For years, companies actively discriminated against women and people of color, both implicitly and explicitly. After eliminating overt discrimination, many companies have since showed at least a passive interest in diversity and inclusion, albeit—in some instances—as more of a PR strategy than a business strategy.
More recently, though, companies are beginning to recognize and acknowledge the value of diversity and inclusion as a component of their overall business strategy.
Our subject for this installment of our series on Chief Diversity Officers and those who hold similar positions, Audrey Treasure, is Vice President and Executive Director of the Workforce Innovation Center, an arm of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber that demonstrates just how serious businesses are taking diversity and inclusion. The stated purpose of the Workforce Innovation Center is, “partnering with business leaders to advance the adoption of inclusive practices in their workplaces that empower employees, the community and their businesses to thrive.”
A Background in Education
After finishing her undergraduate degree at Indiana University in Spanish and nonprofit management, Treasure started teaching first grade in Chicago as a Teach for America Corps Member before moving to Atlanta to teach second grade. While it may be hard to draw a direct line between teaching and work for the Cincinnati Chamber, it’s hard to overlook the benefit teaching in diverse urban cities can have on a future career advocating the benefits of nurturing a diverse and inclusive workforce in the business world.
Getting in on the Ground Level
As D&I efforts have become more prominent in recent years, it’s not uncommon for the subjects of this series to step into the shoes of a predecessor, while the relative recency of corporate America’s focus on D&I means that there are also a large proportion who are the first to serve in their role.
Treasure is not only the first to hold her current position but also got in on the ground level when the Workforce Innovation Center itself was created. “I was invited to join the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber to launch the Workforce Innovation Center in late 2018,” she says. “The premise of the Center is to provide services, resources, and actionable plans to companies looking to adopt more inclusive practices. The Workforce Innovation Center’s policy and practice universe includes those grounded in diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, along with a focus on financial wellness and economic mobility for employees.”
The Workforce Innovation Center emerged from other efforts in the Cincinnati region focused on embodying “inclusive capitalism,” which is the concept that capitalism should support business imperatives while supporting and empowering employees who are the lifeblood of any business, Treasure explains. While Treasure says she’s not aware of any other organization quite like her own, she adds that she and the Workforce Innovation Center have been fortunate to collaborate with national organizations, such as the Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism and the Council for Inclusive Capitalism with the Vatican that are also engaged in broader efforts to promote diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, along with other tenets of a broader movement categorized as inclusive capitalism.
Meeting Employers Where They Are
Diversity and inclusion goals aren’t solely the purview of major Fortune 500 companies. Companies of all sizes can realize the benefits of a more diverse and inclusive workforce on their competitive advantage and bottom line. Part of the beauty of the Workforce Innovation Center is that it supports a diverse range of businesses in pursuing those goals.
“The Workforce Innovation Center is a consulting practice built with a defined structure to meet employers where they are in their unique context —size, industry, geography, workforce composition—and support them in their journeys to be more inclusive,” Treasure says. “We use our three core services – a unique employee survey, a policy and practice review, and an analysis of a workforce’s employee trends with diversity measures—to provide our teams with the rich data about a company so that we can create a tangible action plan for how the company can adopt inclusive practices to create equitable workplaces.”
The Ever-Important Recruiting Process
It’s impossible for an organization to be inclusive of diverse talent if they don’t have any diverse talent to begin with. That’s why recruiting with an eye toward diversity is so essential—something certainly not lost on the Workforce Innovation Center.
“Thanks to our partners and expert practitioners, we have built an evidence-based catalog of policies and practices that focus on practical steps that companies can take to not only recruit diverse sources of talent but also create work environments that encourage retention and advancement of diverse talent,” says Treasure. “We work with companies to track their own internal data historically as they use it to set goals for themselves. We also establish a broad network of partner organizations, training and education providers and resources across the region to help connect employers with the diverse talent. This network is currently searchable in a recent map we have published of the Cincinnati region’s Workforce and Talent Ecosystem.”
For their own staff and consultant team, Treasure says the Workforce Innovation Center networks with diverse organizations and individuals who can connect them with other diverse sources of talent. “As we work with our client companies, we encourage them to do the same, through partnerships with organizations that serve specific populations that could diversify an employer’s workforce,” Treasure says. “We also recommend specific internal steps that companies can take to ensure that they are valuing diverse perspectives and mitigating ‘like me’ or ‘halo bias.’”
Casting a Wide Net
While the Workforce Innovation Center is based in Cincinnati, Ohio, and serves employers across their metro area, their consulting model allows them to work with employers anywhere. “We have built tools and resources to help companies identify the value of diverse, equitable and inclusive cultures where employees feel a sense of meaning and belonging,” says Treasure. “We would love to bring these services to employers who are ready to take action on evolving their workforce but are not sure where to start.”
Even after organizations stopped actively suppressing diversity and inclusion, many have been slow to come full circle and embrace D&I as a critical element of their business strategy. This oversight causes companies to miss out on the tremendous benefits a diverse and inclusive workforce can provide to businesses of all sizes.
Treasure and the Workforce Innovation Center of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber are working to not only show companies they work with the potential benefits of D&I but also how to turn that potential into reality.