BRAC created the Diversity Star Award with a goal of highlighting exceptional business practices taking place in the Capital Region that leverage the value of diversity in organizations. The award seeks to honor and recognize regional businesses that have championed diversity and inclusion at their businesses or in the community. The 2020 winners, the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge and ExxonMobil Baton Rouge, provided some insight below on how to better embrace diversity in the business world.
Responses have been edited for clarity and length.
Q: Explain the importance of diversity and inclusion in your organization and the community.
Renee Chatelain, Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge: The Arts Council is only as great as the community it remains in service to. Diversity and inclusion are key in this effort. It is imperative that we continue to identify and spotlight the diverse spectrum of voices, knowledge, and experiences that make up our arts and culture community, and ensure that our staff is reflective of and tapped into these networks as well.
Gloria Moncada, ExxonMobil Baton Rouge: Inclusion and diversity are part of ExxonMobil’s core principles, and one of our greatest competitive strengths. We are a global company, and when we leverage the full capabilities and insights of our diverse workforce, it makes us more resilient and better able to navigate the complex and changing global energy business. Diversity is a first step, but inclusion is where we activate that diverse talent and truly unleash innovation.
Q: How do you retain a diverse workforce?
Renee Chatelain, Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge: In short, with intention, a commitment to seeking out talent, and being accessible. I constantly have conversations with people outside of our organization and sector, and there have been innumerable instances when those same conversations connect me to talented individuals doing great work. Retention requires that organizations look beyond filling a need. It first requires assessing the pre-existing potential, talent and abilities possessed by staff, followed by asking what resources you can extend that will allow them to reach their full potential. This creates the shift from developing good workers to forging reciprocal relationships and a culture of empowerment.
Gloria Moncada, ExxonMobil Baton Rouge: A key way to retain a diverse workforce is to truly value diverse talent and use it to make the business better. Employees feel valued when they can bring their whole selves to work, their voices are heard, and their ideas are encouraged and acted upon. We start with our leaders by training them on diversity and inclusion, so they understand how to create the right environment to unlock all the talent in our workforce. We also have employee resource groups (ERGs) that are employee-led and represent different ethnicities, gender, race, sexual orientation, and military status. Our ERGs help provide support and development for employees, but we also engage our ERGs in solving business problems and advising management on inclusion and diversity strategies.
It is also important that when our employees look up the leadership line that they see diversity reflected back. We continue to make strides in this across our organization by paying attention to our talent pipeline and working to provide transparent access to opportunity so everyone can achieve their potential.
Q: How do you hold yourself accountable in consistently hiring a diverse workforce?
Renee Chatelain, Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge: I hold myself accountable by remaining open to feedback and leaning into how that dialogue allows me to look at the world through different lenses. Those perspectives remind me of whose voices are not yet present, and where my support is needed. Our constituents continue to hold me accountable to my blind spots as well. If they don’t feel as though they can connect with us as an organization and team, it is my responsibility to see where the gaps are with our structure and engagement.
Gloria Moncada, ExxonMobil Baton Rouge: I believe that what you measure is what matters. We steward our hiring, both our professional hiring and technical crafts, to ensure our diversity hiring matches availability. But we don’t stop there. We strive to increase availability by working STEM initiatives with local schools and universities, like our Aquaponics program at Brookstown Middle School and Istrouma High School. The ExxonMobil LSU Diversity Scholars Program also works to increase diversity in the professional talent pool. We sponsor the North Baton Rouge Industrial Training Initiative with local contractor partners and BRCC to provide scholarships for technical training and certifications to increase diverse talent availability in our operator and technician hiring. We also analyze our hiring protocols and practices to identify preconceived notions and strive to create equitable access to opportunity.
Q: What are some of the struggles you encountered when originally implementing your inclusion practices? How did you overcome them?
Renee Chatelain, Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge: One challenge I encountered when seeking to be more inclusive was my own lack of awareness. As a white person, the mistake that I made—and I often see repeated by my counterparts— is assuming that most people will automatically want to work with you and be welcoming. In the beginning, my questions were more superficial, and I was less aware of my privilege and how I, and my organization, were perceived. I had to build trust and accountability, which included actively putting my words and values into practice so that individuals felt that the Arts Council was a place they wanted to be.
Gloria Moncada, ExxonMobil Baton Rouge: ExxonMobil has access to the best and brightest resources when formulating our diversity and inclusion practices corporate-wide, so it should be easy, right? A learning for me when implementing diversity and inclusion practices at our site is that engaging the help of our diverse talent to create solutions is a critical step. In our early days here, we were quick to have managers describing the problems as we saw them, and then making a to-do list to solve. We missed the important link that the best understanding and the best solutions were sitting in the minds and experiences of the diverse employees who wanted to help! Real progress started when we flipped it around and leaders started listening and engaging employees in defining the gaps and working with management on developing tangible solutions.
Q: What tips would you give to local businesses trying to integrate stronger diversity and inclusion practices into their organization?
Renee Chatelain, Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge: First, look at your organization as an outsider. What do you look like in terms of profession, age, ability, etc.? This applies to both the staff and board. Then seek out feedback for how others perceive you and see where some dissonance may exist. Carve out clear goals and action steps for changes that need to be made.
Next, bring your staff along the journey with you. Remember, there is a thin line between inclusion and tokenization. Ensure that you aren’t simply including someone because they meet certain criteria. I regularly incorporate staff voices into meetings, events and other opportunities. In doing so, I hope to empower them to truly own their work and spread their wings within the field.
Lastly, you have to make sure that you have a talent pool that believes in the mission and values possessed by your organization and are informed enough to speak on and advocate for it. In turn, also make sure you are continuously advocating for them.
Gloria Moncada, ExxonMobil Baton Rouge: The most important thing is that top leadership needs to be visibly committed, in words and in actions, and holds all levels of leadership accountable for progress. You need to be able to articulate why diversity and inclusion is important for your business, and fundamentally believe it creates stronger and better companies. I also encourage you to engage your employees through listening sessions, resource groups, and surveys to help pinpoint where there is opportunity to do better, and then involve your employees in creating solutions.
I believe demonstrating commitment both inside and outside your company is important. For example, while we worked on diversity and inclusion within our site, we also committed to having a greater impact in our community by challenging ourselves to grow our economic impact through supplier diversity. Our growth in contracts with local vendors, specifically businesses owned or operated by minority groups in North Baton Rouge, has grown from approximately $3 million in 2017 to over $9 million in 2019. We wanted to put our money where our mouth was and demonstrate both to our employees and our community that embracing diversity creates better outcomes for everyone.
Once again, we would like to congratulate these two organizations on being honored with the 2020 Diversity Star Award. Watch the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge’s acceptance speech here and watch ExxonMobil Baton Rouge’s speech here. For some extra fun, check out this video created by ExxonMobil to showcase their employees and review the Arts Council’s Arts I.D.E.A.S. initiative.
Learn more about BRAC’s diversity and inclusion initiatives at brac.org/diversity.
Morgan is the Marketing Manager for the Baton Rouge Area Chamber. In her role, she manages writing organizational publications and materials, oversees BRAC’s social media and blog, and coordinates timelines for all internal marketing projects.