Differences can divide us, but they can also make us stronger. The Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce understands that and works to help its members achieve, facilitate and maintain diversity and inclusion.
According to chamber CEO Tim Daman, “We understand the importance of fostering diversity. And by ‘we,’ I mean not only the staff of the chamber but also all of our member organizations. It’s important to us in mid-Michigan that we consolidate the values of inclusion into the workplace. Our goal is to be a positive force in that effort.”
Jason Green, manager of government relations for the chamber, says, “Within any organization’s culture and environment, the values of diversity and inclusion are essential. After all, we learn from one another, and the chamber wants to facilitate that learning by decreasing factors that divide us. “
Daman says, “Diversity needs to be understood as more than just a racial issue. Ethnicity, religion, gender, disabilities and age all need to be considered. Employers have to effectively hire, train, manage and retain employees who may be vastly different from one another. “
Green says, “We were approached by Public Policy Associates [PPA] to co-host an employer conference on workplace diversity. We agreed on the need for such a conference and partnered with PPA to plan and host the event.”
Public Policy Associates is a Lansing-based organization which provides public policy research, consulting and project management in order to create better public policy and evaluate and improve programs. PPA recently celebrated its twentieth year in business.
Green continues, “We had excellent participation from the community, and we want to keep the momentum going.”
There were more than 200 attendees at the conference, and 30 sponsors from the local business community provided support.
Guest speakers at the conference were Dr. Steve Robbins, owner of SL Robbins and Associates and expert in the areas of diversity and inclusion, and J. Peter Lark, general manager of the Lansing Board of Water & Light.
A survey of workplace diversity in mid-Michigan was conducted by EPIC-MRA, a well-respected survey research firm located in Lansing, and the results were presented by Jeffrey Padden, CEO of Public Policy Associates. Over 300 employers and 300 employees were interviewed between July 28 and August 3 of 2011; employers were identified from a commercial list and workers through random dialing. More employers than workers came from small companies and 88 percent of those interviewed were Caucasian.
In the survey, more than two-thirds of the respondents felt that diversity among staff was primarily a matter of race or ethnicity, gender, age and religion. To a lesser extent (between 10 and 15 percent), those surveyed cited the environment of the workplace and mentioned equal opportunities, an accepting and welcoming environment and lack of discrimination. Thirty-nine percent of employers stated that their company has a written diversity policy, while 55 percent of workers said that their workplaces have such a policy. There was widespread agreement that companies should have such policies in place.
Compared to a similar study conducted in 2005, both employers and employees said that diversity was less often considered in hiring policies in 2011. However, both groups indicated that there was more awareness of diversity goals in 2011 than the 2005 survey showed. And both groups felt that having a strategic plan for diversity was important. In addition, both groups felt that their organizations were doing a good job of marketing to different cultural, racial and ethnic groups.
Overall, both employers and employees have a positive view of workplace diversity with some decline in positive ratings since 2005, possibly due to economic trends. In general, employees have more positive views than employers, though it was pointed out that this could be due to the relative sizes of the companies.
A CEO panel discussed opportunities and issues. Panel members included Willard Walker, senior research specialist at Public Policy Associates; Dennis Swan, president and CEO of Sparrow Hospital and Health System; Kelly Rossman-McKinney, CEO and principal of Truscott Rossman; Mitchell Tomlinson, CEO of Peckham, Inc.; Paula Cunningham, president and CEO of Capitol National Bank; and Tico Duckett, president of Duckett Brothers Distributing, Inc.
According to Daman, “We have surveyed those who attended the conference and solicited their feedback. We are currently evaluating that as we look at follow-up activities. We don’t know yet what that will look like, but we want to provide services that our members tell us they need. “
Community members with relevant feedback can share their input via the chamber’s website.
Diversity is part of our American heritage; it has made us what we are today. As we continue to value, facilitate and celebrate diversity and inclusion, our nation will continue to profit from it.
Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce
Tim Daman, CEO
Jason Green, Manager of Government Relations
500 E. Michigan Ave., Ste. 200