Making space: Using diversity and inclusion programs to build a better workplace

Kelli Palmer heads global diversity & equity for the CFA Institute, which has published a diversity and inclusion guide for the investment management industry. Photo: Amy and Jackson Smith Kelli Palmer heads global diversity & equity for the CFA Institute, which has published a diversity and inclusion guide for the investment management industry. Photo: Amy and Jackson Smith

As the U.S. population grows less homogeneous, organizations are increasingly seizing on opportunities to incorporate diversity and inclusion programs and policies—or in abbreviated corporate parlance, “D&I”—into their workplace cultures.

Diversity covers the spectrum of human differences, including age, race, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexuality, language, national origin, and socio-economic status. Inclusion refers to a culture of belonging where your employees are heard, welcomed, respected, and treated fairly. It means employees feel that their voice matters and adds value to the organization.

Here in our corner of the world, the civic and business community, including the City of Charlottesville, University of Virginia, and local Chamber of Commerce, have already taken steps to weave a more diverse and inclusive culture into the city’s fabric.

Fostering diversity and inclusion creates more opportunities for historically underrepresented populations to succeed, which is good for the community. But it’s also good for a business’s bottom line.

A wealth of research bears this out. The Boston Consulting Group, a global management consulting firm, says “when companies and governments embrace diversity and inclusion as a critical driver of success, they are more likely to prosper and last.” A 2012 McKinsey & Company study revealed companies with diverse executive boards enjoy significantly higher earnings and returns on equity, while a 2015 McKinsey report, “Why Diversity Matters,” found that “more diverse companies are better able to win top talent, and improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making, leading to a virtuous cycle of increasing returns.” Deloitte has called D&I a “business imperative.”

“It’s the right thing to do”

Andrea Copeland-Whitsett, director of member education services at the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, says diversity is part of Charlottesville’s strength. And when businesses have strong diversity and inclusion programs, it not only strengthens the business, but further strengthens the community.

“Bringing together people with different experiences, perspectives, backgrounds…is always a good thing,” says Copeland-Whitsett. “So when a business or an organization creates an environment where employees of all backgrounds feel valued, appreciated, and also have equal opportunities, you’re creating a strong employee base.”

Copeland-Whitsett says the white supremacist rallies in summer 2017 put the spotlight on Charlottesville, and it’s another motivating factor behind why businesses may be thinking even more about D&I. “A lot of companies, for good reason, have sat down and said, ‘What can we do to make things better, to make everyone feel welcome, to make this community aware that we don’t stand for exclusion, we don’t stand for racism, we don’t stand for what was on display August 11th and 12th?,’” she says.

D&I programs need buy-in from everyone, from the top down, to be effective, Copeland-Whitsett adds, and a company has to be genuine about incorporating it into the work culture because “it’s the right thing to do.” It can’t be a “one-and-done,” check-the-box kind of effort.

“Like any other program implemented in any business, in order for it to be successful, there has to be ongoing evaluations and assessments of that program,” she adds. “The Leadership Charlottesville program that I run through the Chamber, I do it every year. Every year there has to be an evaluation of that program to ensure we are meeting the goals and fulfilling the mission. D&I programs are the same.”

A city priority

Hollie Lee, chief of workforce development strategies for the City of Charlottesville, says programs that support diversity and inclusion have always been a priority of the city, but even more so in recent years. The need for them is there: While Charlottesville’s population is roughly 30 percent non-white, only a little under 13 percent of local firms were minority-owned in 2012, according to census data.

The city’s Minority Business Program, which supports businesses owned by minority or disadvantaged populations, was recently revamped and is now backed with additional funding, Lee says. That includes two new positions: a minority business procurement coordinator, housed in the Procurement and Risk Management Services Division, and a minority business development coordinator, supporting the Office of Economic Development.

Lee says in the future, the two new positions “will work hand-in-hand in order to create more business opportunities for minority-owned businesses in the city.” By creating these positions, she adds, City Council is demonstrating its commitment to supporting a more diverse business community.

Other initiatives, like Minority Business Week (September 16-21, 2019) and the newly launched Business Equity Fund—created to help minority-owned businesses obtain loans at a low interest rate and initiated by City Councilor Wes Bellamy—will offer additional opportunities for diversity and inclusivity within the business community.

Lee says the city understands that having a diverse mix of businesses, whether based on ethnicity or based on industry, is important to Charlottesville’s economy and tax base. “And it’s also good to have businesses that reflect your community. So [if] businesses here in Charlottesville are not owned by diverse groups, then we’re not truly representing the makeup of our community.”

