Chamber Blog

Diversity in Business

Posted by Susan Spears,April 2, 2019

I grew up in Fredericksburg in the 1970s and ’80s. From an early age, I was introduced to adults who managed and supported many community initiatives alongside my parents.

My father and mother were particularly close to Marguerite Young and Lawrence Davies, who were and are significant African-American leaders in the community. I am fortunate that both have mentored me. They instilled in me a reverence for the value of diversity.

The word has many connotations and meanings, but to me, it evokes instant warmth and hope. For others, it evokes fear and anger.

In business, diversity is opportunity. Opportunity to grow our businesses through creative talent acquisition, new markets, and new products and services. Diversity on teams increases opportunity to innovate and grow market share. We should all hope that more people will see the value in diversity. To establish value, we must establish what a diverse and inclusive mindset is.

For me, it is always considering the viewpoints and talents of people who are different from me. “Different,” in my case, can be someone who is older, younger, male, homosexual, not Christian, not Caucasian or not a native Virginian. It can also be someone who is an introvert, or perhaps very analytical.

I am keenly aware that there is a great big world of thought that is very different than the things that shape who I am. As a leader, it’s my responsibility to seek the advice and hear the opinions of people who are different than me. It’s also important for me to consider them when I influence committees, panels, speakers, employees and recommendations. That doesn’t mean I will always succeed, but I have to consistently make the effort. Prioritizing an open mind is the first step.

How do we do that? Like any shift in thinking or behavior, it must be intentional. If you’re starting from scratch, read up on the topic. Find areas that you recognize as your business’s “low hanging fruit.” What are you already doing well? How can you enhance that area? What changes might be easiest for you to undertake first?

If you’re finding it difficult to incorporate changes, spend time considering what the barriers to your goals are. Is hiring more women a priority for your organization? What about millennials? Seniors? Hispanics? People of different religions? For each of us, these priorities will align to match the mission of our organization.

Who do you need to connect with to gain access to diverse individuals that have not traditionally interacted with you and your business? You have to be every bit as intentional with these plans as you are when honing your craft. Without the proper attention, nothing will change.

The Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce has led public events about civility, which is an important component in all that we do. Our signature program, Leadership Fredericksburg, introduced the topic of leadership and diversity several years ago. The 2019 class recently engaged in a robust and very civil discussion about diversity. The chamber will consider replicating that topic and format in a larger forum.

The Grand Rapids, Greenville, and Greater Reading chambers have each led impactful diversity initiatives in their communities. Cincinnati Compass, which is a partnership between the Cincinnati chamber, the city of Cincinnati, and several other regional partners, has also emphasized inclusion in their community.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Making this a priority for our chamber and our community matters. The Fredericksburg Regional Chamber means business, and we are open to all. I hope you will join us!

- President & CEO Susan Spears

See Free Lance-Star Column