PBN summit: Diversity, inclusion efforts need less talk, more results

A PANEL OF LOCAL LEADERS discuss diversity and inclusion initiatives in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial justice movement during PBN's 2020 Diversity & Inclusion Summit and Awards virtual event on Thursday. Clockwise from top left are Kevin Matta, Kevin Nerney, Lisa Ranglin, Neil D. Steinberg and Steve Sublett.
A PANEL OF LOCAL LEADERS discusses diversity and inclusion initiatives in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial justice movement during PBN's 2020 Diversity & Inclusion Summit and Awards virtual event on Thursday. Clockwise from top left are Kevin Matta, Kevin Nerney, Lisa Ranglin, Neil D. Steinberg and Steve Sublett.

PROVIDENCE – A panel discussion about diversity and inclusion in Rhode Island workplaces and institutions was plowing through familiar topics on Thursday, such as the value of listening, leadership engagement and the hiring pipeline, when one panelist turned up the heat.

“I’m shocked that this is the first in this conversation that we are talking about racism,” said Neil D. Steinberg, CEO and president of the Rhode Island Foundation, responding to a question from the moderator.

Without dismissing the importance of corporate planning to improve diversity in the workplace, Steinberg said things such as in-house conversation, feel-good rhetoric and paper plans have fallen far short of tackling the real problems of racism in the workplace and across communities.

“There is still too much of checking off the boxes,” Steinberg said. “We have been doing that for decades, and it has not worked.”

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Steinberg bluntly rejected the familiar refrain that COVID-19 has pulled back the curtain on deep inequities in the country, with Americans of color suffering the worst from chronic bad health, hunger, poverty, and job insecurity.

“COVID didn’t reveal anything that we didn’t already know,” Steinberg declared.

Steinberg’s frankness led to an anecdote from panelist Lisa Ranglin, a vice president at Citizens Bank, and CEO and president of the Rhode Island Black Business Association. Last May, when George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, igniting widespread protests and the Black Lives Matter movement, Ranglin said, “People were talking about what was happening to buildings [during unrest], but nobody was asking Black people, ‘How are you doing?’ and ‘What are you feeling?’ ”

Most of Providence Business News’ virtual Diversity & Inclusion Summit and Awards event Thursday morning focused on ways that companies can improve efforts to bring minority groups of all kinds into jobs generally and into higher levels of corporate decision-making and policymaking.

One panelist, Kevin Nerney, executive director of the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council, noted some progress in the last six years of freeing people with intellectual disabilities from the isolation, illegal low wages and grinding repetition of sheltered workshops, and bringing them into mainstream jobs among non-disabled colleagues.

Moderator Kevin Matta, director of client engagement and inclusion for Advancing Workplace Excellence, opened the conversation by helping clarify the definitions of “diversity,” meaning the facts about people, such as race or marital status, and “inclusion,” meaning nuances of behavior among people.

“Diversity is being invited to the party and inclusion is being asked to dance,” Matta said.

All the panelists said diversity in the workplace and at every level of corporate decision-making is important and beneficial to organizations, workers and customers. They agreed that honest conversation and diversity planning that is serious and intentional is essential.

A crucial point of entry in the business world is hiring, and diversity requires businesses to expand their hiring pipelines into more sectors of the population. Expanding those pipelines of acquaintances and referrals, in turn, requires more minorities to already be part of organizations.

“There is an uptick in conversation” on these topics, said Steve Sublett, senior vice president of CBIZ Benefits & Insurance Services Inc. “People want companies to be more mindful” about diversifying their workforces. “We are seeing an evolution in a positive direction.”

After the panel discussion, Stephanie Huckel, senior global program manager of diversity and inclusion for International Game Technology PLC, was formally recognized by PBN as the 2020 Overall Diversity Champion.

Huckel, who joined IGT in 2018, helped coordinate the gaming company’s multiyear diversity-and inclusion strategic plan, calling for IGT to develop goals and be committed to working toward a more inclusive work environment, among overseeing other related initiatives.

In her acceptance speech, Huckel said she felt she never quite fit in for as long as she could remember, but knew she had a great deal to give.

“The same can be said for many of us and I’ve strived to help ensure that we all have the ability to meaningfully contribute,” Huckel said, “and have those contributions valued along with all those differences and quirks. I want that space for all of us.”

In addition to Huckel, PBN recognized this year’s Diversity & Inclusion Award winners at Thursday’s virtual ceremony. The award recipients are:

  • Accounting: Ernst & Young LLP
  • Diversity Training: The Wilson Organization LLC
  • Education: Rhode Island for Community and Justice
  • Government: R.I. Office of Rehabilitation Services
  • Health Care: Providence Community Health Centers Inc.
  • Insurance/Financial Services: Amica Mutual Insurance Co.
  • IT/Technology: Cox Communications Inc.
  • Nonprofit: Women’s Fund of Rhode Island
  • Social-Services Agency: Big Brothers Big Sisters of Rhode Island

Each honoree will be profiled in a special section in PBN’s Dec. 11-17 print edition.

CBIZ & MHM New England and Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island were partner sponsors for PBN’s 2020 Diversity & Inclusion Summit and Awards program.

Mary Lhowe is a PBN contributing writer. James Bessette, the PBN special projects editor, contributed. He covers the nonprofit and education sectors, and you may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.

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