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The MetroHartford Alliance (MHA) hosted the first event in our new Pulse of the Region CONNECT series “Creating a Diverse and Inclusive Culture” on Thursday, January 28.

As MHA President and CEO David Griggs emphasized in his opening remarks, “racial injustice and social unrest affect all of us.” This newly formed committee and the series of events are one way the MHA is taking measurable action to collaborate and respond appropriately.

Thursday morning’s event drew a captivated audience of close to 200 virtual attendees, who engaged with the panelists and “chatted” to thank them for “great insight and suggestions” about how to incorporate diversity and inclusion (D&I) in their organizations.

Lifting the Floor

Shelley Stewart III, Partner McKinsey & Company, kicked off the event with a short presentation focusing on both the human and economic impact of D&I. He noted that the business case for diversity on executive teams is stronger than ever, pointing out that businesses with diverse teams financially outperform their peers.

“Corporate diversity is important—but that alone won’t solve the broader problem,” he said. “We need to look at not how we raise the ceiling, but how do we lift the floor,” Shelley emphasized.

A Moment or A Movement?

Barbara Ramirez-Kerecz, 2VP Enterprise Diversity and Inclusion Travelers, moderated an intriguing conversation. “We talk about commitment and sponsorship at the leadership level,” she noted, asking the panelists, “Is this a moment or a movement?”

“This is an ongoing conversation that won’t ever end,” said panelist Kim Williams, VP Diversity & Inclusion Stanley Black & Decker. She spoke about how her company is making a commitment by identifying strategic and deep-reaching actions and involving the internal and community.

“Organizations need to have open, honest, and constructive dialogue,” Kim urged. “Our conversations around race and racism started with leaders hosting listening sessions and community gatherings.”

Panelist Nicole Hughey, VP of Diversity & Inclusion Sirius XM, agreed with the need for leaders to lead. “For us, inclusion means letting people tell their story and letting others listen. And these conversations need to be led by leaders—not D&I,” she reiterated.

“We need to take this head on and stop ignoring the elephant in the room,” Nicole continued. “Sirius has crafted opportunities for employees to talk about race—and talk about the impact on the individual and the organization. And now, what are we going to do about it. This is the time to have the conversation and leverage it to the maximum.”

Panelist Julius Dixon, Regional Director at Boehringer Ingelheim, candidly shared with attendees about the injustice he saw growing up but admitted that nothing compared to the brutality inflicted on George Floyd, which reminded him of images related to the Civil Rights Movement.

“Then is now—now is the time,” he underscored. “I’ve learned not to try and predict tomorrow, but to be optimistic about the approach to D&I.”

Taking Action

In terms of taking action, Shelley Stewart III, who joined the panel after his presentation, questioned, “What do we need to do to examine and address systemic racism in our organizations?”

“I’m a believer that actions speak louder than words,” said Julius Dixon. “It requires an attitude of all hands on deck,” he added. “I have to do things myself, but I can’t do it alone. We must stand together and hold senior leaders accountable.”

“The first step to understanding is listening. But that only lasts for so long. What’s needed next are action and impact,” said Kim Williams.

“Every day we ask, ‘What can we do better?’ We’ve taken action across all fronts. But, at the end of the day, numbers don’t matter, inclusivity does. D&I must be embedded in everything,” asserted Nicole Hughey. “We’ve asked everyone to create their own inclusion statement and state it out loud—and then talk about it, because it goes hand in hand.”

Future and Hope 

In summary, moderator Barbara Ramirez-Kerecz asked the panelists what gives them hope for more inclusivity in the future.

“What gives me hope is we’re having conversation—and we’re continuing to learn and grow from one another,” said Nicole Hughey.

Shelley Stewart added that he, too, is hopeful because of events like ours. “It feels different because senior level is having substantive conversations.”

Julius Dixon pointed out a concern about losing momentum and added, “Our responsibility is to make sure we don’t lose it. I’m confident. I believe senior leaders buying in and taking a stand will help us moving forward. It’s our time to hold people and hold ourselves accountable. If we do that, we won’t lose momentum.”

Kim Williams is hopeful for change. “The transparency of conversation and transparency of intention gives me hope,” she said, “What also gives me hope is more people inclined to get on board and make real, systemic change.”

Before wrapping the event, panelists answered questions from the audience—which will spur even more conversations in upcoming events.

Join Us on Our D&I Journey

In his opening, MHA President David Griggs also noted, “Every challenge offers opportunity. The MHA is on our journey to create a diverse and inclusive culture. It will be part of our programming from here on out.”

Committee team lead Raina Giddings, Senior Director of Investor Relations here at the MetroHartford Alliance, affirmed the importance of this type programming, saying, “Fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace culture is a process and cannot be accomplished in a day or with one event.”

She continued, “We hope learning about the business case and how other companies are navigating obstacles and successes will create an opportunity for your organizations to explore solutions to strengthen your business cultures—and we encourage you to continue the conversation.”