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Impact beyond a diversity statement

The J.I.V.E. Fair (Job, Internship, Volunteer, Education) is held every January, bringing together current Kauffman Scholars, KSI alumni, and regional employers.

People and organizations are working together to build inclusive work cultures to retain and attract the most talented workforce to the Kansas City region.

Our Bootstrap Obsession

The vision of what constitutes a dream job differs for young job seekers today compared to previous generations. Coming from diverse backgrounds, young people entering the workforce today want to feel included, represented, and equal in all ways possible. Beyond that, they want to contribute to their workplace while also being comfortable presenting their authentic selves.

Many of them question whether they can realize that vision in their hometowns.

In the Kansas City area, while some companies have begun implementing programs and intentional methods to help make that picture a reality, uprooting deep-seated diversity, equity, and inclusion issues in the workplace takes more than a declaration in an organization’s mission statement.

Wiselene Dorceus, national urban fellow at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, said she faced challenges that seemed to be rooted in bias while working in the technology industry. While applying for jobs, Dorceus, though qualified, faced multiple rejections, watching white men fill the positions. Even after being hired, she struggled to find an inclusive environment. As a woman of color, she was even compelled to wear her hair differently, she said.

“Everything that was non-technical and not related to my actual role, seemed to play of great importance to my ability to navigate the [tech] space,” said Dorceus. “So much so that I ended up quitting.”

Wiselene Dorceus, national urban fellow, Kauffman Foundation, presents at the J.I.V.E. Fair in January 2020.

Kansas City is not unique

When companies lack an inclusive, diverse, and equitable environment, opportunities for historically disadvantaged people are greatly reduced, which consequently widens the income divide between the rich and the poor – and negatively impacts everyone.

According to McKinsey, the racial wealth gap negatively affects the entire United States economy. McKinsey Statistics predict that this gap will cost the U.S. between $1-1.5 trillion between 2019 and 2028.

Kansas City, the Kauffman Foundation’s hometown, is no exception.

“The good news is Kansas City is not unique. The bad news is Kansas City is not unique. It’s a nationwide problem,” Dorceus said.

The average household income for black residents in the Kansas City metro is only 52% of the income for white residents and the household income for Hispanic residents is 68% of the income of white residents, according to census data.

From 2007 to 2017, roughly 85% of population growth in the Kansas City metro area was among non-whites, according to data from the American Community Survey. Yet, the workforce does not reflect the city’s changing demographics.

African Americans make up 11% of Kansas City’s workforce and only roughly 6% of managerial positions, a study by the Mid-America Regional Council shows.

This lack of opportunity jeopardizes the likelihood that Kansas City and the region can retain a diverse talent pool.

“We’ve heard that this is a very segregated city,” said Mako Miller, career services manager for Kauffman Scholars, Inc. (KSI). “Individuals who come to Kansas City from places like Chicago or Atlanta don’t feel there is a place for them as a professional of color, and then they leave.”

Miller said, as a first-generation student of color from a low-income family, she realized the value of a diverse work environment early on. She brings this perspective to her role with KSI. The multi-year college access and scholarship program is designed to help low-income urban students in Kansas City prepare for and complete a college education.

Further, the organization prioritizes preparing students for, and connecting students to, the workforce through career development programs.

Diversity just allows you to be more innovative as a company. When you have diverse backgrounds coming together, you get diversity of thought, diversity of experience, diversity of backgrounds.

Brett Gaines, recruiting partner, Cerner

The J.I.V.E. Fair (Job, Internship, Volunteer, Education) is one such program. Held every January, it is a networking event for Kansas City region employers, Kauffman Scholars, and KSI alumni.

“The J.I.V.E. Fair acts as that connector – that bridge,” said Miller.

The annual fair mutually benefits employers that interact with Kansas City’s young and diverse workforce and KSI alumni, who are introduced to employers dedicated to a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion, she said.

“The J.I.V.E. fair has been very productive because some people might not feel as if their applications matter if it’s just on the website,” said Kauffman Scholar Dontae Billberry.

Getting beyond a diversity statement

Brett Gaines, a recruiting partner for Cerner, believes inclusion in the workplace is essential from an employer standpoint, allowing a company to create better solutions for the communities that it serves.

An inclusive and diverse work culture benefits from a more innovative workplace, new perspectives, and better employee performance.

“Diversity just allows you to be more innovative as a company,” Gaines said. “When you have diverse backgrounds coming together, you get diversity of thought, diversity of experience, diversity of backgrounds.”

Research backs up his point. Gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform peers and ethnically-diverse companies are 35% more likely to do so. Deloitte also reported that inclusive teams outperformed peers by 80%.

Companies and organizations purposefully creating cultures of diversity, equity, and inclusion strive to take a multi-layered approach that goes beyond a diversity statement and simply recruiting employees with diverse backgrounds.

The goal is to create an environment meant for everyone; where equity is intentional, the underrepresented are represented, and there is space and support for diversity. That’s the first step to create an inclusive workplace, Greer Dorsey, a recruiter for Water One, said.

“If we say we want more women to join our team, but we don’t have a women’s locker room, are we really being inclusive? Are we really saying that we want you when we’re not making strides to welcome you?” Dorsey said.

Belinda Martinez is a senior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a Kauffman Scholar. Working as a mentor for Latino students and networking with professionals of color through programs like KSI has made her realize the value of diverse teams, she said.

“You can bring in all the people of color you want, but if your policies and your work culture is not open to learning, to welcoming and adapting for them, they are not going to want to stay. You’re going to have high turnovers,” Martinez said.

If we say we want more women to join our team, but we don’t have a women’s locker room, are we really being inclusive? Are we really saying that we want you when we’re not making the strides to welcome you?

Greer Dorsey, recruiter, Water One

Mariner Kemper, president and CEO of UMB Bank, cites that very notion as the driving force behind his efforts to create an inclusive and equitable company.

“We don’t just see diversity and inclusion as the right thing to do, we see it as a way to energize our culture and ignite innovation,” he said. “Our D&I strategies are intentional and designed to help us attract, develop, and retain the most talented workforce to spark innovation.”

Vanessa Sims’ role as UMB Bank’s executive director of diversity and inclusion is dedicated to building a culture of inclusion. She oversees a program that takes hiring managers and recruiters through a customized workshop to address unconscious biases in the hiring process.

The Kansas City-based organization has also piloted a “blind resume process,” which helps remove any identifying details from the resume that are not relevant to the skills required for the job. In 2020, UMB Bank plans to advance its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion by amending the recruiting process for employees, she said.

“In 2020, we’ll … incorporate inclusive behaviors as part of the interview criteria for candidates and broaden the reach of our unconscious bias awareness to many more UMB associates,” Sims said.

In the coming year, UMB and other organizations will continue to work with KSI to provide young professionals job shadowing opportunities and exposure to real-world work environments in Kansas City-based companies.

Our Bootstrap Obsession: Let each of us own our success, exhibit the grit and determination it takes to forge our own paths to define and achieve it, but with the recognition that we don’t get there alone.