Valley groups lead the way on diversity

Not surprisingly, most Americans embrace enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion in all facets of life and work.

That assertion is borne out in a 2023 survey of about 6,000 adults by the Pew Research Center. It found 56% of respondents call racial and ethnic diversity “a good thing” and only 10% deem it “a bad thing” for companies and organizations to promote.

Sadly, however, realities fly in the face of those good intentions. Consider:

• In business, only 2% of companies with employees in the United States are black-owned and 6% are Hispanic-owned, far below their representation in the general population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual business survey.

• In education, a full 91% of Ohio’s public school teachers are white. Only 4% are black (compared with 17% of the student body) and less than 1% each for other minority groups, according to the Ohio Department of Education.

• In medicine, although black and Hispanic people account for about 13% and 17% of the population, respectively, those groups comprise only 5% and 6% respectively of practicing physicians, according to a 2023 report from the American Heart Association.

Clearly, much more sustained work remains to build a culture in which diversity, equity and inclusion thrive. On several fronts, however, we’re heartened to see key institutions in the Mahoning Valley leading the way with bold and results-oriented initiatives toward that end.

As Ron Selak, this newspaper’s business writer, reported in last Sunday’s editions, the Valley finds itself ahead of the curve in concrete progress toward diversifying the workforce and helping minority-owned businesses open and prosper.

For example, the minority business assistance centers at Valley Economic Development Partners and the Youngstown Business Incubator have partnered to lift up and help sustain small, minority-owned businesses as well as those led by other disadvantaged and marginalized populations.

Those centers already have produced impressive results. At the YBI’s Tier 2 assistance center, 58 minority businesses were certified in 2023, compared with a goal of only 40.

Collectively, the YBI and Valley Partners assistance centers accounted for $1.28 million in capital infusion in the region last year, and those enterprises attracted 282 new clients, soaring far above their initial goal of 130 new clients.

On top of those feathers in the cap of Valley business diversity, the Youngstown / Warren Regional Chamber recently welcomed a new director of economic opportunity and inclusion initiatives, Vern Richberg. He’s responsible for leading economic opportunity models for businesses, particularly for diverse and often groups excluded from the mainstream and vows to work vigilantly for greater inclusion of marginalized groups throughout all cogs of the business cycle.

­Elsewhere, the Youngstown City School District, as part of its YOUprint 2030 strategic plan, has prioritized plans to improve diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the school system.

Part of that plan involves professional development and diversity training, and creation of a racial equity committee. We wish it success in its overarching task of diversifying its workforce, particularly its teaching staff, which has for decades been underrepresented in African-American and other minority-group teachers. Considering black and Hispanic students make up about 80% of the student body of YCS, the need for a more diverse instructional staff should spark aggressive recruitment strategies.

Indeed, Youngstown, Warren and all school districts in the region should take to heart the sage advice of Dr. Heather Moore Roberson, Ph.D., the dean of diversity, equity and inclusion at Allegheny College. In an interview in last Sunday’s Vindicator, she asserted, “Diversity, equity and inclusion efforts are for all students, all faculty, all staff and all administrators; it is not just for students of color, period. Diversity, equity and inclusion need to be an institutional priority for all schools and all students.”

To be sure, the long-term benefits of a diverse culture at work, in schools and elsewhere are multi-fold. Some of those demonstrated assets include better opportunities for creativity and problem-solving, smarter and more broad-based decision-making, increases in profits and productivity, reduced rates of employee turnover and a more positive reputation in the community.

Thanks to the efforts of such groups as Valley Partners, YBI, the Youngstown / Warren Regional Chamber, Youngstown City Schools and others, the Mahoning Valley is well positioned to fully reap those benefits sooner rather than later.


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