What's the Role of Business in Diversity, Inclusion Efforts?

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Talks about inclusion and diversity in Springfield have been ongoing for years, but those studying the issue say not much progress is actually being made.

A group with the Mayor’s Commission on Human Rights and Community Relations is calling for action on the heels of a recent survey. Commission Chair Heather Hardinger says the Springfield Inclusion Survey gives a voice to say whether the city has a problem.

“Forty-one percent of respondents reported that they or someone they knew had experienced an incident of unlawful hostility or discrimination,” says Hardinger.

She says places of employment are the most often where these acts are experienced, according to the survey.

Hardinger is among seven commission members appointed by Mayor Ken McClure. Their stated purpose is to educate and foster relationships among all racial, religious and ethnic groups within the city. Hardinger says after hearing comments regarding diversity and inclusion, they decided to dive deeper through a survey.

Earlier this year, the inclusion survey was distributed in multiple channels across the city. It was a first for the city, says Hardinger, although large institutions such as Missouri State University and Ozarks Technical Community College have looked into this issue, too.

“The purpose of the inclusion survey was to shed light on issues that may be holding back inclusive change and leadership – including concerns about racism, discrimination and belonging that impact citizens in Springfield,” says Hardinger.

With more than 2,200 responses, people gave suggestions such as wanting public policy changes to protect minorities, more diverse leaderships, and addressing the issues of homelessness, poverty, crime and drugs.

“There is definitely some work we have to do around mitigating the issue of discrimination and hostility in Springfield,” says Hardinger, pointing to another survey stat: 48% of respondents have witnessed acts of hostility or discrimination against others.

Business owners in the city already are working to try and change that. Paul Mueller Co. Human Resources Supervisor Kristin Britton says the longtime stainless-steel manufacturer conducts traditional harassment and discrimination training, but this year officials put a heavy emphasis on diversity and inclusion. She says they are in the process of developing a diversity and inclusion team.

“A lot has happened in 2020. We want to make sure we are able to have these conversations,” says Britton. “We want a really comfortable culture and environment where we can politely have conversations, recognize the differences are there, be able to navigate those – and also recognize some of those differences are where our best ideas, our problem solving, our innovation, our new business ideas are all coming from.”

SRC Holdings Corp. officials say they are actively looking into similar training for their employees. Executive Vice President of Human Resources Krisi Schell says a team was looking at best practices in the community from other organizations, but then COVID-19 hit the area. Though the research is on hold for now, Schell says SRC officials plan to renew their efforts in 2021.

“We want to have a strong workforce that represents many perspectives. In order to achieve that, we have to make sure we have the right processes and systems in place to actually support that vision,” says Schell.

However, not everyone responding to the Mayor’s Commission survey agrees with the significance of diversity and inclusion.

“A number of responses suggested that Springfield doesn’t need to do anything to increase diversity,” says Hardinger.

One anonymous response: “Stupid survey. Diversity is another name for equal opportunity and so far every diversity position I’ve heard of has been filled by a Black. Springfield is diverse enough.”

Another person wrote, “Springfield is a great place to live. Don’t make this some BS dialogue about how we’re so hateful, racist, sexist, … etc. We’re sick of that dialogue already.”

Springfield Business Journal conducted its own web poll this summer asking readers whether or not their business is doing enough to support diversity, inclusion and social justice. Out of 291 votes, 34% said it was not the role of business to do so.

Hardinger disagrees. She says businesses can gain a lot if they include the diversity and inclusion training in the workplace.

“Employment discrimination was one of the number one instances that we saw through the survey,” says Hardinger. “Communities and organizations that are more diverse – and are more welcoming and have very detailed and specific plans in place to bring people together – are more profitable and successful.”

According to a 2018 study by Boston Consulting Group, companies that have more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenue.

For businesses looking to start the conversation surrounding diversity and inclusion, Hardinger says it starts at the top of the organizational chart.

“If I could pick one thing, it would be to make sure the leaders at the top are committed to whatever plan is being created,” she says. “Be open and ready and willing to listen. Make sure to include a diverse set of voices when decisions are being made.”