Moorhead mayor, business leaders discuss diversity and inclusion in the workplace during Chamber webinar
FARGO — A group of business leaders logged on Tuesday morning, June 23, to open up the conversation of equity, diversity and inclusion in the workplace during the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce’s Eggs & Issues webinar.
Instead of an in-person forum, the panelists spoke to community members virtually about the importance of creating an inclusive environment in a community with changing demographics.
“This is a really, really critical topic, that obviously with recent events, has our community engaged in a really important, vital conversation,” said Moorhead Mayor Johnathan Judd, who moderated the event.
To improve and create change, the conversation needs to be had, Judd said.
“More diverse communities only make us stronger and more resilient,” he added.
North Dakota State student and entrepreneur Dieumerci Christel has been ready to bring diversity and inclusion to the forefront for a while.
Christel, the founder and CEO of Enlight, an app that helps teachers become experts on their students in the classroom and online, was born in a refugee camp in Africa. He’s been an outsider his entire life, and the workplace was no exception, he said during the webinar.
Christel got his first job at Culvers in ninth grade. He was excited to start working and help bring in some income for his family.
“When customers came in and said things like, ‘Did your mother spray black ink on you when you were born?’ It made me very furious, but I kept my cool,” Christel said. “But at the same time, one of my managers didn’t step up to actually defend me. That was one of the hardest things I had to go through while working.”
Now, he’s a voice in the conversation on fostering diversity and inclusivity. Instead of just a diverse workplace, inclusion is where we need to get to, Christel said.
“Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being able to dance,” said fellow panelist Colette Campbell. “And I think equity is being able to be the DJ when you can pick the songs you want to play so that you can dance to the music you like.”
Campbell holds a leadership role at Bremer Bank as the director of talent acquisition, diversity and inclusion. As influencers in the workplace, Campbell, who is also the senior vice president, said people must ask themselves some questions.
“What role are we going to play? How are we going to contribute?” she said. “And what are we going to need to learn more of so we can be part of the transformation?”
To help give underrepresented people those opportunities, personal networks can play a pivotal role, Campbell said.
“We look for talent in our networks,” she said. “And maybe it’s who you play golf with or who’s on your (lake). Well, there’s lots of people who don't have lake houses or play golf. And so how are we giving those people opportunities?”
Companies can mandate diversity, but the challenge is to cultivate inclusion, said Microsoft Operations Program Manager Kelsey Gordon.
“Based on what we know and how the brain works, a strong culture of inclusion is crucial for the employee to do their best work,” she said. “The feelings of exclusion activate the brain in a similar way to the experience of physical pain.”
Diversity and inclusion training is something that can be done immediately, Gordon said. But one of the most important aspects is to simply start the conversation.
“Inclusion in the workplace is crucial to growing and sustaining businesses, our workforce and most importantly, our community,” Gordon said.