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Spurred by large-scale issues surrounding racial injustice and social unrest and a desire to take action, the MetroHartford Alliance (MHA) created the Racial Equity and Economic Development Leadership Committee last summer.

The mission is to help the MHA and our community advance racial equity in economic development by increasing issue awareness and developing impactful programming that results in action.

Hosting webinars with dynamic panelists is one way we work toward that goal. The MHA received positive feedback from our first Pulse of the Region Connect event, “Creating a Diverse and Inclusive Culture,” which helped confirm we’re on the right track by creating and continuing conversations about racial equity, diversity, and inclusion.

“Our journey to create a diverse and inclusive workplace culture is a process that won’t be accomplished with one discussion or one event,” MHA President and CEO David Griggs pointed out in his introductory remarks at the “Starting Your Journey to Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion” webinar, which took place Thursday, February 18.

The panel discussion, moderated by MHA Senior Director of Investor Relations and Racial Equity and Economic Development Leadership Committee team lead Raina Giddings, featured:

 

Facing Change

In her opening presentation, Exec Mommy Group LLC Principal & Founder Joelle Murchison worked to build a bridge from last Pulse conversation, noting that this event was an opportunity to move beyond a moment. “It’s more than celebrating and recognizing it’s an opportunity to be inclusive,” she said.

Joelle began by quoting novelist James Baldwin: “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

She also discussed the importance of ensuring alignment, saying, “It’s critical to be clear about what we need when we talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion.” She encouraged organizations to ask themselves: What are we doing? Who’s accountable? Who will lead the initiative? Do we have what we need or do we need help to support this mission? “Do a deep dive—think about where you are today and where you would actually like to go.”

 

Beginning the Journey—Where to Start?

Raina asked the audience for input about how organizations can prepare to make changes.

“We’re on a journey. It’s a marathon and not a sprint,” acknowledged Leading Culture Solutions Founder Andréa Hawkins. “Diversity brings different perspectives. There’s a fear of getting started and leaning in—and a fear of conflict,” she added. “An important first piece is to make sure your organization is equipped to handle conflict. I encourage organizations to lean into it—you’ll make progress over time.”

Joelle agreed with the concept of leaning in. “Acknowledge the opportunity to hear and lean into new information. It should encourage space for change,” she added.

Thought Partner Solutions Chief Equity Officer Jamal Jimerson highlighted the importance of embracing failure. “If we’ve done it wrong before, what can we learn? How can we dramatically improve? How can we come back better in the next iteration?” he questioned.

“Diversity is important but it’s insufficient for addressing deep-seated power imbalances. What we’re talking about is shifting the way people look at themselves and their role within a system, he added. “The goal is to reimagine a more equitable and diverse world and determine how to effectively solve root issues”

From the start, it’s important to talk about power and authority, noted Moon Shadow Consulting Founder Wendy Brown Helmkamp. “Organizations need to ask: Who are our strategic partners? Vendors? How can your organization more equitably distribute power?”

KJR Consulting Chief Enthusiasm Officer Kenya Rutland approached getting started from a different angle, by discussing what not to do, namely, “Hiring a diversity and inclusion consultant before making a plan and knowing the organization is ready.” Instead, he recommends, “First, think about where you want to go as an organization.”

 

Leadership Accountability

Raina’s question about what leadership accountability looks like also engaged the panelists, who had strong feelings about leadership’s involvement.

“In terms of culture: How goes leadership, so goes the culture,” said Wendy. Leadership needs to be role models, showing empathy and vulnerability, she noted.

Joelle also underscored the importance of leadership commitment. “When leadership is trusted and committed everyone will fall line,” she said, adding, “Individuals need to be held accountable, too. It’s not entirely the organization’s role to educate.” Joelle encouraged people to read and learn on their own.

“Leaders should be involved right away,” emphasized Kenya. “Think about where you want to go as an organization—it starts with conversation and experiences, not training—then roll out a strategy that’s sustainable, not a one-off,” he advised.

 

Coming Together

Raina acknowledged the MHA’s efforts to enhance our internal and community efforts and questioned how organizations can collaborate with each other and move the needle within their own organization.

“Participate in your organization’s efforts—it’s hard to be an ally if you’re not involved,” said Wendy. “Allyship must come from authenticity; actions in support of our colleagues must be based on their needs. When our actions are based on what we want, they become performative.”

For Andréa, collaborating involves what she refers to as the four Ls: listen, learn, lean in, live “Thinking about underrepresented populations in your organization and giving them light is very important,” she added.

“Allies and alliances matter,” underscored Jamal. “There’s power in numbers.”

 

Continuing Our Journey

The MHA’s conversations confirm the urgency of the moment and the need to address diversity, equity, and inclusion issues in every workplace, Raina said in her closing remarks.

“Today, more than ever, we have to make serious commitments and take concrete action to ensure success through the involvement of each leader, employee, and stakeholder,” she emphasized. “And, to recognize that everyone contributes to the overall value—and success—of the organization.”