Darrell Johnson likes where Baton Rouge’s business diversity and inclusion efforts are headed. He just wants to see the momentum keep going.
As the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s manager of diversity and inclusion programs, Johnson works with businesses around the region to guide their attempts to bring variety to their workforces and to create welcoming work environments. Johnson said he’s seeing more businesses either hire diversity, equity and inclusion officers or boost their work in that area.
As he talks to businesses around the region, Johnson said he wants them to understand that making their workforce more diverse isn’t just a feel-good narrative. It also makes business sense by opening up their talent pools or vendor options.
“In order for an organization or a company to continue to thrive and grow, it must have a diverse workforce,” Johnson said. “Diversity is more than just the color of one’s skin or the gender, etc. It’s sexual orientation. It’s political views. It really runs the gamut on what diversity looks like.”
As part of Johnson’s efforts, Johnson and BRAC on Thursday will host the Economic Inclusion Symposium, a daylong affair full of data and dialogues on the benefits of diversifying the workforce.
In addition to holding presentations and panels on how companies large and small can implement diversity and inclusion efforts, the symposium will connect potential vendors to corporations like ExxonMobil, Shell and Dow, all of which will host sessions on how do to business with their respective organizations.
BRAC has previously hosted annual diversity and inclusion events, but they were typically a short luncheon, Johnson said. This year’s enhanced symposium is part of BRAC’s push to create a more inclusive economy — or an economy where a greater slice of workers can reap financial gains — as outlined by the agency’s strategic five-year plan.
Johnson said he’s seeing the conversation headed in that direction because businesses are starting to understand the importance of prioritizing it.
“Folks are really focusing on employee resource groups and ensuring that these are safe spaces for their particular talent pools,” he said, “in addition to being intentional about making sure that they are, from a decision maker standpoint, having folks at management levels that are actually able and ready to do the work as well as being representative of the community that it serves.”
Johnson will moderate a panel with a trio of local business officials with experience in diversity and inclusion officers: LaTina Schaffer, Our Lady of the Lake’s vice president of human resources; Michael Jackson, Bernhard Capital Partners’ chief diversity officer; and Luz Randolph, LSU’s associate vice provost for diversity.
“DEI practitioners didn’t have a place to go here in the capital region to have meaningful conversations, learn best practices and talk amongst each other,” Johnson said. “Providing this space for them to come and hear from a panel of folks to talk about this work, and also ask questions, I think will be meaningful to the folks in this area.”
BRAC will also name winners of its Diversity Star Awards, which honor local businesses with outstanding diversity and inclusion initiatives. Johnson said a record number of companies applied for the honor this year.
The honorees aren’t just going through the motions, Johnson said. They’ll have statistics confirming how many minorities or women they have in management positions, as well as evidence of their community-oriented programs.
“I’m not just for checkboxes to say, ‘Oh, we did this,’” Johnson said. “We like to see concrete data.”