on the journey. We’re always going to be moving forward. We’re always going to be improving as people. Whatever capacity that ultimately may be. And so I think success is going to be along the road and as long as we’re moving forward and moving up, I think that will be the success.