Home > Blog > September 2019 > Inclusion Summit: A Call to Action

Inclusion Summit: A Call to Action

Sunday, September 15, 2019 by Robert DeJournett

The Greater Akron Inclusion Summit demonstrated that things are not “the same ole, same ole” any longer in Greater Akron.  

On Thursday, September 12, over 400 business and community leaders, elected officials, c-level executives, and interested community members who exemplified the richness of diversity in our community gathered at Quaker Station to take part in the inaugural Greater Akron Inclusion Summit. Sponsored by more than twenty companies and organizations, the summit was presented by Elevate Greater Akron and led by its core partners, the City of Akron, County of Summit, GAR Foundation and the Greater Akron Chamber, as a next step for our work to address economic inclusion in Greater Akron.

At the onset, Steve Millard, President and CEO of the Greater Akron Chamber made three promises: to make participants think, to make them uncomfortable, and to focus on taking action. Those promises were met.

In October 2018, the City of Akron, County of Summit, GAR Foundation and the Greater Akron Chamber started a conversation about the impact of exclusion with the release of the Elevate Greater Akron plan and its initial findings. As guests arrived at the Inclusion Summit, the vibe in the room was one of anticipation and a willingness to learn what’s next. Once the presentation began, you could hear gasps in the room. The stage was set by sharing a narrated video by local historian and “Mr. Akron”, Dave Lieberth. Through historical photos and narration, a narrative of migration, discrimination and economic change helped explain our community’s story of race and economic exclusion. 

While the history was sobering, the message relayed throughout the morning was that the economic case for driving greater inclusion is very strong and more than just “the right thing to do.” For Greater Akron to grow, we need to be deliberate and intentional about being more inclusive.

Those in attendance participated in various polls stimulating their knowledge of how in tune they are with some important economic factors of income and wealth. In one of the polls two questions were posed: 

For every $100 in income that a white family earns, what does a black family earn?
For every $100 in wealth that a white family has, how much does a black family have?

After a reveal of the answers, heads begin to turn and murmurings of surprise were heard throughout the room. Nationally, for every $100 in income in a white family, the crowd guessed $48, the national average for a black family is $57. When it comes to wealth, the crowd guessed $32, the national average is $5. That’s not a typ-o. Five dollars of black family wealth to every one hundred dollars of white family wealth.

Income inequality is alive and real, both nationally and locally. This is something we need to address – not simply from a moral perspective – but from an economic one. 

Income inequality stems from a lack of access to opportunity, including employment. Our community struggles to find enough workers to fill available jobs. Economic trends show that we can’t attract enough workers to fill these jobs, so we cannot rely on attraction alone. Our region has more than 13,000 skilled, prime aged people who don’t have a job, half of which have a four-year college degree. And, within that population, black people are over-represented by a factor of two. We must be more intentional in leveraging the underutilized talent we have right here in our community. 

There are numerous stats on the availability of talent but it all boils down to two points – 1) there are people here who can fill these jobs – and many of them are black; and 2) they need to be given the opportunity. 

How can our region thrive if one-third of the population of its largest city doesn’t have the same opportunity?

The inclusion narrative wasn’t just stating the facts of where we stand as a community; solutions were also presented. We didn’t get here overnight and we sure are not going to solve this problem overnight. 

Following presentation of the economic case, a diverse panel reacted to the narrative moderated by national expert Amy Liu, Vice President and Director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. Leaders talked plainly about the narrative and their own experiences dealing with economic inclusion. The panel included Dr. Brian Harte, President, Cleveland Clinic Akron General; Judi Hill, President, Greater Akron NAACP, Billy Taylor, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Goodyear; and Dr. Para Jones, President, Stark State College. 

We also welcomed keynote speaker, Luke Visconti, Founder and Chairman of DiversityInc to share his insight on creating diversity within companies and his experience working and consulting with the country’s top companies on diversity and inclusion for more than thirty years. Luke’s direct style and unapologetic candor gauged mixed reactions from the audience and combined hard truth with apparent opportunity for all of us to do more.. 

Like many things, inclusion isn’t a new topic – our region and the country talk about inclusion a lot. The problem is that we haven’t seen the progress keep up with the talk. There’s an obvious disconnect between talking about inclusion and actually doing something about it. When the panel was asked to share their perspective on what they needed to see to feel like this work is going to initiate real progress, in varying ways they all pointed to one thing: action. Luke pointed to something similar and reiterated that action is often motivated by discomfort – that discomfort is something everyone who genuinely aspires for inclusion needs to embrace.

Action speaks louder than words!  As such, throughout the Summit we challenged each participant to identify something they could do. Something within their power and influence to create a tangible next step for themselves, their businesses and our community. We asked them to note those action items on cards at their tables and hundreds of actions were written down and turned in at the end of the Summit representing commitments to take a next step. We also received ideas about the kinds of help and resources we can provide to support that action.

Throughout the morning, the speakers reiterated that, to make real progress, top leaders of the region’s business community, government and civic organizations  will need to step up and “own their diversity strategy” in order to move the economic needle through inclusion. As we move to act on this work, we will be calling on the region’s leaders to be more intentional and more active in driving this work.  

This event was the kick start to inform, inspire, and motivate the business community to take ownership to reap the economic benefits that inclusion can bring to their companies and that can also result in a significant leap forward for Greater Akron’s people.

The Inclusion Summit concluded with a call to action by several leaders and a critical question for each attendee asking what they will do to drive economic inclusion in Greater Akron. We challenge you to ask yourself the same thing:

What are you going to do?

 
Posted: Sunday, September 15, 2019 by Robert DeJournett | with 50 comments


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