The Business of Diversity
It’s taken many lifetimes of work by heroic civil rights leaders to try to end racial injustice in America. While there has certainly been some progress, the events we’ve witnessed across this country in the past year make clear that their work is by no means done — and our work is not done.
In the months since the death of George Floyd at the hands of police, I’ve spent a great deal of time listening to and engaging in deep conversations about racial injustice in our country and our community. I’ve observed firsthand the activism motivated by the outrage and have a better understanding of the strong need to change things and make them better. But how?
I believe the answer lies in our ability to harness the power of our collective voices and take this journey together. At the Orlando Economic Partnership, we are focusing our efforts on improving diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) inside companies and within our communities, and on being an ally on issues important to our region.
To do that, we must examine our region and be honest about the challenges we face. The data lays out our reality. The research shows African American neighborhoods are lacking opportunity to fully participate in our economy. Black neighborhoods in Orlando have the lowest opportunity rankings, and their residents are at least twice as likely to have no high school diploma, five times more likely to be of working age without a car, 2.5 times less likely to have internet service and, perhaps most telling, on average have a net worth of $17,800 versus $215,000 in white neighborhoods.
How can this be? How have we blocked the path for so many to pursue health, education and prosperity? An even harder question to answer is why have we done so? The result of this inaction is clear: We have denied opportunity to the next generation of innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs — limiting the opportunities of individual lives, families, neighborhoods and our own regional economic success.
In recent months, our law enforcement, business community, public sector, nonprofit and religious leaders have come to the table and taken steps to tackle racial injustice and to reform policies while engaging residents most impacted by racial injustice and bias. There are examples of this throughout our region.
In mid-January, the corporate community announced its commitment to make positive change when more than 70 of Orlando’s CEOs and top executives launched a “Take the Pledge” initiative, the first of its kind in our region. The purpose of this pledge is to focus on corporate culture and to nurture an environment that raises the growth potential of residents by creating opportunities for those long affected by racial inequality while ensuring pathways for participation in our local economy.
To accomplish this, the Partnership engaged Orlando’s business leaders across varied industries and from diverse backgrounds to form a task force to address critical hurdles. The result of the task force’s work: A plan to pursue a portfolio of programs and collaborative engagements that align with the pledge and are aimed at strengthening our collective DEI efforts and results.
The portfolio includes educating our business community on how to focus on skills-based hiring as opposed to overemphasizing credentials, working with more than 50 Black-owned businesses this year alone and over 400 minority-owned businesses in the past year as they seek ways to navigate and survive current economic conditions.
We are advocating for and supporting legislation that increases internet access for underserved communities, actively featuring sites and buildings in underinvested neighborhoods in our economic development efforts. We’re also publishing a prosperity scorecard to understand disparities and underscore the reality of our challenges and opportunities. To continue to move the needle in these areas, we’ve hired a DEI expert to help establish accountability and provide businesses with a toolkit to help them improve their efforts in diversity, equity and inclusion.
The time is now to create a strong record of diversity, equity and inclusion for the Central Florida region. DEI is critical to the expansion of our community’s “Broad-Based Prosperity,” which helps to retain and attract talent, drives innovation, and creates access and opportunity for all.
So I ask you now to join our effort and take bold action: “Take the Pledge” by visiting Orlando.org/DEI. If we all commit to making the issues surrounding racial inequality a core focus of our region’s economic growth and recovery, we will build a better future for our region. It will take time — but together, we can accomplish this once and for all.
WE will educate ourselves, review examples and share insights through partner organizations such as nonprofits and educational institutions into the history of systemic racism throughout our region and the barriers it continues to present today.
WE will create opportunities for sessions to listen to those affected and marginalized by these barriers to learn how we can help, with follow-up on actionable areas focusing on what’s working, what needs improvement and where we can be most effective.
WE will identify, support and collaborate with specific nonprofits and other partner organizations that work tirelessly in marginalized and vulnerable communities, asking for careful review of work in marginalized sectors in our region, and identify the work still to be done.
WE will use our power, influence and position to amplify unheard voices and endorse policies that lead to racial justice and opportunities for all.
WE will improve the employment, training, wage equity, growth potential, advancement, support and success of black and brown people in our workplace, workforce and marketplace, and commit to ways that minority-owned businesses are intentionally included in pipeline opportunities. We will pledge to remove barriers, diversify our talent pool and create upward mobility employment opportunities through implementing skills-based hiring as an innovative hiring practice.
WE will continue ongoing conversations with CEOs and executive leaders to collectively address issues of social injustice, racism and biases in our communities and organizations, confirming within organizations DEI is a strategic imperative with demonstrated commitment and actions.
WE acknowledge the critical importance of accountability to our community and pledge to collaborate in annual efforts to track and report our contributions to the collective (regional) goal of creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive business community.
WE will support efforts to implement effective community-based models that improve conditions within vulnerable communities throughout Central Florida, using our voices and position to amplify and elevate examples of success.
Tim Giuliani is the president and CEO of the Orlando Economic Partnership, a public-private, not-for-profit economic and community development organization. The Partnership represents seven Central Florida counties as well as the City of Orlando and hundreds of the region’s top private businesses. (www.orlando.org)