Diversity, inclusion and cultural competency are a vital part of who we are, how we do business, how we effectively serve our members and how we recruit our workforce.
Following our recent recognition by Forbes as a top employer in the nation for diversity, a number of our business partners and customers reached out to us about our approach.
To share what we’ve learned along the way and foster dialogue with fellow Tennessee businesses, community leaders and decision makers, we hosted the Power of We 2018 Workforce Diversity Conference at the Nashville Music City Center on Thursday, Oct. 11. All regions of the state, from Memphis to Johnson City, were represented through the more than 70 professionals in attendance.
While everyone’s journey looked different – many attendees even came seeking advice on how to begin a diversity and inclusion program within their company – all began with the same simple step: a conversation.
Setting the stage
In his opening remarks, Ron Harris, BlueCross vice president of diversity and inclusion, said, “We’re gathered here today to celebrate our differences, and to celebrate how just two letters of the alphabet create a very powerful word – ‘We.’
“We’re also gathered here to find ways to take that word and expand it into positive action,” Ron added.
“Our goal for this conference is for everyone to recognize how much we all have in common and how much we can accomplish when we work together. Some of that work begins in this very room with us sharing our ideas and experiences.”
Straight from the experts
Keynote speaker Jacky Akbari began her presentation on the economic impact of workforce diversity by describing the characteristics that make up successful teams.
Jacky – director of government relations and workforce economic development at the Nashville Career Advancement Center, founding president of the Council on Workforce Innovation and founding board chair of the National Organization for Workforce (NOW) Diversity – described how these teams are more creative and innovative, they’re better problem solvers and decision makers, and they better serve diverse customers.
Attendees then split into the conference’s first set of breakout sessions.
- Beck Bailey, deputy director of employee engagement for the Workplace Equality Program, Human Rights Campaign Foundation, discussed how to understand the climate for LGBTQ workers nationwide and “the cost of the closet” when it comes to businesses.
- Jessica Stollings, president of ReGenerations, presented on generational factors in the workplace and how they can shift from creating conflict to a competitive edge.
- Faye Williams, regional attorney for the Memphis District Office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, asked two questions regarding the #MeToo movement: “How did we get here, and where do we go from here?”
The luncheon keynote was courtesy of speaker Mary-Frances Winters, author of You Can’t Talk about That at Work! Mary-Frances provided tips for how employers and employees can engage in bold, inclusive conversations.
“We see what we believe, and everybody sees the world slightly differently,” she said.
“How we see the world is influenced by our culture and identity. To hold inclusive conversations, you must reflect and learn and try to create shared meaning. What are the things we can all agree upon?”
Following the luncheon keynote, attendees again split for the second round of breakout sessions.
- Joann Massey, director of business diversity and compliance for the City of Memphis, discussed the importance of supplier diversity and the steps Memphis has taken to establish relationships with minority-owned businesses. The city currently works with 575 such businesses.
- Ron Harris took to the podium once more to present on unconscious bias and how to consciously overcome it: “We don’t see people as they are, we see people as we are.”
Next steps on the journey
The conference closed with a panel featuring representatives from two of the state’s leading employers, Dollar General and Nissan, with The Tennessean’s Benjamin Goad moderating. BlueCross proudly serves both companies and their employees.
Success stories were shared, and the conversation was open and freewheeling, with attendees encouraged to ask questions themselves.
In his closing remarks, Ron asked attendees to temporarily set aside short-term concerns such as unchecked emails and pending meetings that awaited them.
“As you leave this room, I would ask you to think about what needs to be done for your business in the long term, as well,” he said. “What seeds planted here today can come to fruition with plans you put into action tomorrow? What can you do today to begin to honor the story of someone who is different from you? ”