WORCESTER — On day three of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Game Changers conference, the discussion centered around the role of employers in creating an equitable recovery in the workforce.
Wednesday’s panelists were Katie Crockett, president of Lamoureux Pagano & Associates Architects; Celia Richa, senior vice president of programs for the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce; Derrick Kiser, founder of Fresh Start 508; and Angela Dixon, senior vice president and chief diversity officer at Berkshire Bank .
Each panelist shared ways their organization creates an equitable and diverse workplace, and offered solutions for other companies looking to do the same.
Lamoureux Pagano & Associates is taking steps to unblock the path to the profession for BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color) by speaking to students about architecture and offering internships to college students and creating opportunities to students with diverse backgrounds.
The architecture firm gives employees two days paid off work for community service, which includes speaking to youth STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) groups and educating students about the profession through seminars, talking about the skills required to be an architect with a window into the profession.
“Our firm recognizes the value of broad representation, in our projects and in our staffing,” Crockett said. “All our business can only be as healthy as the community we serve, as we continually strive to improve efforts to elevate on all fronts.”
Dixon said Berkshire Bank created resource groups for women, veterans, people of color and employees with disabilities to foster inclusiveness and give employees a space to work through issues together.
They also work with organizations that raise awareness around issues of systemic racism and equity, and collaborate with them on ways to address those issues and minimize issues such as the racial wealth gap.
Cultural awareness and anti-bias training are always taking place as well, Dixon said, and recommends other companies do the same to foster an inclusive space.
Organizations can establish a sense of belonging and value for diverse employees by fostering inclusiveness, respect and teamwork, which feed into work by employees on diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) to retain diverse employees and give them safe spaces.
Besides looking internally at their own hiring policies and internal opportunities available to further equity for employers and employees, businesses should look at external opportunities such as working with minority-owned groups and creating goals around supporting other diverse organizations.
Richa said companies should look into putting money into procurement and working with minority-owned suppliers and partners of different sizes from the community, locally and statewide.
“A lot of businesses and employers think about DE&I as internal, focused on hiring retention advancement,” Richa said. “What a lot of companies don’t think about is how to spend their money.”
Richa said the procurement department should work hand-in-hand with diversity officers to find diverse suppliers to spend money on, as a win-win for both companies.
Being clear about opportunities and goals of the organization, along with continued communication, is important to bringing diverse members to the workplace. Dixon also recommended companies connect with organizations and institutions that work with diverse groups.
Kiser said at his company, Fresh Start 508, he worked with local businesses personally to find jobs for struggling men at Fresh Start, “bringing community and business together,” he said.
Fresh Start 508, also known as Fresh Start Wellness Center, is a nonprofit Kiser started to help formerly incarcerated individuals, gang members and people in recovery find and retain employment and heal from trauma. In 2018, Kiser said his team found 103 jobs for Fresh Start members, and since then have continued to help members of the community.
“America wasn’t designed with Black in mind, in regards to equal opportunity and equal justice,” Kiser said.
Kiser said companies need to look in the mirror and recognize their own biases when working towards representing and including diverse groups in the workplace.
Panelists said the systems in place in education and employment have inherent biases and restrictions that create added difficulties for marginalized and underrepresented groups to get jobs in certain industries.
Kiser said these systems are built to give a disadvantage to people in these groups, causing them to struggle more than privileged individuals who are not in marginalized communities.
“When people say that the system is broken — no, the system is working fine,” Kiser said. “The system is being perpetrated year after year after year.”
Kiser said society has been programmed to “see things a certain way” in terms of biases through the media and education.
Specifically in the architecture industry, Crockett said there is a “problematic” lack of diversity, crediting this in part to the difficult and expensive path one must take to join the profession. Five to six years of education at a private or expensive program is one aspect of the system that creates a “roadblock” to becoming an architect, Crockett said.
Crockett said the firm gets few applications from BIPOC, especially since less than one in five new architects identify as a racial or ethnic minority.
Dixon said applicants ask themselves “what type of organization is this? Is this a place where I see myself growing and thriving professionally? Is it consistent with my value system, and will my ideals and perspective be welcomed?”
“For so many years, equity in particular was viewed through a lens of compliance,” Dixon said, citing Equal Opportunity Employer statements visible on job boards and applications. “In recent years many organizations have moved from simply hoping to achieve diversity, to addressing issues of equity, inclusion and belonging, extending beyond the recruitment phase to retention.”
Kiser said minorities should ask why they’re being underrepresented, looking at generational trauma and their own lived experiences. He said though we all have our own views, we should start supporting and representing each other.
Dixon said to be more inclusive DE&I should be integral to all the company does. She said the company’s image, both with their online presence and reputation, plays a major role in answering those questions. Companies should have clear opportunities for career development, friendly policies, benefits and internal processes that make diverse employees feel welcomed.
“Diversity is very much welcomed,” Dixon said. “It’s a sense that we do want to have representation in our workforce.”