Diversity and inclusion. These are more than just buzzwords in the conference room — the concepts are major changes in our work environments. But the first idea doesn’t necessarily lead to the second.
"It's one thing for a company to say, ‘It’s important for us to have a diverse workforce.’ Yes, that’s good. You can have diversity through hiring. But the piece that needs to be taught is that if the individuals who are hired do not feel included, they will leave,” says Peggy Zone Fisher, president and CEO of the Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio. “There is a lot of cost involved for businesses bringing people on board. You don’t want to see a lot of turn over.
“Also, people are always concerned about brain drain. How do we get people to stay in Northeast Ohio? People will want to stay if they feel this is a welcoming community. And most importantly, the mission of the Diversity Center always has been to eliminate bias, bigotry and racism,” says Zone Fisher.
Founded in 1927 as the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the Diversity Center has expanded “to cover all the issues,” including race, age, religion, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual identification, ability, culture, social/economic status and more, according to Zone Fisher. The center’s school and youth division will serve more than 16,000 students and educators representing 250 schools in 11 counties during the 2021-2022 school year. Zone Fisher sees a trend that more schools will be participating.
The current workplace, however, has a bit of catching up to do when it comes to acceptance partly because not all adults were exposed to diversity and inclusion programs when they were younger. But Zone Fisher calls the situation “a good challenge” when her staff encounters someone in a diversity training session with “arms crossed and wondering why they have to be there.
“It’s very rewarding when you see that person start to open up, understand and engage,” says Zone Fisher, calling the Diversity Center “the premier diversity and inclusion organization for businesses and schools in Northeast Ohio. “And that’s very important because when you learn about how to talk about race in the workplace, you are also learning to talk about it at home and in social situations.”
The Diversity Center offers several time-tested and measurable data-based tools for employers and employees in large corporations, small businesses and professional firms.
LeadDIVERSITY, for example, is a program designed to engage professionals with regional leaders to build advanced leaderships skills in diversity for personal, workplace and community impact. SHIFT Consulting is the professional services division that focuses on leadership and organizational development initiatives. Also, an Anti-Racist Organizational Toolkit allows workplaces to reinforce skills and concepts learned in the training programs. In addition, the Diversity Center will review employee handbooks, offering suggestions for improvements in policies.
In addition to her staff and board, Zone Fisher credits a portion of the Diversity Center’s success to community partners who embrace the center’s mission. The center’s 67th Annual Humanitarian Award Celebration honors those leaders who have “delivered exemplary leadership in civic, charitable and professional organizations,” advancing Northeast Ohio’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. This year’s event will be held Nov. 10, and more information will be available at diversitycenterneo.org.