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The MetroHartford Alliance (MHA) is dedicated to ensuring our organization is more diverse, inclusive, and equitable. We’re also committed to helping organizations in our region with this process, which is one of the reasons why, in summer 2020, the MHA formed a Racial Equity and Economic Development Leadership Committee that includes voices from local corporations, nonprofits, and educational institutions.

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) awareness is one of the tenants of the REED Committee, and we’ve successfully used some of our Pulse Connect virtual events to bring awareness to these issues. In January 2021, we kicked off with an event called Creating a Diverse and Inclusive Culture. In February, we continued the conversation with our Starting Your Journey to Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion event. And, earlier this week, the MHA and the REED committee hosted Elevating Diverse Talent within Your Organization.

Moderated by Dr. Khalilah Brown-Dean, Host of Disrupted on Connecticut Public Radio, the panel discussion featured:

  • Alexia Cruz, Senior Vice President Claim General Counsel, Travelers
  • Greg Jones, Vice President Community Health and Engagement, Hartford Healthcare
  • Carol Minon Cohen, Senior Vice President and Global Head, Talent and Transformation, Cognizant
  • Brandy Smith, Vice President Workplace Diversity and Counsel, Lincoln Financial Group

The event kicked off with a presentation from Tanya Hughes, Executive Director at the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, who said, “We commend the MetroHartford Alliance for understanding and valuing diversity while managing the dynamics of cultural differences.”

Pathways to Longevity and Success

Dr. Khalilah Brown-Dean began the conversation noting, “My hope is that we will address the goal of getting diverse talent in the door—but it’s not the end goal. We need to address long-term longevity and success.” She added, “Issuing a statement of solidarity is an important step, but it cannot be the final step. What we have to commit to together is not just creating a seat but multiple seats.”

Khalilah then engaged the panelists by asking how senior leaders can support efforts while taking risks that come with leading advancements.

Alexia Cruz, Senior Vice President Claim General Counsel at Travelers responded by talking about the importance of allyship, explaining how Travelers has formed allyships with groups within the organization. “You can be a passive ally or an active ally,” she said. “When you think about being an active ally, you want to educate yourself as a leader. One group cannot do it alone. It will take too long. We need allies around the company to get in there and see what they can do to learn about the special interests of the group.”

Alexia continued by saying, “It’s great to be an ally to a group, but what about being an ally as a senior leader to individuals? Again, you can be a passive ally or a proactive ally. We’re not going to move the needle and get to know and build these relationships that are absolutely critical to advancing diverse talent unless we as leaders decide to engage.”

With regard to taking risks, Alexia pointed out that there’s a challenge to be proactive. “We need to get to know talent in our own worlds in and outside of our companies. When you do that, you’ll learn and understand there’s a lot of talent out there you may not be aware of.”

Brandy Smith, Vice President Workplace Diversity and Counsel at Lincoln Financial Group, noted that at her organization, “We’re listening, we’re having critial, crucial conversations, and we’re building from that.”

According to Greg Jones, Vice President Community Health and Engagement at Hartford Healthcare, “Transactionally and strategically we have a responsibility to be engaged—and develop the talent pipeline. The outcome is a reflection of who’s doing the work.”

He continued by emphasizing the connectivity people have to the communities in which they serve. “Companies don’t exist in a vacuum. People make companies. People matter. That’s how you get actionable results,” he said.

Carol Minon Cohen, Senior Vice President and Global Head, Talent and Transformation at Cognizant reinforced the sentiment by emphasizing the concept of helping each other succeed. “The people around you lift you up,” she said.

In terms of investing in our talent, Carol offered some tips for leaders, encouraging them to have clear and transparent conversations, back intuition with data, ensure trustworthiness, and help drive your team’s high performance and energy. “Leaders need to be curious, resilient, and able to push through obstacles,” she said. “They need to lead with empathy and inclusion.

Sparking Transformational Change

Trustworthiness came up again when Khalilah asked about how leaders can build relationships that will spark transformational change. She noted that a diverse talent pool creates better outcomes and also asked how do we change dynamic?

“Relationships are so important. They can make or break an experience,” said Brandy. “To build trust, you need to build relationships [through] open conversations.” She also highlighted the importance of knowing your leader has your back and is passionate about developing future leaders.

“We need to recruit, retain, and develop talent,” added Greg. “Talent is universal. Opportunities are not. We need to develop platforms for this talent to be recognized,” he underscored. “We need to take more risks. Allow people to assume leadership roles. We need to provide opportunities. We need to be bold. We need to be intentional.”

Regarding building and elevating talent and successfully moving people through the pipeline, Alexia asked, “Are you thinking broadly enough? Are you thinking outside your world?” She also touched on the benefit of providing real feedback, which she said is critical to helping employees work on things the next time they’re looking for an opportunity.”

Takeaway Strategies

Toward the end of the event, each panelist was asked to provide strategies and tips.

“It’s important to help people understand their role in taking charge of their career and moving out of the notion of being pigeonholed,” Carol noted. “Think about your strengths, imagine the future, and project toward it.”

Greg’s response was succinct. “Be bold. Be intentional. Don’t overthink,” he offered.

“Spend time getting to know others, engage, and be proactive,” advised Alexia. “Push yourself out of your comfort zone.”

Brandy’s final thought was, “Don’t let focusing on DE&I be a trend and create sustainable practices that last.”

The Conversation Continues

The MHA’s commitment to providing avenues for valuable conversation extend beyond virtual events. Our goal is to provide a platform where everyone can bring their insight and value to the table to create impactful and continuous change throughout our region.

To learn more about the Racial Equity and Economic Development Leadership Committee, please contact Raina Giddings, Senior Director of Investor Relations and REED Committee team lead.