Diversity, equity, inclusion. I am embarrassed to say that when I heard more and more communities striving to address issues with diversity, equity, and inclusion, I thought that was an individual decision and somewhat akin to implementing a marketing strategy–one that had best practices but not necessarily a right way or wrong way to implement it.
I figured anything that was put into place was a step in the right direction. But it turns out this is more than just a politically correct or morally right thing to do.
A true diversity, equity, and inclusion policy has protocols to follow and can be all-encompassing or simply a guiding principle.
Here’s what you need to know about implementing a diversity, equity and inclusion program at your chamber.
What Is Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?
DEI is different — or more — than supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. DEI is a commitment to building an inclusive culture in your community through establishing outreach, education, options, best practices for businesses, and more.
Yes, there’s a desire behind the movement to end racism but there’s also the focus of creating equality of opportunity and ending micro-aggressions in the workplace and community that may be limiting opportunities for your residents.
Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion programs have three components:
- Diversity values and celebrates differences, making everyone feel welcome. If you’ve ever heard of the “salad bowl” concept (instead of the “melting pot” where everyone blends together) used to describe our country then you understand it’s about retaining “flavor” of differences without alienation.
- Equity is about creating a culture of fairness where people are treated the same regardless of differences.
- Inclusion prompts answers about creating environments conducive to feedback, supporting diversity, and being open.
Keep in mind, DEI programs are not just focused on racial equality. There are other groups that may feel disenfranchised or alienated due to gender, sexual preference, age, culture, religion, or other identifier who need protection and opportunities as well.
(A note from the team regarding stock photography and diversity. Free stock photo sites will offer limited options for finding photos of diverse people, especially “non-cliche” photos. Paid sources have more options especially for harder-to-find photos of people such as transgender people or middle-aged women.)
What Areas Does DEI Focus On?
A true DEI program or strategy covers all areas of your community including:
- businesses (hiring, careers/promotion, recruiting, separation)
Let’s take a look at ACCE. It created a DEI Division in order to:
- “Leverage members’ combined experience and knowledge to advance diversity and inclusion programs and practice throughout the chamber profession.
- Provide chamber leaders with access to information, individuals and ideas that will help them build more economically and socially inclusive regions and organizations.
- Become a forum to discuss new diversity and inclusion ideas and initiatives for ACCE and the chamber of commerce profession at large.”
Check out ACCE’s one-pager on the topic.
How Can a Chamber Implement DEI?
Like any initiative, there are different levels of participation. Some chambers have created an inclusion policy by which to base decisions and guide programming. Some host seminars. While others create committees.
A chamber can even go through a certification process to certify their program. This allows them to run training sessions for businesses that are looking to implement training.
Here are a few ways to participate in a DEI program within your chamber:
Inclusion Policy or Diversity Statement
If you want to create a DEI initiative, drafting an inclusion policy is a good place to begin. Writing an inclusion policy helps establish equality. When you publish and make known your policy, it can be applied in an equal way and set clear expectations for everyone.
Some chambers choose to create a diversity statement to clarify their support of diversity, equality, and inclusion and just how they will participate.
Some chambers are appointing a committee or a task force to help decide in which areas the chamber can make the most difference. If you decide to do this, you’ll want to be specific about your goals and make sure you set expectations for the group. Then you’ll want to recruit participants/volunteers with diversity, equality and inclusion in mind, ensuring that all voices in your community are heard.
This is a committee you will likely want to get community involvement in. For that reason, you may not want to limit it to chamber members. This could end up being a good recruitment tool, too.
There’s a lot to teach businesses about DEI. From hiring practices to promotion and career pathways, inclusive programming to micro-agressions and inappropriate topics of conversation, creating a culture of inclusion is a commitment that goes beyond the required language about being an equal opportunity employer.
Chambers could work with a consultant to get certified and run their own training programs or implement a part of it as a component of their Leadership Program.
If the chamber doesn’t want to implement its own, it may be possible to partner with a preferred provider of training and get a discount for its members and/or become an affiliate partner for referrals.
Minority-Owned Business Certifications and Mentorships
While you won’t do the certification yourself, you can create programs, collateral, and education around what it takes to become certified as a minority-owned business.
You can also create a program within the chamber that would help match new business owners (or those who want to start one) with existing business owners for mentorship or networking.
Diversity and Inclusion Summit
The Georgia Chamber of Commerce hosted a Diversity & Inclusion Summit in 2019 to solidify its commitment to DEI. Bringing in speakers and subject matter experts on the many facets of DEI can be incredibly helpful for businesses who don’t have access to (or the budgets for) those resources.
Examples of Chambers and DEI Programs
The following chambers have made a commitment to DEI in some area or respect. Each is individually noted:
- Volunteer recruitment: The Greenville Chamber of Commerce Community Leadership Pipeline
- Committee: The St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board
- Statement: The Loudon Chamber Statement of Values on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
- Seminar Series: Grand Rapids Diversity & Talent Series
- Resource page: Newton Needham Regional Chamber Diversity Resources
What Should the Chamber Prepare for When Implementing DEI?
There are certain topics that most people will agree have a negative impact on people getting along. For instance, most individuals will agree that racism is destructive. However, even some of those people who agree it is a negative thing may practice racially-biased decision making or actions without knowing it.
Also, while most people may agree that the concept of racism is bad, they may not agree with the tactics chosen to end it such as weighted applications for disadvantaged populations or encouraging people not to ask one another where they are from because it may be seen as a way to discriminate or insinuate someone is of a different ethnicity.
Education is a large component of any DEI initiative. Some people simply don’t know the ramifications of their words or procedures. Finding constructive ways to educate and inform is part of DEI. Making someone feel badly for their past behavior or protocols is not a way to build cohesion.
Even when people are in support of what you’re doing, know that they may feel uncomfortable speaking about the topic. They may feel embarrassed or worried they will say the wrong thing.
Ensure that everyone feels welcome and set the standard and expectation for healthy communication within the group. Be specific about what that looks like and what is considered divisive.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
While it’s easy to get swept up in the need for diversity, equality, and inclusion, don’t feel like you have to begin on your own from the start. Familiarize yourself with other groups in your area. For instance, there may be an LGBTQ or Asian Chamber already in existence. There may also be a successful women’s group that you can partner with.
Remember, they are not your competition.
You are both working toward the same goal. There is plenty of room for working together or solving the same problem from different angles. The chamber is the voice of business; while they may be approaching the problem from an individual aspect. Be creative in how you institute change.
Keep in mind when you are creating your DEI initiative, you can institute something that encompasses expectations of how the chamber will address the issue and you can provide resources for your community as well. Both areas are important.
These are things you may have to navigate if you choose to implement a DEI program in your area. Education will be a large component of an initiative like this.
If you create a DEI initiative, you’ll want to draw up and commit in writing to:
- a vision for the program
Is your chamber considering a formal DEI program? If so, it’s important to understand the different levels of commitment and options out there.
A full certification program could even become a non-dues revenue source for your chamber and an immensely popular good-will program that could bring invaluable assistance to your community.