“The need for better understanding on diversity and inclusion issues is nothing new. It’s nothing new in my community, and it’s certainly nothing new for other communities across the country,” Mike Neal, CCE, president and CEO of the Tulsa Regional Chamber, says. For Tulsa, they can trace this need back roughly 95 years – to race riots in their prominent Greenwood District. The wounds from the violence and physical damage in what was once called “Black Wall Street” can still be felt today.
The chamber’s first formal attempt to address disparity in their region began in 1995, with the formation of their Minority Business Council. Like many similar chamber programs across the country, this group served largely as an economic development effort to encourage the formation and support of minority-owned businesses.
The program provided scholarship funds to assist growing businesses, but lacked dedicated staff support and organizational ownership. Without efforts to engage business owners beyond funding, many did not stay on with the chamber. The program therefore, was not highly effective for either members or the chamber.
A New Leader, a New Direction
The Minority Business Council trudged along until 2010 when the chamber invited one of their dynamic board members, and former chair of Tulsa’s Young Professionals group, to take the helm of the council. He said he’d do it, but only if the chamber agreed to “blow up” everything they’d been doing and start from scratch.
Under the direction of the new chair and with support from board and organizational leadership, the chamber was able to change course and direct their work into a more effective route. The new effort, which would eventually be called Mosaic, allowed the chamber to re-orient perspectives and truly adopt diversity and inclusion into strategic plans for the chamber and the economic development organization.
This new journey began with a look internally, a decision which catapulted their conversations in a meaningful and strategic way. With the help of a local author and diversity expert, the chamber conducted an internal assessment of staff makeup and perception of diversity and inclusion.
“Mosaic has full support from our volunteer leadership. That has made a big difference and has sent a strong message to our membership about the importance of this, no matter the size of your business.”
– Mike Neal, CCE
After looking internally, the outward focus depended on the addition of more voices from around the community. Mosaic’s chair helped the chamber bring along new partners and stakeholders in the new direction. According to Denise Reid, executive director of Mosaic and workforce, including nonprofits and other non-member partners was essential to the work. “We need them at the table to validate the work that we’re doing. We need their voice; we need their expertise.”
Also crucial to the new direction was being much more intentional and vocal about the work.
In 2011, the Tulsa Regional Chamber unveiled a new name, logo and focus for its minority business council. The newly-rebranded division would help small and minority owned companies grow and develop; it would also push the entire business community to adopt more inclusive practices and embrace the competitive advantages of diversity.
With a mission to “educate, lead and influence businesses on creating diverse and inclusive workforce cultures to enhance their competitive advantage,” Mosaic encourages organizations to focus on five key pillars:
The chamber supports these pillars with a menu of rich programming including their monthly meetings, various committees, networking opportunities, direct peer-to-peer connections and, most notably, their Inclusive Cultures Survey.
Beginning four years ago with an admittedly “light” start, the chamber has put out an increasingly deep survey for local businesses and organizations each year to assess their internal inclusive practices around Mosaic’s five key pillars. The 2016 survey even included two versions, one for smaller companies with fewer than 50 employees, and another for those with more than 50. The chamber then recognizes top performers at their annual Inclusion Forum. Categories include Rising Stars and three-Star, four-Star and five-Star recipients.
The survey process not only allows the chamber to honor those organizations already doing a great job, but also serves as a learning tool for companies still improving their efforts. As respondents – usually CEOs – work through the questions, they are able to clearly see which areas of their organization need to improve efforts in order to qualify as a Top Inclusive Culture.
A third layer of benefit from the assessment is the chamber’s ability to collect this data. It is helpful to see improvement in the community, but also to allow Mosaic to tailor programming based on community needs. Organizations specify what tools they need to reach their inclusion goals, which helps Mosaic strategically build programming and resources.
“We want everybody to feel like they can join this conversation – get on the journey – no matter where they are.”
– Denise Reid
Since the relaunch, the Tulsa Regional Chamber has welcomed an increasingly large group of people into Mosaic. Early meetings regularly attracted about 10 people each, but after six years, monthly meetings routinely attract more than 60 attendees. Mosaic now boasts over 210 member companies (375 total individuals).
According to survey data, participating companies in 2014 employed over 29,000 people. With increased responses in 2016, almost 48,000 employees were represented. That’s a striking potential impact on people in the community by companies improving their policies and internal culture.
While membership in the chamber isn’t a prerequisite to being part of Mosaic, the program has created a new revenue stream. Sponsorship for Mosaic has grown over 700 percent since 2012, as businesses have realized the value of the inclusion work and the potential impact on the community.
From an economic development standpoint, Reid says, “Mosaic has been a driver for a lot of our workforce conversations with companies that have diversity as a core value.” Top companies already understand the power of diverse teams, so working with a community with a strong commitment is a no brainer. According to Neal, the Tulsa Regional Chamber has been involved in the creation of 28,800 jobs in just the last five years.
What Mosaic has been able to accomplish for the Tulsa Regional Chamber and the community has been significant, but it did not come without the hard work and dedication of both staff and community partners. According to Reid, “When you look at what we’ve done, it’s been incremental. It hasn’t happened overnight.” And they certainly don’t intend to stop here.
Download this article: Reshaping Tulsa’s Mosaic (3)