Less than 10% of New Jersey’s spent public dollars goes to diverse businesses, according to New Jersey Office of Diversity and Inclusion Chief Diversity Officer Hester Agudosi.
The number comes from a disparity study Agudosi’s office is currently working on and was shared while she moderated the virtual NJBIZ Diversity in the Workplace panel on Aug. 31.
“Oftentimes [DEI is] focused on the HR side, and that’s important, because that’s our workforce. But the other side which oftentimes is neglected, which is very problematic to me … is DEI as it relates externally, and particularly as a business. Even on the public sector side, what’re we doing externally? Supplier diversity,” Agudosi said. “We as institutions provide and purchase goods and services, and of those goods and services, which for the state of New Jersey its billions of dollars, and there are businesses that exist and grow and thrive because they’re part of our supply chain.”
Agudosi was joined by panelists Sean Baptiste, chief human resources officer and vice president at RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group; Pete Hinojosa, thought leadership director at Insperity; Tammy Garnes Mata, senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer at Valley Bank; Avonia Richardson-Miller, senior vice president and chief diversity officer at Hackensack Meridian Health; and Darius Smith, director of talent marketing and engagement, Brother International Corp.
New Jersey is the fourth most diverse state in the nation and one of its most densely populated, Agudosi shared, giving its companies the chance to be a model for others strengthening their DEI focus and initiatives.
Baptiste said that RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group has put in place goals and strategies to hold people accountable to ensure that they have “x-amount” of dollars spent out of their budget into local women- and minority-owned businesses.
“An organization of our size – 44,000 – we can almost put them out of business with what we need. It’s about that true partnership and building up our supply chain to invest in, again, those minority-owned businesses, and educating our internal managers and changing our processes and policies to make sure everyone understands what our organizational initiative is around supply chain supplier diversity and procurement,” Baptiste said.
For employers bringing DEI into the business’s culture, Hinojosa noted, “training will change your day, development will change your culture.” To support diverse employees as an organization and to weave DEI into a company’s culture, a training here and there isn’t going to cut it. And when leadership goes to implement a strategy, they must do it from the top down.
“Not just from the top. You have a group of people, and they’ve spent months talking about it, thinking about it…and then they share it with employees in a five to 15, or 30-minute opportunity, and everyone is supposed to take a 180 and go toward that change.
“Be careful that you don’t lose the perspective of the five months you spent on it,” he said.
For recruitment, panelists recommended starting with HBCUs, or historically Black colleges and universities. Garnes Mata noted, though, that when recruiting from HBCUs, students there don’t necessarily know about Valley Bank because they aren’t located within the bank’s footprint.
“But we have predominantly Black and Hispanic institutions within our footprint,” she said, which then is a good place to start seeking diverse applicants.
Richardson-Miller noted that institutions can also look to the Divine Nine, which are the nine fraternities and sororities under the National Pan-Hellenic Council historically composed of African Americans, to source diverse applicants.
“What is it that you can propose to that candidate as the value proposition of coming on board to your company? [What] development opportunities? Maybe you do get picked up by a large company, but maybe you’re not … getting exposure, getting that really high impact development work assignments or opportunities, and maybe that’s something that a smaller organization can provide to someone more entry level?” Richardson-Miller said.
“One of the things we center our DEI around is that … inclusion is the goal, diversity is the outcome,” Garnes Mata said. “We believe if we do all that, more diversity will follow … Don’t focus so much on what your percentages are right now in the population, focus on ‘what am I trying to achieve?’ I’m trying to achieve access for populations that have been historically excluded.”
For businesses without a DEI plan or chief diversity officer in place but who are nonetheless interested in being mindful of DEI within their company, Brother’s Smith said vulnerability is key.
“The thing that I appreciate from our leadership [is] vulnerability. In order to provide a safe space, your leaders have to be vulnerable, and they have to show it,” Smith said.
He shared an experience shared with him and fellow leaders in Diversity Discussion Starters, a discussion meeting of leaders from different areas of the company. Another Brother executive, who is white, adopted a Black child seven years ago and shared with Smith and others the challenges she faced in raising this child alongside her other child, who is white.
“The first thing you gotta get your leaders to provide a safe space, and to do that, they gotta be vulnerable, and to do that, they gotta talk about some of the issues that ignite them,” he said.