DEI Summit helps attendees become JEDIs

Paula Wolf//March 29, 2023

DEI Summit helps attendees become JEDIs

Paula Wolf//March 29, 2023

CPBJ and LVB Contributing Editor, Sloane Brown, speaks with Tyrone Russell, Joy Houck and Lynette Chappel-Williams during a panel titled Building Inclusive Work Environments during the 2023 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Summit.
CPBJ and LVB Contributing Editor, Sloane Brown, speaks with Tyrone Russell, Joy Houck and Lynette Chappel-Williams during a panel titled Building Inclusive Work Environments during the 2023 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Summit.

Keynote speaker Todd Snovel brought a “Star Wars” theme to his talk Wednesday at the third annual Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Summit, hosted online by Central Penn Business Journal and Lehigh Valley Business.

Snovel, chief leadership and engagement officer for the County Commissioners Association, focused on how participants can become trained JEDI – promoting Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion – in their workplaces.

He was followed by two panel discussions, “Building Inclusive Work Environments” and “Power, Privilege and Allyship,” with representatives from health care, engineering and other fields giving their tips and expertise on DEI (or JEDI).

When he went off to college, Snovel said, his worldview was very limited.

“I had been pretty much only exposed to people who looked like me, who sounded like me, who had similar beliefs and values as I. And it was only through those expanded opportunities in education that I started to realize, one, how big the world was, but two, really … understand how inequity (wasn’t just something in history books but was affecting people today) and not just other places, but in our own communities.”

DEI work is a challenge, Snovel said. “It can bring up some difficult conversations, and so there is sometimes a feeling of discomfort right around these JEDI ideas.”

Often, he’ll get asked if an employee should feel guilty belonging to a group that has discriminated.

“Am I supposed to feel bad about myself, especially if I hold some majority identities in the space, and I would tell you, please do not feel bad about yourselves, but let’s also be committed to a real understanding of knowledge because it is from that knowledge that we can then put that energy into action.”

Snovel explained the difference between equality and equity.

“It is when we do things that we then get to the ability to look beyond equality, to look beyond just let’s treat everybody the same way and give them all the same things. But to look to equity, which is, how are we equipping people to be successful, based on what they need?”

When thinking about launching a DEI initiative, companies should ask questions. And employee feedback is crucial.

Are they able to be fully themselves in the workplace? he queried. “So when I open that office door, do I believe that my full ideas and personalities and backgrounds and opinions are going to be welcomed and embraced? Or are there parts of me that I’m sort of shelving, checking, holding at bay because I’m just not sure how I’m going to be welcomed into that space?”

In the first panel, Lynette Chappell-Williams, vice president and diversity officer at Penn State Health, talked about changing circumstances.

“I would have said five years ago how we approach DEI … was radically different from where it is now. We’re dealing with severe … staffing shortages that reduce people’s ability to focus on anything that isn’t getting them through the day-to-day work that they need.”

“We’re dealing with financial challenges,” she said. “Organizations weren’t where they are … in terms of having a lot of additional funds … so you have to be far more strategic … .”

Tyrone J. Russell, CEO of Faces International Marketing and Development LLC, told summit attendees, “I always say this is really therapy. … I say, I’m a DEI therapist before I’m a practitioner, because I know that even if people pretend like it’s never ever personal that there’s deep-rooted stuff that they’re dealing with that’s not allowing them to understand what it is we’re trying to create.”

Productivity also comes into play, said Joy Houck, vice president of organizational development and chief learning officer at WellSpan Health. “… So if I don’t feel included on a team, if I don’t feel like I belong, my team may not be productive, and so if we’re not productive, we’re probably not meeting the business’ goals.”

In the second panel, George Fernandez, president and CEO of Color & Culture, spoke about the Latino population, health care and DEI.

“We understand that Hispanic demographic, and the Hispanic community are typically the No. 1s leading (where) we don’t want to be No. 1 in, whether it’s diabetes and obesity and cancer … . So I’m helping them connect to the resources that they ultimately need in order to allow them to live healthier, more active, engaged lives.”

Aaysha Noor, head of diversity, equity and inclusion at The Giant Co., is a Muslim immigrant to the U.S.

“I’m a strong believer that your personal experiences bring in a strong passion to what you do …  But when you actually lived those experiences, and when you work with those communities, when you are on the street, when you have marched with them, and you have shed tears with them …it’s a very different feeling, and it gives you that deeper empathy and compassion and drive to do that work, and it also helps you … to bring other people along to tell that story … .”

Masai Lawson, senior manager of talent acquisition and inclusion, Gannett Fleming, had her definition of equity, too.

“… It’s not about quotas. It’s not about compliance; frankly, defining equity in terms of quantifiable results is again, in my opinion, too narrow, and ultimately counterproductive because it encourages a focus around outcomes only rather than how equitable environments are really built and sustained … So … I think equity is more of a state, and it’s hard to strictly define what it looks like, since it’ll show up differently in every organization.”

The summit was presented by Giant, with presenting sponsor WellSpan Health. Supporting sponsors were First National Bank, Reading Hospital/Tower Health and UPMC and patron sponsors were Capital BlueCross, Highmark, Members First Federal Credit Union, Penn State Harrisburg and Penn State Health.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer