Northwest Arkansas is growing rapidly. Job growth, a strong local economy, and a high quality of life are just a few of the many reasons the region continues to be recognized as one of the top places to live in the nation. The demographic makeup of Northwest Arkansas, including race, age, income, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and many other facets of the community, is changing as well. This brings both opportunities and challenges for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and the Chamber’s role as a catalyst for action and positive change has never been more important.
What is Diversity, Equity and Inclusion?
Diversity includes all the ways in which people differ, encompassing the different characteristics that make one individual or group different from another. While diversity is often used in reference to race, ethnicity, and gender, a broader definition of diversity also includes age, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, education, marital status, language, and physical appearance. The definition also includes diversity of thought: ideas, perspectives, and values as well as recognition that individuals affiliate with multiple identities.
Equity is the fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all people, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups. Improving equity involves increasing justice and fairness within the procedures and processes of institutions or systems, as well as in their distribution of resources. Tackling equity issues requires an understanding of the root causes of outcome disparities within our society.
Inclusion is the act of creating environments in which any individual or group can be and feel welcomed, respected, supported, and valued to fully participate. An inclusive and welcoming climate embraces differences and offers respect in words and actions for all people. It’s important to note that while an inclusive group is, by definition, diverse, a diverse group isn’t always inclusive. Increasingly, recognition of unconscious or implicit bias helps organizations to be deliberate about addressing issues of inclusivity.
What is the Chamber Doing?
The Vision of the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce is to be the center of world-class business, welcoming communities, and opportunities for all. This Vision inspires the mission work we do which includes championing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives that are sources of both competitive advantage for business and sustainable success for the future of our community. As our nation undertakes a necessary conversation about systemic racism, we are listening thoughtfully and leading solutions locally to help ensure people of color have greater opportunities to succeed.
New Lens Series Levels Playing Field for SMBs
At the start of the year the Chamber launched its Lens Series. This program focuses on providing training and strategies to help level the playing field for small-to-medium size businesses (SMBs) regarding access to strategic and innovative DEI information and leadership support. It serves the growing and diverse small business needs of the region. The Lens Series equips small business leaders with DEI principles to address relevant organizational challenges, apply these principles to business issues, and make their business more welcoming to their employees and customers.
The focus is entirely on the small business community and approaches DEI from a business standpoint. The moral case for greater diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace is indisputable, and there’s overwhelming evidence that greater diversity benefits the American economy, businesses, communities and employees. Over the course of this year the Lens Series has offered four trainings and development opportunities: Moving from Diversity to Inclusion, Unconscious Bias, Promoting Diversity in the Workplace, and Inclusion During Covid-19.
We’re Elevating Community Voices and Putting Faces to People
The Chamber’s work does not stop with the business community. In July, our Northwest Arkansas Emerging Leaders started a social media campaign to elevate the voices of our minority community members. #ListenNWA is designed to shed light on these community members, their stories, and to put faces to these people. While we acknowledge that sharing these stories is no substitute for concrete action, we believe it is a step in the right direction. Our hope is that hearing these stories from our friends, neighbors, and colleagues will spark productive dialogue within the community that will lead to positive change. You can check out the campaign by visiting the NWA Emerging Leaders Facebook or Instagram pages.
We’re Starting Wellness Checks to Bridge the Gaps
In our roles as conveners and catalysts the Chamber is hosting Community Wellness Checks. These give members of our community the opportunity to let their voices be heard, as they share their experience here in Rogers, Lowell, and Northwest Arkansas. We hope it provides ideas to make the region more welcoming and inviting for all that live, work, and play here.
Our Commitment to DEI
As the trusted source for growing business, activating leaders, and building community, we have a lot of work to do. We are committed to advancing DEI initiatives and continuing our work as influencers, catalysts, and conveners. We believe that through diversity, collaboration, and teamwork we encourage an inspired, open, and welcoming environment that leads to the greater good. We will convene, we will listen, we will collaborate, and we will help lead our community and region into meaningful action and lasting change providing equal justice and opportunities for all.