It’s not enough to announce diversity, equity and inclusion hiring commitments, it takes leadership teams that reflect more cultures.
Likewise, it’s not enough for banks to announce new lending programs for minority-owned businesses, it takes lenders’ understanding of how communities of color operate.
These are a few of the conclusions from a recent MiBiz roundtable panel that sought to capture both near- and long-term changes to the diversity, equity and inclusion movement. Guests shared viewpoints from the Asian American, Latinx, Black, Native American and LGBTQ communities — as well as women-owned businesses — on how their organizations have been particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The group also discussed ways the business community can adopt hiring practices that attract diverse talent, and how lenders can improve access to capital for non-white companies.
The panel featured:
- Guillermo Cisneros, executive director of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce;
- Sandra Gaddy, CEO of the Women’s Resource Center;
- Tanya Gibbs, a descendant of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians and partner at majority Native American-owned law firm Rosette LLP;
- Bing Goei, owner of Eastern Floral and The Goei Center and board member of the Asian Pacific American Chamber of Commerce; and
- Jeffrey Sorensen, director of LGBTQ resource center Out on the Lakeshore.
To Goei, a common theme emerged from the panel: A shared sense of “invisibility and constantly being ignored as a community tells us that we are going to have to be more visible … so that we have a collective voice that demands the necessary changes so all of us in this community can be enriched.”
The past six months
The panelists lead organizations and communities that have faced unique challenges over the past six months.
Cisneros said communication with and among the Latinx business community has at times been hampered by a lack of technological infrastructure during the pandemic, including internet access and reliable phones and computers.
“COVID really exposed the lack of resources and infrastructure we have in our communities of color,” he said, adding that the Latinx business community has been particularly hard hit from widespread closures.
“We’ve seen many cases of anxiety, high stress and depression among our Latinx business owners,” he said. “Income of businesses and families has decreased significantly in the last six months, making our communities even more vulnerable than it was before.”
Gaddy said women also have been particularly harmed during the pandemic. A McKinsey and Co. report from July found the pandemic having a “regressive effect on gender equality,” as women’s jobs were nearly twice as vulnerable during the crisis than men’s, and that women disproportionately carry the burden of unpaid childcare.
As a workforce development agency, the Women’s Resource Center helps women secure employment and financial stability, including women re-entering the community from jail or prison.
“We continue to experience women who are in crisis, coming from evictions or a job loss or movement to part-time hours and are having a hard time making ends meet,” Gaddy said. “That’s the story we’re hearing from so many families and individuals in the community.”
Indigenous tribes, meanwhile, have seen a “wide variety of experiences,” Gibbs said, such as struggling to access personal protective equipment and federal stimulus funding. But the loss of revenue from casino gaming — which directly funds tribal education, health care and public safety programs — was “really scary,” she said.
“My hope through all of this is tribal governments realize the importance of diversifying their economic portfolios,” Gibbs said.
While the LGBTQ community saw some victories over the past six months, including a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that bars workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and a non-discrimination ordinance adopted in Holland, Sorensen said Out on the Lakeshore has had to adjust or scale back its programming and make up for lost funding.
“We are seeing an uptick in people who have lost their jobs” and are seeking recommendations for where to apply, he said.
However: “A lot of the places we’d normally recommend because we’ve partnered with them in the past or we know have a good reputation within the (diversity, equity and inclusion) world have gone through their own layoffs and aren’t hiring a lot of people. It’s a struggle not knowing how to help someone.”
Workforce development, access to capital
Turning to diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, the panel challenged companies to install leadership teams that reflect the DEI values they praise.
“Within so many companies, not just in West Michigan but the state, you do not see diverse leadership teams,” Gaddy said.
Alongside leadership diversity is fair pay for women, she added.
“We see that in Black, Latinx and Native American women: We are the three groups that are paid lower than any other women, and that has got to stop,” Gaddy said.
Goei said it’s in the best interest of companies and lenders to change their culture from within to include greater input from minority communities, which are playing an increasing role in West Michigan’s economy.
“Culture eats policy for lunch,” Goei said. “As long as the culture in banking institutions or companies is one that — because of their lack of knowledge of other cultures — all they know is to make assumptions about other ethnic communities based on sound bites, it doesn’t matter to me if the CEO says, ‘I’m committed to this.’ The culture in the workplace will determine whether that talent from another ethnic community will stay or even accept the job. Until those organizations and other businesses change their culture within their workplace, we will not retain those talents.”
While the panel agreed access to capital for women- and minority-owned businesses needs to improve, they had differing viewpoints about the role of business owners and lenders.
Cisneros cited the need for more “intentional partnerships” with grassroots organizations in communities of color, an issue that flared up this summer when Kent County tapped the Grand Rapids Area of Chamber of Commerce to distribute $25 million in CARES Act funding for small businesses.
“It is embarrassing that after 100 years of the Latino community being here in West Michigan, we don’t have the resources and don’t have access to capital,” he said, adding that Latinx business owners could better prepare internally to seek outside financing.
Gibbs said “we need to educate banks and their leadership and private equity firms and anybody else who can be a source of capital for our community. That is a real battle.”
However, Goei — while not disagreeing with Cisneros and Gibbs — posed another view.
“It is not our job to educate the bankers,” he said. “If you’re a financial institution and you’re going to make money by loaning people money, don’t ignore the fastest growing communities that are not part of our traditional customer base. We should not accept that (idea) that we aren’t ready for it. I’m sorry, we are ready — I think maybe you’re not ready and you don’t care if you don’t give us access to that capital that will eventually allow you to stay in business. I’m tired of always having the blame placed on the people who really have no control over the system.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly listed the name of the director of Out on the Lakeshore — it is Jeffrey Sorensen.