In late 2019, the Edmond Chamber began working with the City of Edmond to implement a diversity and inclusion program with the mission of recognizing the talent, expertise, and knowledge of Edmond’s diverse workforce as we move towards being a more inclusive community. We studied other city and chamber programs across the nation and had several ideas on how to best accomplish our goal.
Several communities host annual conferences. Others select a class that meets monthly to study the components of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We decided that a free, monthly series open to the entire community (not just chamber members) was the best way to make the program inclusive.
Our first event was scheduled for March 2020, and then the pandemic hit. We hoped for open dialogue with attendees and felt that wouldn’t happen if the event were held via Zoom. Fast forward a few months, COVID-19 wasn’t going away, and the nation was erupting with outrage after the death of George Floyd.
We held our first meeting at the end of July and have been meeting virtually for three months. We kicked off the series with Gary Jones, Jr., who leads Oklahoma Christian University‘s diversity efforts. He’s the visionary behind History Speaks, an annual event on campus that brings civil rights icons to speak about the importance of love, respect, and learning from others. Jones talked about systematic racism in America, how intertwined systems work, and the relationship between race and socioeconomic structures. Having the event virtually didn’t hold us back from having a meaningful conversation.
Encouraged by our first event’s results, we moved forward with our second series in August titled “Taking Action Against Racial Injustice.” Three women from the community shared their experiences. They discussed ways to not only learn about racial injustice but to take action against it. Koshia Silver, Stephanie Fowler, and Nerissa Berry tackled discrimination, white privilege, and how to show support to oppressed groups.
In September, the series focused on disability awareness and advocacy with Miss Oklahoma City Ashleigh Robinson and the coordinator of the UCO Endeavor Games, Cassidhe Walker. Disability awareness is often overlooked when people think of diversity and inclusion topics, but it is critical to build a more diverse workforce and support employees with disabilities. According to the CDC, 61 million adults in the United States live with a disability. That’s one in four, or 26% of all Americans. Disability inclusion in the workplace has proven to provide a larger talent pool when hiring new employees, increase employee morale, and enhance productivity and creativity.
October’s series was titled “Pride in the Workplace” and was presented by David Macey, Jr., Ph.D., from the University of Central Oklahoma. His presentation addressed topics including equal opportunity policies, strategies for addressing incidents of bias in the workplace, ways of supporting transgender employees, and the role of LGBTQ+ employee affinity groups. The event coincided with Edmond Pride Month and spurred meaningful conversation about how to ensure LGTBTQ+ employees are represented and cared for.
The next series will be from 8:15 to 9:30 a.m. on Friday, November 20. Oklahoma City Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Jason Brown will discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion with kids. The free event will be available via Zoom, and attendees must register on the Edmond Chamber website.
Diversity and inclusion initiatives are rightfully becoming a must-have to move forward in today’s business world. This series has already received excellent feedback, but more importantly, it has created a place to have meaningful (and sometimes uncomfortable) conversations. Perhaps the greatest lesson I’ve learned so far is that no one is going to get it right every time. In our first series, Jones encouraged us to eliminate the excuse of being afraid to make mistakes. We all have an obligation to engage in challenging conversations.
“It’s not the mistakes that hurt you, it’s the double-down,” Jones said. When you get it wrong, learn from it, apologize and do better next time.
Meaningful change begins with a commitment to listen, learn, and act. The Edmond Chamber, partnered with the City of Edmond, has pledged to do just that. We hope you’ll join us in our mission to make Edmond a great place for ALL people to live, work and play.
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About Brittany Willison
Brittany Willison is the Director of Communications and Marketing at the Edmond Area Chamber of Commerce where she helps members gain exposure, connect with the community and attract business. She also leads the chamber’s young professionals and diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Brittany graduated from the University of Central Oklahoma in 2016 where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Media. Originally from Owasso, she calls Edmond home now with her husband Matt and rescue pup Avery.