Toward Racial Equity: A Multi-Day, Multi-Region Convening in March Exploring Strategies for Inclusive Business Growth

Toward Racial Equity: A Multi-Day, Multi-Region Convening in March Exploring Strategies for Inclusive Business Growth

The Commission on Economic Inclusion, a program of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, recently welcomed leaders from 13 cities nationwide to discuss an issue affecting the business climate in all our communities: racial exclusion.

The attendees included economic development professionals who have shown a track record of working successfully on diversity, inclusion, and equity strategies. During the course of two days, the group shared best practices, troubleshooted common challenges, and set the foundation for cross-regional partnerships to increase the effectiveness and coordination of our work.

The Commission had been communicating virtually with many of the invited organizations, most of whom were also operating within chambers of commerce. The convening provided an opportunity to solidify these relationships and understand the ways in which we can grow together.

"The Cleveland convening was innovative, refreshing, insightful, and a tremendous learning experience,” says Valerie Patton, Senior Vice President of Inclusion and Talent Attraction at the St. Louis Regional Chamber. “It is priceless to have like-minded individuals who do this work daily to step away from their environments, explore what is happening in other markets, and discover take-aways which are actionable.”

The other regions in attendance were BostonBuffaloCincinnatiKansas CityKnoxville, Tenn.PhiladelphiaPittsburghSyracuse, N.Y.Tulsa, Okla.Washington, D.C.; and Western Michigan. The Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) was represented as well.

The two-day event on March 12 and 13 began with the Commission’s annual CEO Forum keynoted by Tim Ryan, U.S. Chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers. The program, which brought together nearly 200 CEOs and top executives from across Northeast Ohio (one of the largest turnouts for a GCP CEO-level event), urged local business leaders to speak up and take action against racial injustice.

Ryan emphasized the importance of being in touch with issues that are important to a company’s employees, at all levels. He shared that diversity and inclusion efforts should be “cultural, not episodic,” and that it is “not simply a competitive issue, but a societal opportunity.”

The convening guests next participated in an evening reception, during which each organization shared presentations about their work. The reception was open to local Cleveland leaders, and was attended by individuals from Cleveland’s business, civic, and philanthropic communities. The reception also included a panel of key Commission partners, including Jumpstart’s Cathy Belk, A.M. Higley’s Gareth Vaughan, and University Hospitals’ Dr. Margaret Larkins-Pettigrew, all of whom shared how working with the Commission has improved their own capacity to create meaningful opportunities for both employees and the larger marketplace.

The following day, guests joined an intimate, full-day roundtable discussion, facilitated by Erica Merritt of the Equius Group. Given the previous day’s events had given everyone both an understanding of the enormity and dire need of our work, as well as familiarity of each other’s organizations, participants deep-dove into conversations around specific strategies in workplace equity, workforce development, CEO engagement, and other crucial topics.

“I have always referred to the Commission as the gold standard in the D&I space, and this event was also at gold standard levels,” says Doug Minter, Director of Small Business Development at the Knoxville Chamber. “The convening created an environment that gave me motivation to keep moving forward. The interactions of the invited teams from across the country gave me confirmation on the one hand and provided innovative perspectives on the other.”

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The group has committed to maintaining a consistent line of communication, to continue best-practice sharing and identifying strategies for our own regions through the work of our peers.

“Our convening was a testament to the fact that, by working together and collaborating beyond our institutional boundaries, we can achieve even greater impact,” says Brian Hall, Executive Director of the Commission on Economic Inclusion.

The Commission looks forward to even more opportunities to engage with regional partners in the future, including at our Tenth Annual Inclusion Conference, taking place from 8 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. on Aug. 23, 2018. Stay tuned for more information about this event in the coming weeks.

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