Greater Gainesville Committed to Diversity and Inclusion
To say 2020 has presented unprecedented challenges and opportunities is an understatement. Among those was a nationwide call for social justice that prompted a new slate of passionate responses across American communities. However, the focus on diversity, inclusion and equity is not a new one in Greater Gainesville. In 2018, the University of Florida, Santa Fe College, Greater Gainesville Chamber of Commerce, Alachua County, the City of Gainesville, UF Health, and the Alachua County School Board—known as the “Friendship 7”—funded a study called “Racial Inequity in Alachua County.” The study validated that – as they unfortunately do in many other communities – minorities fare worse than whites in the county. But the study also helped illuminate the key elements needed to improve this finding—jobs and education.
The good news was that the primary work of the Greater Gainesville Chamber is already aligned to strengthen our community’s potential in both areas. Supporting job creation, job retention, business growth and access to talent is what the Chamber lives and breathes to do. This summer, the Chamber made a commitment to confront systemic racism head-on, and that work began with authentic conversations held as a part of a recently launched partnership with the Gainesville Black Professionals Networking Group (see sidebar: Crossroads, Coalition & Change).
Across the greater Gainesville community, major institutions and businesses are committed to diversity, inclusion and equity and have been for many years. In 2016, Gainesville became Florida’s first welcoming city, and the city put together a task force together in 2018 to specifically address diversity and inclusion.
In 2015, Gainesville’s biggest employer, the University of Florida, released “The Decade Ahead,” a strategic plan of shared goals developed by a 17-member task force to align goals campus-wide with the university’s own mission and overall objectives. The process yielded seven overarching goals with a number of objectives to advance each of them. In 2018, UF hired Anthony Farias, its first university-wide diversity and inclusion officer.
“We created this position because UF, like many other southern universities, has a legacy that includes not always welcoming people of diverse backgrounds,” said Dr. Kent Fuchs, president of the University of Florida. “This is a significant step in addressing the cultural changes that must continue to take place at the University of Florida.”
Farias is focused on collaboration, including creating a network of diversity liaisons from all colleges and business units. Improving the environment for minority students, faculty and staff is important as UF strives to become a top five public university, Farias believes.
“Themes of representation and access are interwoven throughout the framework of ‘The Decade Ahead,” said Farias. “We know there is work to be done to ensure that students and faculty from a diversity of backgrounds have a presence and find community at UF, and that the university must be committed to doing the work.”
At Santa Fe (SF) College, efforts to increase diversity and inclusion became focused nearly 20 years ago with work to gain a better understanding of the problem. Equity has always been part of the College’s mission because the ability of the people in the community to achieve their goals and/or provide for their families has always been disparate, particularly along racial lines, said Cheryl Calhoun, Dean of Access & Inclusion at SF College.
“We exist to help individuals in the community achieve their educational goals, obtain high quality employment, and to provide for their families.”
After being selected as Santa Fe College President, Dr. Paul Broadie arrived in Gainesville in early 2020 and, despite the challenges the year has brought with it, transitioned smoothly into leading the college’s life-changing work, including its legacy of increasing diversity, inclusion and access.
“We understand that the impact we have on one life permeates generations,” Broadie said. “At Santa Fe College, we pride ourselves on developing a culture of excellence and a place of opportunity. The college has many programs and initiatives that promote diversity as well as reach underrepresented students, minority-owned businesses, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.”
For example, SF College operates the Gainesville Technology Entrepreneurship Center (GTEC) in East Gainesville which is a free pre-incubator program that helps underserved minorities launch tech-based businesses. The program includes a multi-week workshop based on a curriculum derived from the principles of design thinking and lean startup.
Providing a bridge to support, empower, and equip them to succeed, GTEC is incubating black tech-based businesses in East Gainesville and beyond.
“We are committed to closing equity gaps and creating opportunities for individuals to achieve upward mobility through educational attainment,” Broadie said.
Beyond the community’s educational institutions, many private businesses echo the efforts into making greater Gainesville a more diverse and inclusive area. Infotech, a local software company that employs hundreds, has a culture that is driven by a simple virtue: Treat people right. Living this value in every way, including in the areas of diversity and inclusion, is foundational to the way Infotech does business and the way it manages talent.
“Diversity has always been a priority here, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to be intentional in honoring that” says Infotech Consulting President Jamie McClave- Baldwin. “With every decision, we are purposefully looking for the betterment of ideas, and creating spaces for innovation. The more diverse a team is, the more opportunities there are to add the questioning, perspective and context that lead to richer, more productive dialogue and outcomes.”
In daily practice, “being intentional” when it comes to diversity, inclusion and equity means myriad things at Infotech—proactively checking policies to make sure they are updated to reflect that the company is actively seeking opportunities to diversify the team; nurturing an internal culture of transparency, accountability and access that gives employees a strong enough sense of safety to be honest; taking swift action, even when it’s inconvenient, to make sure that the benefits offered to the Infotech team truly add value to the lives of all team members.
The mission of North Florida Regional Medical Center – part of HCA, the largest healthcare network in the U.S. – is specific and all-encompassing: to be committed to the care and improvement of human life.
“People come to us when they are hurting and need medical help, and we exist to help them,” said Scott Wenger, Director of Outreach Services and Company Care at NFRMC. “It’s not about helping a person of any specific religion, race, gender or orientation. When people hurt, we give them the best possible care, period.”
