Strong work from the business community on diversity, equity, and inclusion highlighted at legislative meeting

At a meeting of the Commission on Race and Access to Opportunity, programs and polices being utilized and developed by Kentucky’s business community to make progress on diversity, equity, and inclusion were shared with legislative and community leaders.

The commission was formed following legislation passed in 2021 to conduct studies and research to find where disparities exist in many sectors to ensure improvement and opportunities for minority communities and make policy recommendations.

With a focus on economic opportunity in Kentucky during Wednesday’s meeting, the commission heard from two business groups, Greater Louisville Inc. (GLI) and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, who presented on the programs and polices the organizations have undertaken to help the business community take necessary steps toward new diversity, equity, and inclusion policies.

The Kentucky Chamber Foundation Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) was launched in 2021 to partner with business, civic, and education leaders to address ongoing inequity faced by historically underserved communities in the Commonwealth.

Center for DE&I Executive Director Joe Frazier pointed to the fact Kentucky ranks 41st in diversity and 43rd in workforce participation, issues that go hand-in-hand. Only 7.7% of businesses in Kentucky are minority owned and the median wage of underrepresented minorities is lower than their white counterparts in the state. Additionally, many underrepresented minorities are moving to other states after obtaining a degree in Kentucky.

There are many barriers minority-owned businesses face that should be addressed in order to ensure progress. Kentucky Chamber board member Ray Daniels, owner and president of Equity Solutions Group, LLC, testified and pointed to access to capital as the number one barrier facing minority businesses along with scalability and ability to hire enough people to run successfully and relationship building and being part of request for proposals (RFPs) for projects.

Daniels touted the work of the Chamber Foundation in the DE&I space saying the work is critical and noted the Chamber Foundation has made it a workforce issue to keep talent in the state and address DE&I from an economic standpoint.

As for what comes next, the Center for DE&I is developing and preparing to launch a minority business database to help make connections between minority-owned Kentucky companies and other businesses and suppliers. The database will list companies with details of the business and what credentials they hold. It is believed to be the first in the nation to have all credentialed businesses in one place for easy access.

GLI Senior Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Dana Johnson discussed the programs the organization has deployed in the Louisville area to help minority business owners and ensure successful DE&I policies in companies across the city.

Johnson stressed the power of chambers as a convener and the strong ability of the organization to make connections and do powerful work in this space.

The programs include:

  • “Business Council to End Racism” which works on five workstreams focused on access to healthcare, workforce development and barriers, education, inclusion, criminal justice and law enforcement
  • “Breaking the Mold: Progress Through Procurement” holding events to connect companies and government agencies with minority-owned businesses which, in June, connected 29 diverse suppliers, 12 companies, and made 108 connections made for possible contracting opportunities
  • “Power to Prosper”- a minority business accelerator program providing help to minority-owned businesses through training on business development strategies, strategic planning, finances, marketing and sales, human resources, accessing capital and contracting with government and companies.

As for what comes next, Daniels said Kentucky must continue with what is working in the DE&I space with the work of chambers across the state, increased diversity directors in companies, and more. At the same time, he said disparity studies being conducted in Kentucky communities must be dissected to see what should be addressed and possibly be undertaken at the state level.

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Jacqueline Pitts
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