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2023 DE&I Conference: Tangible Strategies to Promote Equity in Our Community

Written by Jaimee Salone, Global Marketing Communications Specialist, Ingevity

The Chamber’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Conference has played a vital role in fostering valuable conversations, highlighting critical topics, and producing impactful solutions in our community. Its establishment has had a profound effect on advancing the diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEI&B) efforts in our region.

For this year’s Conference, presented by Roper St. Francis Healthcare, the Chamber team secured exceptional speakers and panelists to share their captivating stories and experiences with the Charleston business community. To equip attendees with valuable resources and knowledge to make their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts actionable within their organizations, the Chamber accepted the challenge to elevate this program.

Each person who attends this Conference comes for a different reason. Whether it’s to improve their understanding of others, become a more effective ally and advocate or discover ways to confidently express themselves so they’re seen, heard and valued. They’re all at levels in their journey seeking those tangible and actionable DEI&B strategies to promote equitable change for our business community to thrive.

The Conference featured more than 30 speakers, panelists, and sponsors who shared insightful messages. The six distinct break-out sessions also provided opportunities for intimate conversations and profound revelations. Here are some of the most notable highlights from the day.

What is the state of DE&I in the workplace?

The energy in the room suggests that DEI is a top priority, and it’s evident that there have been significant improvements in hiring and recruiting processes, company culture, in-office amenities, and the incorporation of belongingness in DEI initiatives; and it’s coming at the right time.

Across the country diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and programs are being scrutinized. These programs are essential to ensuring that we have different voices, talents and perspectives.”

Dr. Michael Moxley, Vice President & Chief Diversity, Inclusion and Health Equity Officer, Roper St. Francis Healthcare

In certain workplaces, there are still some individuals and organizations that are hesitant about or unaware of fully integrating and embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion.  According to World 50 Group’s Third Annual Inclusion & Diversity Impact Report, businesses feel more supported by their CEO and upper-level management than by middle managers. It’s important for everyone, regardless of their position, to contribute to the effort of promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion and creating a sense of belongingness in the workplace. It’s important to focus on your organization and stay true to your vision, rather than worrying about how others label it. Embrace your vision confidently and without apology.

“Don’t be gangsters, because you cannot bully people into compliance. Remain focused and interrogate data.”

Herbert L. Drayton III, Managing Partner, HI Mark Capital

When working on improving programs or making changes, thinking about different ways to build a strong team is crucial. Ask yourself this question as you go: “Am I leading an integrated life?” Stay mindful and intentional in your efforts.

Create affirming work environments

Many people mistakenly believe that DE&I solely relates to black-and-white matters. However, at last year’s Conference, we gained insight that diversity, equity, and inclusion extend beyond race to support people based on their religion, gender, sexual orientation and even their abilities. When asked how can businesses appropriately support individuals that are neurodivergent, Layla Luna, Founder and CEO of JustBee suggests “learn about the individual and their needs. If you learn and understand the spectrum, your worker will be so dedicated to your organization because they feel seen and appreciated.”

One way to connect with people is to meet them where they are. Your organization can take steps such as making our hiring ads and websites easily accessible, providing individualized employment plans and offering accommodations tailored to the unique needs of disabled individuals. It’s important to train hiring teams on how to effectively engage with disabled candidates and ask about their needs to ensure equal opportunities for success.

“If you embrace diversity but ignore disability, you’re doing it wrong.”

Leah Niblett, Manager, Blackbaud

Affinity and employee resource groups (ERGs) are incredible resources to create safe spaces within your organization. To ensure their effectiveness, executives should survey participants, assess their activity levels, and evaluate their impact. This promotes diversity and inclusion while giving every employee a voice.

“Remember, we all got something. Understand that everyone is coming with a different set of circumstances, be courageous and take the chance because you’re already doing it.”

Brian Itzkowitz, President & CEO, Palmetto Goodwill

Whether to appease others or avoid making them uncomfortable or out of fear of facing professional retaliation, many of us have been in a situation where we did not feel safe to be our authentic selves. Sean Holleran, Vice President with F.N.B. Corporation reminds us “to be and present your best and authentic self because representation matters.”

Change the way you do business and embrace other elements of equity.

