Opinion: Business plays key role in fostering diversity, inclusion

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Advancing racial equity is not only the right thing to do but also a strategy for economic growth. It’s imperative that the private sector understands the role it plays in removing systemic barriers and building an inclusive environment.

Opportunity gaps
The Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce recently joined more than 500 chambers and associations in signing on as a partner in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Equality of Opportunity Initiative.

The project is focused on addressing opportunity gaps that perpetuate broader inequalities in our society and hold back individual and business success and economic growth. It is data driven and evidence based in a way that will facilitate targeted, sustainable public policy and private sector solutions that close the gaps.

The U.S. Chamber has compiled research demonstrating the magnitude of opportunity gaps in six key areas: education, employment, entrepreneurship, criminal justice, health and wealth. We all pay a steep price in lost economic growth because of these gaps: 9 million jobs would be created if the number of minority-owned businesses increased to be proportional to minority labor force participation. The smart move is to take action to realize that kind of job creation potential.

Business benefit
In addition to the moral imperative, closing the gaps created by systemic racism, creating a culture of respect and building greater diversity can spur business growth. There’s abundant data to that effect: McKinsey & Co.’s 2018 Delivering Through Diversity Study showed companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability and 27% more likely to have superior value creation. In that same study, companies in the bottom quartile for both gender and ethnic/cultural diversity were 29% less likely to achieve above-average profitability than other companies studied.

A study by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation shows that closing the racial equality gap would generate $8 trillion in U.S. gross domestic product growth.

Census projections show that the United States population will continue to grow more diverse in the years to come. Public and private sector investments in cultural competency training and best practices will make this an even more welcoming community with inclusive workplaces and institutions – a place that offers experiences that convince people to live, work, learn and play here. For our region to grow at a faster, more competitive rate – the key to winning the competition with similar-sized cities for quality jobs – we must attract and retain more diverse talent.

Relational assets
While it might sound like “just more talk,” there’s an aspect of inclusivity that revolves around building relationships through honest and respectful conversations about difficult issues like racial inequity. Deeper personal relationships – truly understanding and learning from one another even though we are different – can be incredibly powerful in undermining systemic barriers.

We learned a lot about what that looks like on the chamber-led 2019 Community Leadership Visit to Lexington, Kentucky. Leaders there have successfully employed the “Courageous Conversations” model to bring all segments of the community together to honestly discuss difficult issues while facilitating the trusting relationships necessary to overcome systemic barriers and achieve inclusive excellence. On the airplane ride home, Community Partnership of the Ozarks’ Prosper Springfield Director Francine Pratt already was working out how to implement that model here. That work is underway, and I know you’ll be learning more about how to engage in that process in the next few months.

I believe these facilitated conversations and efforts to strengthen relationships can yield tangible results, because they are reinforced by incredible resources we already have in this community. Building on these assets is a part of the chamber’s current strategic plan.

At our June Good Morning, Springfield event, I spoke about some of those assets that can help the private sector move toward inclusive excellence right now, including the Facing Racism Institute. Hosted twice a year by Missouri State University’s Division for Diversity and Inclusion, this impactful program was based on a best practice the chamber brought back from a Community Leadership Visit to Grand Rapids, Michigan, over a decade ago. It will give you the tools to create a more inclusive culture and workplace. Custom training resources and programs also are available through MSU.

It’s in our chamber DNA to function as a trusted convener, an inclusive engager and a leading catalyst on issues that will shape our future. The chamber is committed to being a collaborative partner as our community works together to ensure greater equity, a strong talent pipeline and robust economic growth.

Matt Morrow is president of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at matt@springfieldchamber.com.