NFRMC’s mission obviously speaks to caring for and improving the lives of its patients, but it also describes the culture of caring for and improving the lives of its people. Diversity and inclusion – often in context with current events – are a major component of how NFRMC cares for its people.
Wenger says that the way NFRMC executes is mission is aligned with the values of the community. He attributes Gainesville’s accepting spirit to a number of things: its multicultural nature, the presence of the University of Florida and Santa Fe College, the community’s forward-thinking healthcare system, the dynamic startup and business culture. All of these elements thrive on innovation and progress.
Last year, Wenger – a member of the LGBTQ+ community who is married with two children – organized a group to represent NFRMC at the annual PRIDE festival, which celebrates LGBTQ+ social and self-acceptance, achievements, legal rights, and pride.
“In the wrong context, diversity, inclusion and equity are all buzzwords,” Wenger says. “Surface questions won’t reveal the substance of a company’s progress in those areas. Diversity means you’ve been invited to the table, inclusion means you are able to talk but equity asks whether your voice is as loud and powerful as the voice next to you. We have to ask ourselves, even in diverse environments, whether everyone is equally empowered.”
When Virginia Grant founded Gainesville Black Professionals in 2015, she was searching for a local black professional network.
“I started Gainesville Black Professionals because I felt like there was a huge disconnect in our community between mainstream Gainesville and the population of black professionals in Gainesville,” says Grant, who moved to Gainesville in 2013. “I was personally and professionally longing for that connection, and I couldn’t find it. I felt that if we had it, it would bring black professionals together and minimize the overall disconnect in our community.”
Long term, Grant saw the potential for the organization to be a resource to companies and increase diversity and inclusiveness within local businesses.
“I often say that Gainesville Black Professionals isn’t only for black professionals, it’s where you will find them,” says Grant. “If employers really want to find diverse talent, they have to be intentional in their search.”
Hiring often happens through referrals and networking. Grant sees engagement in diverse organizations as an underutilized talent recruitment strategy.
“If you want to hire diverse talent, but don’t have a diverse network or know where to plug into one, it’s not going to happen,” Grant says, also pointing to the fact that employers often want and need to fill open positions as soon as possible. “Typically, we hire people who are easily accessible to us. Getting involved in a diverse organization like Gainesville Black Professionals aligns the desire to hire diverse talent with every business’ need for practicality and speed when they need to fill a position.”
On the heels of major social justice protests this summer, the Greater Gainesville Chamber of Commerce made a commitment to confront race head-on, beginning with partnering with Gainesville Black Professionals to host authentic conversations about how and where race and business intersect. (see sidebar: Crossroads, Coalition & Change).
“As a business community, we must take the time to gauge our health in the areas of diversity, inclusion and equity and work continuously to improve. We also must find ways to promote those values externally and share our own successes in this area to inspire other businesses,” said Eric Godet, President/CEO of the Greater Gainesville Chamber of Commerce. “
Godet says business is ideally suited to implement best practices in increasing diversity and inclusion as the culture and conversation continue to evolve. “The business community knows how to learn and implement simultaneously. We’ve made our way by using the best information we had at the time to make the best decision possible because we know that action transforms future to present. We exist to act, and it’s go time.”
Crossroads, Coalescence and Change
In June, the Chamber and Gainesville Black Professionals partnered to launch Crossroads: Exploring intersections in Race and Business, a discussion series designed to facilitate authentic conversations that answer questions – submitted anonymously by employers and workers — about the implications of race in their dayto- day as well as on the long-term vision they have for their business. Before launching, however, the Chamber partnered with the University of Florida, the Community Foundation of North Central Florida, and Santa Fe College to bring Measuring Racial Inequity: A Groundwater Approach – which had previously been hosted by Santa Fe College – to the wider community.
“Before we attempted to open what we knew would be a brutally honest dialogue we wanted to validate that systemic racism is a real problem,” said Eric Godet, President/CEO at the Chamber. “We had previously benchmarked in Alachua County the data to show lesser outcomes experienced by people of color in Alachua County, and Groundwater was about cementing for the business community that we were not uniquely experiencing these outcomes.”
More than 270 people virtually attended Groundwater, and more than 140 attended the first episode of Crossroads.
“We got the honest questions and answers we sought with Crossroads,” said Chamber Vice President of Public Policy Alyssa Brown, who moderated the event. “The feedback we heard confirmed that we were on to something. We were talking about the real problem, not a politically correct version of the problem.”
Soon after, several local companies and organizations came together to ideate what should be done and how business could lead it. By the time the second Crossroads conversation happened, the group was ready to announce what it was building: The Greater Gainesville Business Coalition for Change.
At the time this article was written, the Coalition had solidified its identity – a group of local business and community partners who have made a multi-faceted commitment to increasing equity in our businesses and our region – as well as a mission to provide a platform for reflection, acceptance, action and accountability within local businesses and organizations, and empower their leaders to increase diversity, inclusion and equity in their companies and in the community.
Behind the scenes, the Coalition is creating an online hub for resources to help local companies identify their diversity and inclusion goals, and then take action to move towards them. The site will also serve as a resource hub for C2C candidate referrals and community engagement.
For more information or to partner with the Coalition, visit BeTheChangeGNV.org.
“We are committed to closing equity gaps and creating opportunities for individuals to achieve upward mobility through educational attainment,”
DR. PAUL BROADIE SANTA FE COLLEGE PRESIDENT