The progress made by DE&I has been impressive as it evolves and includes more underrepresented communities. This Conference always delivers great insight into diversity and inclusion, with a focus this year on showcasing fresh perspectives on what equity looks like and how organizations can build on their current efforts by addressing issues such as access to broadband, equitable childcare and language access.

“Technology can be a catalyst to bridge the gap in DEI and equity. “

Danny Polfliet, Government Account Manager, T-Mobile

Access to broadband and digital equity ensures that individuals who live in rural communities and those who are typically left behind, won’t be. Companies like T-Mobile have introduced programs that bridge the digital gap to healthcare, education, information, etc. to everyone.

Janet Bates, Client Solutions Manager with JE Dunn provided shocking statistics about the cost of childcare and emphasized that it is not just a childcare or women’s issue, but a mission readiness, workforce, housing and education matter impacting all working parents. By offering options that support working parents, your company could become more appealing to prospective employees and help promote a fair and equitable workplace.

To truly embody DE&I, it must be rooted in your company’s values.

It is important for your company to not only support DE&I externally but also take action internally. Many factors are currently working against DE&I initiatives, which makes it crucial to be intentional in engaging these communities to build trust and authenticity. Make your efforts known on your website and social media and recycle articles to make them evergreen as a demonstration of diversity in your organization.

“Do you want to be remembered for DEI efforts or the intentional, tangible actions taken?”

Fernando Soto, CEO, New Digital Press

Community perception may be working against you as well and it takes time to learn and understand where your role is in this space. Ask yourself if you are an ally who stands with marginalized groups and is actively educating yourself or an advocate who is actively working to bring about change and dismantle systems impacting marginalized groups.

When you support marginalized communities, it is not philanthropy. It’s about adding value.”

Alexis Scipio, Founder, The Thrive Point

The measurable data driving DE&I is not just facts and figures.

A recent case study conducted by Ashley Krejci-Shaw, Managing Director with InterMediate, LLC andSterling Savage, Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging with the College of Charleston uses experiential data to shed light on those who are used to having their voices ignored or misinterpreted. This is crucial in the context of DE&I as it involves recognizing and valuing people and their unique experiences.

“DE&I is not about completing a 1hr module or going to a seminar, it’s about taking action and making it your business.”

Joe D’Angelo, Vice President of Operations, Johns Hopkins University

Analyzing and reporting data can be helpful as it provides leaders with quantitative evidence to support investments. Nevertheless, companies can boost employee retention and morale, and attract top talent by fostering a sense of belonging, breaking down stigmas, building meaningful social capital, soliciting employee feedback and developing partnerships and relationships with community changemakers.

 “Norms” and “traditions” are no longer making impactful changes.

To ensure success in your organization and the region, it’s important to consider the perspectives of Millennials and Generation Z. These groups can offer fresh ideas and are challenging existing programs.

Nina Cano Richards, COO of Spanglish Consulting, lets us know that “75% of the Charleston Hispanic population is under 25.” This presents a great opportunity for mentorship and growth as their upbringing has instilled a strong work ethic, willingness to make sacrifices, and a drive to achieve the American dream.

The current generations are not easily impressed by organizations that only set up booths during special observance months or make one-off social media posts to check a box on empathy. Millennials and Gen Z refuse to accept the status quo and will not align themselves with organizations that do not actively promote diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Instead, they are carving out their own non-traditional paths to success that align with their personal values.


The event successfully delivered on its theme by offering concrete methods for advancing equity within our community. Consider the opportunities and valuable talent that you may be missing out on because of their parental status, the language they speak and inaccessible company information.

A challenge to Conference attendees – within the next 30 days, take action and discover what it means to be a true ally.

We can make a real difference by collaborating and creating a more inclusive environment.

With interactive breakout sessions, insightful reflections, and impactful messages, this Conference made a lasting impact on all attendees by expanding their understanding in new and unexpected ways.

As Anthony Parrish, Operations Leader at Cummins, aptly stated, “when you know better, you do better.”

The Chamber is committed to creating a region where everyone has the opportunity to live, learn and earn. If you’re interested in learning more or being a mentor or participant in their DE&I programs and initiatives, visit www.charlestonchamber.org/dei or contact either Richard Waring, Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, or Grace Hamilton, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Community Resources

Posted on
August 1st 2023
Written by
Jaimee Salone