Quarterly Update: Greenville Chamber of Commerce

By Nika White
November 01, 2012
When I first saw that the Greenville Chamber was creating a new vice president of diversity and inclusion position, I knew it was the job for me. Though my background for the past 15 years has mostly been in the advertising and marketing arena, it was my personal vision and insight that led the president of my former employer, Erwin Penland, to offer full support for the launch of a diversity and inclusion initiative at work; which eventually yielded awards and recognition for the company. This is when my passion for diversity and inclusion really started to grow, and I knew I was not going to escape pursuing a full time career in the discipline.

The Chamber’s Diversity and Inclusion Initiative has been made possible by a three-year commitment of support from ACCELERATE! (an economic development initiative of the Greenville Chamber), BI-LO, CertusBank, City of Greenville, Greenville Hospital System, Greenville County, and Michelin North America.

When I was offered the position with the Chamber after a national search, I vowed that I would only accept the opportunity if I knew that my role could really make a difference.  I'm not here to police all things diversity and inclusion, but to serve as a strategic thought leader for the organization. Diversity is not an individual program, but something that needs to be part of the entire fabric of the organization. Therefore, one of my goals is to develop a culture of diversity and inclusion that addresses all key operational areas of the Chamber.

There will always be a need for education in the area of diversity because diversity isn't just a program or a single initiative, but more of a mindset and a shift in the paradigm of the culture of an organization. I'm committed to ensuring that there's a level of accountability among key constituents, which I know is also important to the leadership of the Chamber. And having a dedicated person assigned to this role as a strategic thought leader is a turning point to ensure economic inclusion and access for all.

I’ve spent the first 60-90 days in my new position on a “listening tour,“ with a great deal of time spent gathering information and looking for both barriers and key opportunities. Part of the role of the Chamber is to be of service to the community. Many people associate that role as specifically catering to the business community, and while that's a significant aspect of what the organization does, I’d like more people to understand that the Chamber is a catalyst for positive change and prosperity across all elements of the community.

Economic development is extremely important to the community, and this is where the Chamber plays a key role in making sure that all businesses - small or large - are successful. The Chamber’s key goal and metric is increased per capita income. I am planning to achieve this goal by creating partnerships to provide access, exposure, and education to minority business owners so that they can benefit from the wealth of knowledge and resources that are available through cultivating relationships with large corporations.

The Greenville community has experienced tremendous growth, but not to its capacity. We see Greenville thriving, but not reaching full potential. Why? Two key variables are diversity and inclusion, and the value they have as part of the structure. Diversity and inclusion are no longer just a moral issues, they are a business imperative that must be realized in order to have a vibrant, prosperous community.

Giving minority-owned businesses access and entry into a sustainable, well-managed, and structured program is now a key goal for the Chamber. On October 18th at the Greenville Chamber’s first Minority Business and Community Open House, I launched CAPACITY, the brand I’ve developed for the Chamber’s diversity and inclusion initiative, which will strive to build structure within the community to increase economic development and leadership opportunities for diverse business owners and professionals. Capacity-building often refers to strengthening the skills, competencies, and abilities of people and communities, thus the goal of a community, business or individual to increase “Capacity.”

I am thrilled to note that the Chamber was recognized with the Organization of the Year Award from the Minority Economic Development Institute, Inc., which acknowledged the Chamber's work as an advocate for economic prosperity for minority owned businesses.

On November 28th, the Chamber will present the first annual ATHENA Leadership Symposium™. Having honored women in leadership with the ATHENA Leadership Award® since 2001, this symposium is a unique program inspired by past recipients of the award in an effort to actively support talented women and minorities in achieving leadership positions in greater numbers. Folks can learn more and sign up to attend at www.GreenvilleChamber.org 

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