The Economic Case for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Continues to Grow in Chattanooga

The economic growth of a community and its overall commitment to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion are more interlinked than ever before, says Lorne Steedley, Vice President, Diversity and Inclusive Growth, Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce. With a rapid racial and cultural transformation underway, it is important to value difference in a global community that is 71% of color. According to reports by the WK Kellogg Foundation, Morgan Stanley, and Citigroup, the economic cost of inequity to African Americans and other communities of color is reported to be about $2 trillion dollars per year. This directly impacts GDP, employment, lending, education, and health. A more inclusive and equitable economy creates a solid business case for the growth and full participation of communities of color in Chattanooga and Hamilton County.Talent attraction and retention are a key part of this future success.

For businesses of all sizes seeking to add talent, an Aug. 4 DEI Forum promises an excellent focus on talent attraction best practices, helping companies reach job-seekers looking for the best jobs and for a high quality of life.

“Markets are competing for a limited talent right now,” Steedley says. “Talent is the human capital that’s necessary to maintain a growing organization. It’s like the blood that makes the body operate.” The Aug. 4 forum begins at 10 a.m. and features Llisa Prater as the speaker. Prater, an innovative leader with more than 10 years of experience in Diversity & Inclusion, joins Miles Huff, Vice President, Talent Initiatives, Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce, in a conversation about the value of strategies for talent diversity. Talent diversity refers to recruiting, hiring, and promotion of candidates in underrepresented groups.

Steedley says the ongoing work to reach jobseekers and to retain diverse talent creates a more welcoming environment in Chattanooga and Hamilton County – while at the same time it adds potential for us to expand our economy across many sectors.

“We have a real opportunity to be transformational here in Chattanooga,” Steedley says.

Lorne Steedley, Vice President, Diversity and Inclusive Growth, Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce

“In order for Chattanooga to become the best city in the country, we have to ensure that we build a city that works for all our residents…” says Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly. “The persistent gaps in black and white outcomes in Chattanooga are not only unjust, but expensive. This issue is holding us back from economic progress. A people deprived of the opportunity to build wealth and advance are not only underachieving in what they can add to our collective wealth and stories of human capital, but running the risk that they will eventually sink into hopelessness and despair. And that abandonment of hope tears at the social fabric that binds together our city’s families. We owe it to our neighbors, our businesses and our community to tackle the issue of racial equity because together we can accomplish so much more than we can apart.”

Statistics concur with Kelly’s conclusion. A McKinsey report looked at 366 companies throughout the Americas and the U.K. and found a strong correlation between a company’s higher-than-average diversity (racial/ethnic and gender) and higher-than-average profits, as compared to similar organizations. * A 2018 study by Harvard Business Review found that the most diverse companies were also the most innovative, allowing them to market a greater range of products to consumers. The study concluded that companies with higher-than-average diversity had 19% higher innovation revenues. **

One of the Chattanooga Climbs’ 5-year goals includes increasing prosperity for all in our community – economic mobility for all. Working on these issues will help our city and county to grow. Part of the Chattanooga Chamber’s long-term commitment has included lifting up these issues and bringing in national experts to share best practices. While most of the last dozen Diversify events were in person, the one held in June this year was virtual, providing access to participants no matter where they were located. June’s Diversify event featured Rick C. Wade, Senior Vice President, Strategic Alliances and Outreach, U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

During the 2021 Diversify event, the business case for racial equity continued as a focus – and leaders pointed out correlating impacts on education, entrepreneurship, and health disparity. “If we address these inequalities in a very intentional way, the country’s GDP grows by 8 trillion dollars,” Wade said. “We can debate if it’s 8 trillion or 5 or 10. But there is a business case for diversity, equity, [and] inclusion….We understand the moral imperative, but the business case is just as sound.”

Steedley aids the Chamber in its goal to collaborate with corporate, higher ed, and non-profit leaders to elevate inclusion through the lens of a global economic discussion about talent and innovation.

Watch the 2021 Diversify Event

For example, in May some 85 CEOs signed the CEO Pledge for Racial Equity. It’s a solidarity statement companies signed as a commitment to support individuals of all backgrounds.

The CEO Pledge for Racial Equity centers on actions, including the following:

·       We will improve the employment, training, advancement, support, and success of people of color in our workforces.

·       We will evaluate contracting and procurement efforts with the intention to grow and expand business participation of marginalized businesses of color.

These are performance measures that the business community can work together toward achieving. The CEO Pledge for Racial Equity was a strong step forward and it built upon the prior summer’s Statement of Solidarity against Racism, which the Chattanooga Chamber released in 2020 as a commitment after protests for social justice were held nationwide and in Hamilton County.

This meant a renewed commitment to examine all racial equity issues – including the most subtle ones, such as unconscious bias – as business imperatives.

As a follow-up to the CEO Pledge for Racial Equity, Steedley and volunteer leaders working with the Chattanooga Chamber will convene an advisory council that will bring together local DEI leaders, higher education professionals, local government managers, and non-profit executives to advance knowledge sharing, best practices, and data to promote the business case for diversity, equity, and inclusion.

*>diversity-inclusion-statistics, August 7, 2019, 10 Diversity & Inclusion Statistics

**>2018/01, January 30, 2018, How and Where Diversity Drives Financial Performances?

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