GCP Inclusion Conference 2022: A call for ‘bold abundant change’

By Laura DeMarco

Bold Abundant Change.

This is the theme of the 2022 Inclusion Conference, the signature event of the Greater Cleveland Partnership’s Inclusive Opportunity pillar.

It is also what is needed for the region, say organizers and speakers.

“Change is not something that should be episodic, we need forward thinking and abundant change,” explains Jejuana Brown, GCP Director of Equity and Inclusion Programs. This is her fourth year leading the conference.

“Across the region there is a need for action, and for us to move past the things we have been doing over time. I want our conversations to help bring that about, from a bold perspective.”

This year’s conference, the 14th, will be a hybrid event on August 16 and 17. More than 25 speakers and panelists will lead discussions on topics such as Transitioning The Workplace; Strategic Planning and Change Management in Times of Uncertainty; Engaging the Whole Workforce with Innovative Earn & Learn Models; The Color of Money: Why Creating Inclusive Marketing Strategies Increases Your Bottom Line; Alternative Workforce strategies targeting people with disabilities; and Can you DIY DEI Recruiting?

Wednesday’s in-person sessions at Ariel International Center will include the Best in Class Awards Ceremony, honoring companies in the areas of workforce diversity, board diversity, supplier diversity and diversity in the legal profession, and a performance by Karamu Performing Arts of “To My White Friends Who Know Me,” by Dr. Debbie Plummer. There will be a closing panel on Activating Bold Abundant Change.

“The programming ensures content that is active and relevant,” says Brown. “A strength of this year’s conference is that it is heavy with leaders from across the region. It’s good to see what our region is doing from a change perspective. The speakers bring much to the table.”

Jejuana Brown, Richik Sarkar

Attorney Richik Sarkar, Litigation, Data Privacy, and ESG Partner and Dinsmore and Shohl LLP, is one of those speakers. He will be participating in an afternoon main stage session on Intentional Change in DEI on Tuesday. Action, not more words, is what is needed now says Sarkar.

“I don’t understand companies where they are trying to come up with a ‘perfect’ plan before moving forward,” says Sarkar. “It’s often a case where ‘perfect is the enemy of good.’

“A diversity statement is the least important part of the process. Your actions are your statement.”

Sarkar will focus on the concept behind diversity, especially leadership diversity.

“If you value diversity in your organization, it will trickle down to how you attract employees and members if you have diversity in leadership,” he says.

Change is coming, says Sarkar, but the region needs more.

“External factors over the last few years have sped things up regarding ESG trends and investment, and how corporate actions and leadership are viewed.

“We are making strides in corporate management and board diversity, especially among consumer facing companies, but we are still a long ways off. Consumer facing organizations are recognizing customers don’t look like their leadership, and that leadership has to change.”

It’s often the bottom-line driving changes, he notes.

“We are seeing more diverse leaders work through the process. We don’t suffer from a lack of diverse leaders. We suffer from lack of vision in how we look for diverse leaders.”

Change has to be bold, and intentional, he says. It’s not hard.

“The first step is easy, it comes with recruitment. If everyone you interview looks like you, you have a problem. You have to increase your diversity in recruitment. Studies show this greatly enhances diversity throughout companies. We need to learn to value people’s backgrounds and what they bring to a decision-making,” says Sarkar.

“I need people to see my color, and other people’s color, and everything that can bring to a situation. We need to be bold in changing the way we look at situations. Clearly the way we have been doing things in the past are not working.”

Calls to action such as Sarkar’s are critical to the Inclusion Conference, and region, says Jejuana Brown.

“DEI is a change perspective,” she says. “If we are all doing our part, our region will become a region of choice for diverse talent, as well as companies who want to strengthen their diversity talent pool.”

Inclusion Conference is not just panels and speakers, however. It will conclude on Wednesday with the performance of “To My White Friends Who Know Me,” written by Dr. Debbie Plummer and produced by Karamu Performing Arts.

“This to me gets to the crux of interpersonal relationships,” says Brown. “I want us to talk DEI across all levels, including the ways race and gender affect interpersonal relationships.”

The production will be followed by a facilitated discussion led by Dr. Plummer on how to activate bold abundant change.

“It’s a way to provide professional development and discussion that is personal and relevant to where we want to go,” says Brown.

Resources

Register for Inclusion Conference here

For more on Bold Abundant Change and the 2022 Inclusion Conference

Greater Cleveland Partnership’s All In vision for a Great Region on a Great Lake has five key priorities: Dynamic Business, Abundant Talent, Inclusive Opportunity, Appealing Community and Business Confidence. All of our work ties back to these values. This story relates to Inclusive Opportunity.

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Stories from and about The Land. A Great Region on a Great Lake starts with all of us being … ALL IN.

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