Commentary: Strengthening Utah’s economy by building a culture of inclusivity

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

On the heels of Utah’s Economic Summit, increased diversity in our state’s population demographics has sparked new and interesting conversations among Utah’s business community.

In a report released by the Kem Gardner Institute last month, demographers predict continued growth in Utah’s ethnic minority population, “We project that the share of Utah’s minority population will increase from approximately 20 percent in 2015 to 35 percent in 2065.”

With Utah leading the nation in population growth, the rise of the tech industry in Silicon Slopes, being home to the second largest millennial population in the country, and the influx of migrant, immigrant and refugee populations, Utah has become increasingly diverse across social, cultural, ethnic, generational, regional and economic lines.

So, how are Utah business leaders responding to the increase of diversity in the workplace? Many companies are rethinking their marketing strategies, recruitment practices and leadership training, but looking ahead to the future of Utah’s economy, the key question lies in retention. And, retention is driven by culture. So, how do we create a culture that will retain diverse talent in Utah?

Shawn Newell, a seasoned business leader and champion for diversity in Utah’s private sector believes, “Diversity and Inclusion builds greater cultures and environments, allowing businesses and companies to flourish, in an ever changing economy.”

Recognizing the connection between building inclusive cultures and sustaining economic stability and growth, four community leaders came together to discuss how we could best support Utah’s business leaders. Two weeks later, the Inclusion Experience Project was born.

The Inclusion Experience Project is a series of learning experiences designed to elevate the consciousness of leaders for the purpose of driving trust, stimulating growth and building a culture of inclusivity in the workplace. Our inaugural Inclusion Experience on June 13, Authentic Conversations in the Workplace, will examine the influence of race and gender in our conversations, interactions and decision-making.

Sara Jones, co-founder of the Women Tech Council and CEO of InclusionPro, sees the need for Utah business leaders to act now: “Utah leaders can be working now to learn inclusive skills so that companies benefit from strong and diverse teams. One critical voice that we need in the Inclusion conversation are those of white men. I’ve worked with white men my entire career, and built bridges of understanding in fields where there aren’t many women or people of color.”

What makes this project unique is our diverse leadership team. While each partner brings a different background and perspective to the table, we also share the experience of being people of color pursuing higher education, developing our careers and raising our families in Utah. Our diverse experiences qualify us to teach other leaders how to capitalize on the full value of every company’s greatest asset — their people. We have learned how to navigate Utah’s social, cultural and economic landscape and we know what it takes to retain diverse talent in the Beehive state.

James Jackson III, founder of Utah’s Black Chamber of Commerce, attests to the diversity that already exists in Utah today: “The minority is the majority in not only West Valley City, but also in the larger school districts, Salt Lake and Granite. Utah is already diverse. And, since diversity impacts the economy, it’s important for the Utah business community to be proactive in understanding diversity so we can retain the future village we are raising.”

Being from Hawaii, raised in Utah and living in Washington, D.C., for 13 years working with multicultural leaders around the world, I know what an inclusive and an exclusive culture feels like. I have been the minority and the majority. The insider and the outsider. The leader and the learner. I see great opportunity in Utah because of our value system. Utah has always valued family, community and a strong economy. And, it has always been the values of any given society that determines how inclusive its culture will be.

The Inclusion Experience Project is a living project. Its power lies in the ideas and experiences of a diversity of people across gender, race, generation and industry. Join us in leading the charge to build a culture of inclusivity and sustain the stability and growth of Utah’s economy.

Inclusion Experience

Sui Lang L. Panoke is founder of Rethink International and one of four co-founders of the Inclusion Experience Project. The other co-founders are Sara Jones, Shawn Newell and James Jackson III.