Summit focuses on the business case for diversity, equity and inclusion

The 2nd Annual Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Summit brought together business leaders to share strategies for business and economic growth.

Kicking off the Summit, Kentucky Chamber Foundation Senior Vice President Beth Davisson highlighted the various initiatives of the Foundation that are focused on making the Commonwealth a more equitable and inclusive place, including the launch of the Kentucky Minority-Owned Business database, minority business certification events, the upcoming Military Hiring Academy, and much more.

Condrad Daniels, president of HJI Supply Chain Solutions, said while welcoming attendees as chair of the Foundation, “Inclusivity isn’t just a moral imperative, it’s a strategic imperative. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s also the smart thing to do for Kentucky’s future.”

Legal Ramifications on Employers and Businesses

Following recent Supreme Court decisions of SFFA v. Harvard and SFFA v. UNC, LaToi Mayo of Littler Mendelson gave a breakdown of those cases and spoke on the possible implications for the business community.

She shared the following key takeaways:

  • Federal and state laws prohibit discrimination, including “reverse” discrimination
  • Employment decisions must be based on business-related criteria, not protected characteristics
  • Specific quotas or quantitative goals can be problematic
  • Diversity and inclusion efforts are permissible, but may be subject to greater scrutiny
  • Expect more litigation in “reverse” discrimination area

Equality of Opportunity and Why It Still Matters    

Kentucky Chamber President and CEO Ashli and Rick Wade of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce discussed the economic impact of DE&I efforts and how the business community is leading the way in creating a more equitable state and nation.

“Companies aren’t ceasing their work,” Wade said referring to the Supreme Court decisions and what they mean for DE&I efforts. He is hearing and seeing companies rethink how they get to the same end goal as before, as too much progress has been made to stop now.

Watts pointed to a workforce shortage across the country and the importance of expanding the definition of DE&I. Wade said there is a whole new conversation happening around the workforce, which requires companies to meet potential employees where they are. He said this might mean those with disabilities, formerly incarcerated, and so many others while also ensuring we are investing in skills and bridging the gap, especially for those from underrepresented populations.

Especially as companies are looking to grow, Wade said that young people want to know that their companies are intentional. And for retention purposes, they want to know that they belong.

Wade also emphasized the need for companies to have an intentional focus on expanding suppliers to those that wouldn’t already be included, which supports the local economic climate, fosters innovative solutions, and much more.

“We have a workforce crisis. And if you do not go into these communities and expand your efforts, you will not have a workforce for the future,” Wade said.  

Supplier Diversity: Importance, Impact, and Barriers

A panel of Kentucky Chamber Board members including John Crockett of LG&E and KU, Amy Spiller of Duke Energy, Ray Daniels of Equity Solutions Group, and Carlos Sanchez of AT&T Kentucky shared their companies’ strategies and goals to increase supplier diversity and attract diverse talent.

The group of CEOs agreed that it is important for the Chamber to guide these conversations and bring businesses together to ensure strong, diverse workplaces.

AT&T started supplier diversity efforts in 1968, with a focus on making a measurable impact by creating jobs and spurring economic growth. Sanchez shared the corporate goal for AT&T of 21.5% in 2022, which was exceeded by reaching 26%. This represents $6.3 billion in national spending with diverse suppliers.

Spiller said that supporting the local economic climate is an opportunity to ensure success for a company. She said education and communication and instilling advocates within an organization are also critical to the success of diverse supply chain efforts. It is more important than ever, she said, with the competition for talent, individuals want to work for a company that aligns with what is important to them.

She shared that Duke Energy, in 2021 and 2022, spent more than $1 billion, which represents 11,000 thousand jobs and $850,000 in local wages in the seven states they serve.

Sanchez suggested making supplier diversity part of a company’s strategic plan and incorporating it in all areas, including the everyday needs of their businesses and areas of advertising and media.

One of LG&E’s best practices is hosting events to promote relationship-building between suppliers. Crockett said that in order to make real and meaningful progress, supplier diversity efforts have to be a top-down approach. Furthermore, he touched on the importance of measuring progress.

The Role of Public Policy

A panel of lawmakers including Senator Reggie Thomas, Representative Killian Timoney, and Representative Nima Kulkarni, moderated by Chamber Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Kate Shanks discussed the role of public policy in fostering a diverse, equitable, and inclusive Commonwealth, the progress that has been made, and the opportunities going forward.

As lawmakers are crafting policies, Timoney said that it is critical to include as many populations as possible so that the legislation will benefit the Commonwealth as a whole.

“Policy is just the jump-start phase,” said Thomas. Those good policies then have to be implemented to benefit others.

The conversation focused on Kentucky’s workforce issues, the need to start early to ensure gaps are filled, and the suggested areas for improvement. These areas include universal pre-K, early intervention to keep children out of the justice system, ensuring access to wrap-around services at schools, and empowering teachers.

Kulkarni pointed to the legislation she worked on with the Kentucky Chamber that would ensure underrepresented groups in the workforce get the training and assistance they need to attain meaningful employment.

Keynote by George Davis IV of LouCity & Racing Foundation

The DE&I Summit keynote, George Davis IV of LouCity and Racing Foundation, shared what led him to become a professional soccer player and the luck, preparation, and opportunities that have led him to who he is today.

After spending years in professional soccer for different teams, he ultimately ended up at LouCity FC and has continued his journey beyond being a player. Throughout his career, he has experienced the importance of culture, meaningful relationships, and community support for LouCity’s success.

Davis detailed the initiatives of LouCity and Racing Foundation to give back and lift up youth in the community, just as the community has lifted up the teams. He said the Foundation is focused on putting kids on a path of success, rather than path of survival, and teaching kids skills they will need in adulthood and for the workforce.

Best Practices for a Diverse Workforce

Kentucky Chamber Board Member and V-Soft Consulting Founder and President Purna Veer, Humana Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity Equity and Inclusion Officer Carolyn Tandy, MetLife Account Executive Stephanie Dillon, and HJI Supply Chain Solutions President Condrad Daniels led a conversation about best practices for a diverse workforce.

When discussing recruitment strategies, panelists highlighted the partnerships they have created with other organizations, education systems, and groups that have led to success.

“Our company has to be reflective of the people we serve,” Tandy said.

Veer suggested that companies take steps to address unconscious bias in hiring processes and set goals to measure success.

Panelists also spoke on the important role that DE&I plays in retention strategies.

“It’s almost like an art,” said Stephanie Dillon of MetLife. We want to tap into each one of our employees, know who they are, and what makes them excited to come to work, she said.

Inclusive Means Everyone

A panel that represents Kentuckians from diverse populations spoke on the many types of individuals that make up a workforce, which include individuals who are aging, have disabilities, are involved in the military, and more.

RETAIN Kentucky and Deputy Director of the University of Kentucky Human Development Institute Johnny Collett shared that one in three Kentuckians have a disability. At the same time, Kentucky is 48th in the nation for employing individuals with disabilities.

“It is important to remember that We have one workforce in Kentucky, made up of all Kentuckians,” Collett said.

AARP Kentucky State Director Troy J. Broussard said employers must look beyond age, or whatever makes them different, and think about what talents they bring to the table.

Government Solutions and Services President and CEO Colonel (Ret.) Blaine Hedges spoke on the major opportunity for employers to hire individuals in the military population. He shared the number of service members that come out of Fort Knox and Fort Campbell each year as well as the staggering underemployment rates of military spouses.

To help connect employers with the military population, the Chamber Foundation will host a Military Hiring Academy in January 2024. Learn more at

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