The long game

One of the top employers in the Charlottesville area is the CFA Institute, a global association of investment professionals headquartered on East High Street. The CFA has developed both internal and external programs aimed at promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“The aim of our diversity and inclusion initiative is to create a welcoming and safe work environment, where employees can flourish, no matter their background or heritage,” says Kelli Palmer, CFA’s newly appointed head of global diversity & equity and corporate citizenship. “It’s important to establish a culture of fairness, opportunity, and trust.”

To that end, the CFA created three internal “business resource groups” in early 2018—Institutional Awareness of Minorities, Women’s Initiative Network, and Pride at Work—to help “support employees from historically underrepresented populations and help foster inclusion across the organization,” says Palmer, specifically, women, minorities, and the LGBTQ community.

External efforts include the CFA’s annual conference focused on diversity and inclusion, as well as its Women in Investment Management initiative, which promotes gender diversity in the investment management profession through research, a peer network, and scholarships for women pursuing a career in investment management and who are interested in earning the CFA charter.

In fall 2018, the Institute also published a diversity and inclusion guide for the investment management industry, featuring 20 recommendations that firms can use to launch or develop a diversity and inclusion program. To assess its long-term impact, the CFA has recruited investment firm “experimental partners” to implement some of the ideas, measure outcomes, and report back.

Since the Women in Investment Management program was launched in 2013, Palmer says the percentage of women CFA candidates has grown globally from 30 percent in 2013 to 38 percent in 2018.

Still, there’s more work to do. As the CFA acknowledges on its website, fewer than 20 percent of the holders of the Chartered Financial Analyst designation are women, a gender imbalance that’s mirrored in the industry as a whole. A 2017 study from the Knight Foundation and Bella Research Group revealed that women- and minority-owned firms manage only 1.1 percent of the $71.4 trillion-dollar asset management industry.

CFA D&I initiatives aim to bring about a change, but it will require “investment and a long-term commitment,” says Palmer.

“The reality is that diversity, equity, and inclusion is a long game that looks more like [a] winding road that goes both up and downhill more than an ascent to a singular peak,” she says. “What we have learned from our journey is that it’s important to engage in an ongoing educational process. This is not a ‘one-and-done’ exercise.”

“We’re becoming an open society”

As a starting point, one important way that C’ville businesses—or any business—can better ensure diversity in their work population, and that all of their employees are heard, welcomed, and represented, is by having an anti-discrimination policy, says Amy-Sarah Marshall, president of the Charlottesville Pride Community Network.

“One time, I was speaking with a local business and I asked them if they had an anti-discrimination policy, and their response was they don’t need one because, ‘We don’t discriminate against anybody,’” recalls Marshall. “And I thought that the sentiment was obviously well-intentioned, however that attitude completely glosses over the fact that we all have biases.”

Workplace anti-discrimination policies, she adds, are there to not only protect employees, but customers too.

Marshall also recommends safe-space training, which helps businesses, organizations, and individuals create welcoming, empathetic, inclusive spaces for the LGBTQ+ community. Organizations like Piedmont Virginia Community College, the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library, and the Junior League of Charlottesville, among others, have participated in SafeCville,  the Charlottesville Pride Community Network’s safe-space training.

“It’s about understanding and respecting different points of view and where people are coming from and learning to not make assumptions,” says Marshall. “Everybody needs practice with that.”

Above all, Marshall says having a variety of perspectives and diverse, inclusive places to live and work matters to people today, whether they are LGBTQ+ or of a minority group or not.

Diverse, inclusive communities and work cultures help attract business and bring out the best in their employees, which is all good for the bottom line, she adds. “We’re becoming a more diverse society. We’re becoming an open society, and I think if you are wanting to grow, that is where you need to be.”

And if a business or organization is planning to create policies in support of diversity, inclusion, and equity, Marshall urges them to “do it right.”

“It’s got to be part of the makeup of your core value system as a business,” she says, “or otherwise people can smell the bullshit.”

The power of difference

J. Elliott Cisneros, executive director of the nonprofit The Sum, which facilitates diversity and equity workshops and assessments, says he moved to Charlottesville after the events of August 2017 to start The Sum study center on East Jefferson Street. (Cisneros shares an office with Heather Heyer Foundation President Susan Bro.)

