The business case for diversity, equity and inclusion 

Paula Wolf//March 31, 2022

The business case for diversity, equity and inclusion 

Paula Wolf//March 31, 2022

Keynote speaker Holly Evans, president of Evans Engineering, speaks to a panel of four experts at CPBJ and LVB’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Summit on March 29.

“Why do we even care about doing this?” 

Launching a panel discussion, Monica Gould posed the question at the March 29 Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Summit hosted by Central Penn Business Journal and Lehigh Valley Business. 

Here’s why, she answered: A more equitable, inclusive organization, with diversity of thought and experience, creates innovation and a corporate culture people want to be a part of. 

Plus, it reduces turnover and potential productivity loss, explained Gould, president/founder of Strategic Consulting Partners. 

The business case for diversity, equity and inclusion – DEI for short – was just one of the themes brought out at the summit, which featured keynote speaker Holly Evans, president of Evans Engineering, and a panel of four experts. 

Evans spoke on the topic “Female in a male world: learning how to succeed under a new set of rules.” 

She started her business in 1989, and spent years building up the enterprise and raising a family while struggling with gender identity. 

“I knew I was different from a very young age,” Evans said. “Though I was assigned male at birth, I always wish I’d been born female. I would go to bed at night hoping to wake up the next morning as a girl.” 

In adulthood, Evans learned to lead as a man. But away from the male-driven culture at work, Evans would express a feminine side. 

It wasn’t until much later in life “that I learned I was not alone.” 

She was married 31 years before coming out as transgender to her spouse. 

Evans said she gets asked, ‘Why do you choose to be transgender?’ 

“You don’t choose it,” she said. “It is simply who you are. I was fortunate. My wife, my children stuck by my side. This isn’t always the case.” 

After coming out, Evans got to experience what it’s like for females in a male-dominated field – and the perspective was eye-opening. 

She spent months reintroducing herself as a woman. “I quickly experienced exclusion,” Evans said. Whether that rejection was due to her being a female or transgender is not certain. 

Evans was required to network all over again, re-establish confidence and learn to make new friends and clients. 

“Gone were the days of being sought after for advice,” she said. “Gone were the days of walking into a meeting and taking charge. I began to feel what it was like to feel invisible.” 

Evans figured out how to get male colleagues’ attention without damaging egos, to showcase her expertise. No longer part of the ‘guys’ club,’ “I had to gain trust and respect in a way I never had to before,” she said. 

Presenting sponsor for the summit was WellSpan Health; The Giant Co. was program partner and Moravian University was leadership sponsor. Supporting sponsors were First National Bank, Truist, Reading Hospital – Tower Health and Strategic Consulting Partners. Patron sponsors were Highmark, Members 1st Credit Union, Penn State Harrisburg and Penn State Health. 

‘Diversity brings us together’ 

Joining Gould on the panel were Aaysha Noor, head of diversity, equity and inclusion for Giant; Nakeesha Muldrow, vice president of finance, access and scheduling for WellSpan; and Lynette Chappell Williams, vice president and chief diversity officer for Penn State Health. 

No matter the size of a business or organization, Gould said, there are some key DEI principles that apply. “How are you bringing people together so they can be productive in the workplace based upon your mission?” 

Noor was asked to comment on a quote of hers about celebrating diversity, not tolerating it. “You tolerate pain,” she said. “You should embrace diversity and inclusion.” 

Science shows that feeling excluded hurts in our brain the same as physical pain, Noor explained. DEI is “the right thing to do.” 

“All of us are passionate about this work because of our own personal experiences,” Gould said. “That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing. … It takes all of us to do it together.” 

Muldrow said, “Our patients are reassured when we demonstrate that we know them – whether that’s proactively making sure we have interpretation services, understanding their cultural norms and expectations,” addressing patients by their preferred name (not an assumed pronoun) or thanking veterans for their service. 

“The better you know and connect with your community the better you serve their needs,” she said. 

When asked about how to deal with people who are skeptical or defensive about DEI, Muldrow said, “It’s all about approach. Talk about what unites us” and not just the differences. 

The panel also mentioned the tendency to overlook certain populations when discussing DEI, such as people with disabilities. 

Williams said Penn State’s DEI policy – which includes employees and patients – incorporates the values of respect, integrity, teamwork and excellence. Homophobic or racist jokes clearly violate the policy, as does a patient’s refusal to be treated by a provider of a certain race or ethnicity. 

“Patients like the fact that we’re setting a high standard for a respectful environment.” 

This policy also attracts employees, especially millennials and generation Z. “They have grown up in diversity,” she said. “They have an expectation (the) organizations they’re going to work for (are) actually living and breathing these concepts of diversity and inclusion.” 

Employers who don’t recognize that will have trouble hiring and retaining workers, Muldrow said. 

Organizations that adapt are relevant, Williams said, while those that don’t become relics.