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Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Tips for Chambers to Engage on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Amy Shields on Friday, June 12, 2020 at 12:00:00 am

As protests and demonstrations continue across the country, chambers are examining their role in responding to racism and systemic inequities. Below, we have provided some steps for chambers to consider as they chart their path forward. There are also examples from chambers who have done this work. ACCE encourages everyone to consider taking one or more of these actions. As a member recently said, “You can come for this issue, or it will come for you.”

Internal Actions

All work on diversity, equity and inclusion has to start internally. If we want to be seen as credible in this space, we need to take steps with our own board and staff.

  • Have open and honest conversations with your staff and board. Your staff may be struggling, and it may be uncomfortable to have a conversation with them about racism and equity. We will not become more comfortable having conversations about race if we aren’t willing to be uncomfortable in the process. If needed, consider brining in external facilitators or consultants to support the conversation.
    • Matt Pivarnik, president and CEO of the Greater Topeka Partnership, spoke to his staff about his commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion
    • The Greater Cleveland Partnership’s board voted to support the city council’s declaration of racism as a public health crisis
  • Provide specific training for your staff and board on diversity, equity and inclusion. Training will not solve systemic racism, but it is a start to creating a culture that supports equity and inclusion. Consider working with a local nonprofit or an organization like the Racial Equity Institute. Topics might include implicit bias, microaggressions, lessons on historic policies that have contributed to current inequities, or other topics.
  • Evaluate your policies and procedures with an intentional DEI lens. Your chamber’s policies and procedures should reinforce your organization’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Review your bylaws and governance documents, hiring and evaluation practices, employee manual, staff onboarding procedures, internal communications and other relevant policies and procedures.
  • Be honest about your chamber’s past. Our industry isn’t perfect, and some chambers have been on the wrong side of history when it comes to issues of equity and inclusion. In order to move forward, we must be honest about our mistakes and reconcile that with our desire to be better moving forward.
    • Mike Neal, president & CEO of the Tulsa Regional Chamber, acknowledged troubling passages from historic chamber meeting minutes in the aftermath of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and reaffirmed the organization’s dedication to doing better. The chamber also donated a copy of its historic meeting minutes to the Greenwood Cultural Center.
  • Consider where your chamber should lead efforts and where you should support. Chambers are natural conveners and leaders, but you don’t have to be at the center of every conversation. In this work, identify community partners and others who are already embedded in this work, and ask them how you can best support their efforts.
    • Chris Steinocher, president and CEO of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber, talked about the importance of listening and working in partnership at a recent virtual workshop
    • The Greenville Chamber released a joint statement with the Urban League of the Upstate & United Way of Greenville County calling for more community dialogue

External Actions

Chambers can choose from a wide array of options to support diversity, equity and inclusion in their communities. Even small steps can be valuable in the long run.

  • Issue a statement of support or place an op-ed in the local paper. A public commitment to equity and inclusion makes a powerful statement, whether individually, in partnership with other organizations. Consider how it might be interpreted if your chamber chooses not to say anything publicly in this moment.
  • Host or promote dialogues for your members, the business community, or the broader community. Does it make sense for you to host a conversation, or does it make sense for the chamber to be the listener in the conversation? Who is the right audience, and are you ready to hear the perspectives of community members no matter what they express?
  • Support minority-owned businesses. Support for minority-owned businesses is particularly important during this time, in part because these businesses have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
    • The Indy Chamber is administering Rapid Response Loans for businesses impacted by COVID-19, including those who may not have been able to access PPP funding
    • The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber has a successful minority business accelerator, and Darrin Redus, Senior Vice President, spoke to Congress about the importance of their work
    • The Dayton Chamber’s Minority Business Partnership creates supply chain opportunities for minority-owned businesses with large buying organizations within the region.
  • Provide training and support for members on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. Many organizations, particularly smaller businesses, may not have the resources to bring in their own speakers or instructors. Chambers can step in to fill the gap and provide important information to members.
    • The Grand Rapids Chamber offers its Institute for Healing Racism, a two-day program design to “attack the disease of racism from all sides”
    • The Raleigh Area Chamber of Commerce runs the Triangle DEI Alliance, which offers a variety of programming, including virtual and in-person conferences and learning events
    • The Greater Cleveland Partnership offers members a Diversity and Inclusion Assessment that helps them benchmark their company’s diversity and inclusion data against others in the region
  • Integrate diversity, equity and inclusion into everything you do. Chambers are examining everything from their economic development incentives to their legislative agendas. Use the same lens for external work as you do for internal policies and procedures.

Other Resources

Many people, especially white people, may be at a loss for where to begin when it comes to learning more about diversity, equity and inclusion. It can be tempting to turn to colleagues of color and to ask them to elaborate on their own experiences. In this time, remember that your colleagues may be feeling a variety of emotions about the current situation. Instead of asking them to expend their emotional and mental energy for your benefit, consider checking out one of these resources:

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