Diversity in Florida workforce adds value to bottom line

In the context of today’s political discourse on the national and state levels, local businesses and corporations are trying to determine how to best engage in active conversations about diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Leading diversity experts in the Tampa Bay Area are front and center of adopting company policies around the value of diversity.

That's why Conscious Capitalism Florida hosted a recent Workplace Inclusion panel discussion designed for business leaders interested in boosting their bottom lines. 

“A lot of the current events that are going on is on everybody's minds. For a lot of business leaders, they don't have the resources,” says Vinny Tafuro, moderator and chapter president of Conscious Capitalism Florida, an organization that seeks out and connects the role models of Florida’s conscious business community. “We want to have these conversations so that current business leaders can have access to tools and learn about how to approach this with their own teams.”

During the event, four panelists discussed and provided strategic solutions on how to actively make the local business community more inclusive. 

Panelists included Cal Jackson, Director of Diversity & Inclusion Global Programs at Tech Data; Nadine Smith, Executive Director of Equality Florida; Maureen Greene James, Human Capital Leader at PwC; and, Ashley Brundage, Inclusion Consultant for PNC Financial Services Group.

Each of the panelists emphasized how important it is for companies -- big and small -- to urge political leaders to take actions that will strengthen and support diversity in the community and in the workforce.

We’re at a time in our society when we need businesses to be brave and stand up, says Smith of Equality Florida, a civil rights organization dedicated to securing full equality for Florida’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community.

“Businesses have to step up because there's a dangerously corrosive thing happening in our politics right now,” says Smith. “Oftentimes, whether it's apartheid or a boycott, the business community has stepped up where elected leadership has either lagged or failed utterly. I think this is a moment in American history where it requires the business community to help create cohesiveness in our society right now.”

Smith credits business leadership at the local level as the catalyst for change that helped protect 60 percent of Floridians from being discriminated against due to sexual orientation or gender identity.

How today’s political climate can affect team performance

With the recent presidential election, we often see employees who are divided by their political views and moral values, says Smith. You have some employees who believe in one perspective, but then there are employees who completely disagree, which can lead to a division between employees.

“Why do you even care if half your staff comes to work boycotting the NFL, but for completely opposite reasons?... Because your team can't function,” says Smith. “Not because businesses are suddenly The Oprah Winfrey Show, but because your bottom line depends on a society where we can communicate.”

The other panelists emphasized that companies should have a vested interest in diversity to ensure the smooth and successful functioning of their teams.
It is becoming increasingly important for companies to create comfortable environments for people to have conversations about what is happening in today’s society, says Greene James.
“We're increasingly becoming a nation of older white people and young brown people,” says Smith. “Businesses better prepare for that new reality. Not kicking and screaming, but intentionally.”

Opportunity for businesses to create open dialogues in workplace

The Conscious Capitalism panelists spoke extensively about how businesses need to create workplace environments that spark welcoming, yet thought-provoking conversations.

PwC strives to create opportunities for its employees to engage in conversations about diversity and inclusion through events like PwC Talks, says Greene James. One of the talks, Being Color Brave, challenged PwC employees to openly speak with their coworkers about race and diversity to help broaden their perspective on the topic.

“Being Color Brave encouraged people to speak, which in turn encouraged people to listen and then, it encouraged people to have a deeper understanding,” Greene James.

Tech Data uses storytelling as a tool to help people connect with one another, while helping to avoid the clashing of values, says Jackson.

“Empathy often comes when you build a container where everyone feels safe to share, hear and actively listen,” says Jackson.

At PNC Financial Services Group, speakers share their personal stories, perspectives and life lessons to help PNC employees “break down any unconscious biases” and learn how to better connect with coworkers in the workplace, says Brundage.

“It is important to be more culturally aware of other communities,” says Brundage. “You're not always going to agree with the other person across the aisle. You have to be able to know that at some point, there needs to be civility. You need to be able to not agree with someone, but still get your work done.”

Executive engagement is key

The Conscious Capitalism Florida panelists explained how they often see business executives take a hands-off approach to diversity by taking little to no action.

Companies sometimes hire a person with a diverse background solely to help build the company’s public image of being an inclusive business, says Smith. Then, when this person tries to implement real changes to diversify the company, they get “spit out.”

To help prevent these situations, it is vital for business executives to be invested in strengthening company efforts to create an inclusive business environment, says Jackson. Business executives ultimately must become more engaged and committed to building diversity in the workplace, the panelists agreed.
“Executive engagement is immersion. We are saying to the executives, 'You want to do this, right? Then, we need your engagement’,” says Jackson. “We have to build an environment so we can have courageous conversations.”

Conscious Capitalism Florida strives to spark that conversation with its solutions-driven events, says Vinny Tafuro.

“We don't get to a solution unless we can actually start having productive dialogue,” says Tafuro. “Our panel discussions and events really are for those companies and business leaders who want to have a productive dialogue. We want to create an opportunity for them to do so.”

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Read more articles by Zebrina Edgerton-Maloy.

Zebrina Edgerton-Maloy is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Tampa. She earned her BA in Journalism from Washington and Lee University in May 2016. Zebrina is also a social media specialist and content writer for startup companies and small businesses. She helps build their brand through social media management and creates their brand story through content writing. She is constantly motivated by Tampa Bay's entrepreneurial spirit. Zebrina is dedicated to share entrepreneurs' stories of grit, passion and innovation. Learn more at her website and follow her on Instagram or Twitter @zebrinaemaloy.