Chattanooga Chamber Launches CEO Pledge for Racial Equity


The Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce is spearheading a CEO Pledge for Racial Equity, a commitment by regional CEOs and managing leaders to intentionally enhance efforts to achieve equity of opportunity within organizations and the broader Chattanooga community.

“In Chattanooga, a CEO Pledge for Racial Equity will grow business, drive accountability and increase innovation,” said Lorne Steedley, Vice President of Diversity and Inclusive Growth, Chattanooga Chamber. “Starting with an organizational assessment, CEOs and managing leaders can take a deeper dive to focus on talent, performance management, leadership development and workforce culture. The outcome of these efforts will yield internal and external performance recommendations. These recommendations will promote competitiveness, enhance geographic attractiveness and drive economic growth.”

The WK Kellogg Foundation, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup report that the economic cost of inequity to African Americans is reported to be billions of dollars per year. This directly impacts GDP, employment, lending, education and health. A more equitable economy makes the business case for the growth and full participation of African-Americans and other communities of color in Chattanooga and Hamilton County.

"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, especially those whose fortunes have been held back by years of systemic racism," said 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 we run 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," Kelly said. 

"This Pledge is about Chattanooga as a thriving community and location of opportunity and prosperity for all," said Valoria Armstrong, Chamber Board Chair and American Water's Chief Inclusion Officer and VP, External Affairs. "It supports talent retention, talent development and talent diversity, which are especially important in an environment that's highly competitive for talent. Many companies, including American Water, are already engaging in inclusion, diversity and equity work in their own ways. Working together intentionally, developing new outreach and equity practices makes sense as we seek to advance the economic prosperity of our community."

Many Chattanooga Chamber initiatives align with the CEO Pledge for Racial Equity. The Chattanooga Climbs five-year strategic plan advances economic development by focusing on jobs and talent. Jobs and talent are central to the success of the CEO Pledge for Racial Equity. Education initiative Chattanooga 2.0 complements Chattanooga Climbs by placing attention on essential components to workforce success: talent development, 21st century education and social and economic mobility. 

“When combined with a CEO Pledge for Racial Equity, these initiatives frame a comprehensive approach to transform the economic landscape of Chattanooga and Hamilton County to include everyone,” said Christy Gillenwater, President and CEO, Chattanooga Chamber. “ We invite Chattanooga business leaders to take the Pledge to build a more inclusive economy.”

70 local business leaders have signed the pledge so far.

Take the pledge here


This pledge is an important step in reaffirming U.S. Xpress is committed to racial equality and breaking down barriers that have existed for people of color for decades. While we still have a long way to go, we’re making strides towards becoming a more inclusive workplace. Last year, we launched a diversity & inclusion council which is led by a wide assortment of team members from different backgrounds and cultures. The council is rolling out great programming across the organization to get folks more involved and engaged in these important conversations. We’re also making deliberate efforts to spotlight not only people of color, but more women, and those from the LGBTQ community.

- Eric Fuller, President & CEO, U.S. Xpress Enterprises, Inc.

We must focus our attention to address the health disparities that have been highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. By signing the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce’s Racial Equality Pledge, I am committing that CHI Memorial will work with the Chamber and other health organizations in our community to address known health disparities and create a road map to combat them. 

As an organization, CHI Memorial’s board created a new committee that will have governance over diversity, health, and inclusion for our employees and patients. This committee will help guide how we address health disparities in our patients.  As a CommonSpirit Health hospital system, we are excited to partner with Morehouse College of Medicine.  This partnership will bring fourth-year medical students to CHI Memorial to complete their training and help increase the number of Black physicians in healthcare and in our community.

- Janelle Reilly, CHI Memorial