While terms like “inclusion” are used today to describe strategies that bring differing groups and populations together, during the Civil Rights era, Cisneros says, the term “tolerance” was more commonly used to describe how people should get along.

“Now we look back and say, ‘Tolerance! Who wants to just be tolerated?’,” he says. “Now that language is about inclusion and equity, and similarly for me, I want inclusion, I want equity, but there’s something more. Like, do you really just want to be included? Or do you want to be seen and acknowledged and celebrated? So for me, our paradigm needs to move to that next step.”

The Sum’s free, one- to two-hour diversity and equity workshops, available to area businesses, introduce people to an unconventional online tool and methodology his team has developed called The Power of Difference Survey, which assesses an individual’s or group’s “power perspectives”—or patterns of thinking in relation to structural or institutional power—and how that interacts with sociocultural difference. Understanding one’s unconscious biases can help people learn to value difference and communicate more effectively across those differences.

“This is not about blame and shame, it’s not about wagging fingers at people and saying, ‘You’re really bad at this’ and ‘You need to get it together,’” say Cisneros. “It’s really providing the necessary support so that people can feel safe, and that they have the tools to do that internal work that really is going to allow them to impact people across differences in the ways that they intend.”

Diversity rises at the University of Virginia

Dr. Marcus Martin, outgoing vice president and chief officer for diversity and equity at the University of Virginia, came to Charlottesville in 1996 to serve as the first chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine.

“Actually, I was the first African American chair of a clinical department in the School of Medicine. And certainly, I always felt that I, as well as other clinicians, faculty members, [and] administrators, should be as well-versed as possible in diversity, equity, and inclusion because it brings a lot of value to whatever the organization is,” says Martin.

The entire university is diversifying across the board, Martin adds. The number of minority teaching and research faculty has increased by 70 percent—from 309 to 537—in the past 10 years, and the number of African American teaching and research faculty has increased by about 30 percent—from 86 to 109—in that same timeframe, as has total minority staff levels, from 1,084 to 1,335, representing an increase of 25 percent.

“So that’s good for recruiting students. When students see individuals who look like them, they tend to want to come here,” he says. The first-year class that entered in fall 2018 was more than 34 percent minority. “That’s the most diverse class ever,” he says. “The number of African American students at UVA is the highest that it’s ever been.”

Not only is the student population increasingly diverse, says Martin, the university has the highest retention rate and graduation rate of African American students of any public research institution in the country.

Efforts at increasing the number of women pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields of study are also on an upward trend at UVA, with 33 percent of women earning undergraduate engineering degrees, compared to a national average of 21 percent.

Metrics aside, the university is also attempting to ensure that the institution’s story, which has long been dominated by Thomas Jefferson, is expanded to encompass all its history. This narrative, including the role of slavery in building UVA, is key to the university’s D&I efforts.

One example of telling the complete story of the university’s past is the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers, now under construction near the Rotunda. The memorial will honor the lives and work of the approximately 5,000 enslaved African Americans who helped build and maintain the university between 1817, when construction started on the Lawn, and the end of the Civil War in 1865. Minority-owned firm Team Henry Enterprises of Newport News is providing general contracting work for the $7 million project, which is estimated to be completed in the next year.

Martin also points to the naming of Gibbons House after the enslaved African Americans Isabella and William Gibbons, a husband-and-wife butler and cook enslaved by UVA professors, and the naming of Skipwith Hall after Peyton Skipwith, an enslaved stonemason, as other meaningful ways the university is working to recognize the contributions of those who helped build it. Skipwith Hall is a facilities management building that rests on the same grounds where Peyton Skipwith quarried stone for buildings at the university.

“Bringing out information about the enslaved who contributed to the building of the institution—a story that was never really borne out in the past—gets credibility,” adds Martin. It humanizes the descendants of the enslaved and other historically underrepresented populations and demonstrates that the university “really cares, and cares about reflecting on the past, acknowledging the past history so we can be more inclusive as we move towards the future.”

Numerous other outreach efforts and programs have gotten off the ground since the Office for Diversity and Equity was created in 2005 by then-president John Casteen, says Martin. Those include the Diversity Council—which established the university’s “Commitment to Diversity” statement—the LGBT Committee, Women’s Leadership Council, Disability Advocacy & Action Committee, and the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University.

On a broader level, Martin says, diversity, equity, and inclusion are core values that should be integral to any institution, organization, or business. “The demographics are changing, becoming more diverse. Accepting and including individuals who may not have been included in the past is important for the strength of our community, for our state, and for our nation.”

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