In an online discussion held last week, a panel of experts convened by NJBIZ delved into issues surrounding the promotion of diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace.
The panel, hosted by NJBIZ Editor Jeffrey Kanige, featured Joe Forte, deputy chief of staff and chief diversity officer, New Jersey Department of State; Yeurys Pujols, vice president for diversity, equity, inclusion, Hudson County Community College; and Avonia Richardson-Miller, senior vice president and chief diversity officer, Hackensack Meridian Health.
The discussion opened with the experts talking about their own experiences — offering advice for how people, organizations and businesses can get started or improve their own DEI efforts.
From there, Kanige shifted the discussion to the role of leadership in the establishment and implementation of DEI initiatives – first directing the question to Richardson-Miller and how that manifests itself across a large organization like HMH.
“Is it something that’s site-specific,” Kanige asked. “Or does it start at the top and go down from there?”
“That’s a great question. Because in an organization the size of Hackensack Meridian Health, that could get really complex,” Richardson-Miller explained. “But we have created what we termed as our DEI governance structure, and it has multiple levels. And it speaks to what you’re saying – that it has to involve everyone. So, it starts at the very top with our board that we have great support and governance from as it relates to our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. The next layer is that we have established a DEI Executive Council and a DEI Advisory Council from across the network. And those two councils function as one combined council. That council is co-chaired by myself and our CEO, Bob Garrett.”
She continued that HMH has launched equity councils at each site, which brings it down to the local level and local facility. “From there, we have what we call our individual contributor level of our DEI governance structure,” said Richardson-Miller. “And this is where our resource groups are. Some organizations refer to them as business resource groups/employee resource groups. At Hackensack, we refer to them as team member resource groups. So, you get that two-way, bi-directional – from the board down and from the bottom up with the feedback.”
“Joe, the State of New Jersey is also a fairly large entity,” said Kanige. “And I’m curious as to your experience with dealing with a variety of different units.”
“Government, in serving the public, you have to serve everyone,” said Forte. “We have over 114 million visitors that visit New Jersey – and New Jersey’s Department of Tourism falls under Department of State. So, thinking about how our visitors are interacting, how we’re providing services. Making sure that our materials are translated. One of the priorities is to make sure that our social media is translated – whether it’s Spanish or another language. With elections, making sure that folks with disabilities can easily vote. That’s the lens I’ve been looking at. The last eight months we’ve been trying to launch employee engagement committees.”
Forte stressed that the well-being of employees is the top priority.
“Yeurys, you have a lot of different constituencies yourself at a college – faculty, staff, administrators, leadership, students, and students’ parents and families — the extended constituency,” said Kanige. “How do you see that role? How do you get your arms around that kind of entity?”
“Here, we have the opportunity where we’re able to grow it progressively,” Pujols said. “The board wanted a president that would promote diversity, equity and inclusion, that would champion diversity, equity and inclusion. When Christopher Reber was appointed president, he quickly framed the two guiding principles for the college as student success and diversity, equity and inclusion. And every plan that we have at the college is framed from those two angles.”
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Pujols noted that an advisory council recommended to Reber the creation of the position that Pujols now holds as well as the establishment of an office dedicated to DEI.
“This position is the first one-of-its-kind in the State of New Jersey for a community college,” Pujols noted.
Kanige said he noticed the panelists mentioned the creation of councils and asked further about the process to get the necessary buy-in needed to establish and grow these efforts toward real goals.
“What’s the messaging that you’re doing there,” Kanige asked. “What do you tell people the goals are? How do you communicate what you’re trying to do here? And then how do you go about doing that? It sounds like it’s a two-way street constantly. But I’d like to hear more about what the content of the message is.”
Richardson-Miller said that it starts with the business case for diversity, adding that HMH frames out four pillars that drive its efforts.
“A focus on patient care and outcomes. A focus on our workforce – recruiting, retaining, attracting, upskilling, and promoting and engaging a diverse workforce,” she said. “As far as our patients – quality care and outcomes for all the patients that we serve. Community – those partnerships and those collaborations. And supplier diversity. Those are the four pillars that drive it forward. And then each of those councils is chaired by a council president. So, whatever we are doing is in alignment with that.”
Forte said that microtargeting and partnerships are essential to spreading the state agency’s message. He also noted that each month, the department makes DEI Zoom backgrounds and that he has made it a priority to email job announcements to a wide range of diverse organizations.
Kanige also noted that several of the panelists had used surveys to gauge feedback and asked Forte about the guidance from a recent assessment.
“The most feedback I got was that folks want to feel included,” said Forte, who noted that a main objective of his has been trying to make the 12 divisions in the Department of State come together and feel inclusive and cohesive.
Forte said those efforts have included lunch-learn sessions and planning an employee picnic, as well as unconscious bias training. He also stressed that opportunity for advancement was another finding of the survey and something he tries to promote and support in the department.
Pujols said his survey had about 800 participants, which produced 400 pages of results he presented to the university president – who insisted that the results be presented to the community in as unvarnished and transparent a way as possible.
“We shared it widely. Everyone had access to that – every student, every employee. And then, we had the forums,” Pujols explained. “People came in and we engaged them in conversations. And that led to four very specific goals. The first one was in programs and infrastructure. The second one was human resource practices. Third one – safety and security. And the fourth one touched on student experience. So, we identified those goals. Then we used those goals to break into subcommittees. And the groups worked on developing action items for each of those. And we created a really comprehensive action plan around these four goals. This action plan is foundational to the strategic plan of the college.”
The takeaway, Pujols added, is to bring everyone with you.
The conversation shifted through a number of topics including the business case for DEI and dealing with obstacles, with Kanige asking the panelists about any resistance to DEI policies they have encountered.
“I wanted to hear a little about whether you’re getting any resistance – either internally or externally. Internally from managers, from supervisors, or even just rank-and-file employees to the kinds of things you’re doing,” said Kanige. “And externally, too, from customers, vendors, clients, patients. Are you seeing any resistance? And if so, how do you overcome that?”
“Having good diversity programs will help educate your employees,” said Forte. “I have an open-door policy. I feel like that’s gone a long way with making sure there’s no pushback and getting that buy-in with our employees and our leadership team.”
“I’d be naïve to say that we don’t have any pushback. I think there will always be pushback,” said Richardson-Miller. “But this is why you have the messaging. And then you have that leadership accountability. And then it’s very much about trying to develop those relationships and working together collaboratively.”
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Pujols pointed out that Jersey City, where HCCC is based, is a diverse area, which is not always the case for other businesses, schools and organizations. And that, generally, most people in his community are on board with these types of efforts. “Most people here respect and support the concept that diversity is important,” he said.
The conversation continued through areas such as measuring progress and how to respond if the evaluation shows shortcomings before coming to the close of the program – where Kanige opened the floor to the experts for a final word on the important subject.
“I just want to impress upon those who tuned in today that it doesn’t matter how large or how small your organization is. You can certainly launch and integrate DEI initiatives and strategies,” said Richardson-Miller. “It really is a journey. And knowing where you are in your journey. But just to start somewhere.”
“Our goal is to provide a community where everyone that walks in feels like they’re an insider,” said Pujols. “We feel that when we are together, when we’re different – we’re stronger, we’re better. And that speaks to the business argument, the business case.”