Speaker: Culture of diversity, inclusion key to economic success

Early in Gobinder Gill’s career, he worked at a radio station in British Columbia, Canada, where, as a person of Indian descent, he experienced something new — he did not stand out among his coworkers because of his race and ethnicity.

“In some ways, it was like working at the United Nations,” Gill told a Dubuque audience recently, reflecting on how working as part of a racially and ethnically diverse team shaped his views on inclusivity practices in the workplace. “Under Canadian law, the station had to broadcast in at least 22 different language or its license would be revoked.”

In a keynote speech sponsored by the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, Gill, a journalist, author and founder of a diversity training organization, addressed attendees at the Dubuque Chamber of Commerce’s Diversity Summit on November 29. With a day of workshops and speakers, the summit was an opportunity for Dubuque-area business, civic and nonprofit leaders to discuss diversity in the workplace and collaborate toward making inclusive practices a key economic strategy.

“We wanted to be part of this summit, because what the chamber has put together so closely aligns with the Community Foundation’s values, mission and vision,” said Nancy Van Milligen, president and CEO of the Community Foundation. “Businesses and nonprofits play important roles in building strong communities.”

In his speech, Gill spoke to the need for employers to build a more diverse workforce in a time of changing demographics in Western countries like the United States and the emergence of new leaders on the global economic stage.

Locally, initiatives like Inclusive Dubuque and the Community Foundation’s Best Practices in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion workshop series, are positive steps toward fostering a culture of inclusion citywide, Gill said. But, he added, there is more that can be done.

He shared examples of how his hometown of Vancouver gradually yet deliberately developed such a culture by celebrating an array of different cultural and religious holidays with parades and festivities. Initially, many longtime Vancouver residents were skeptical about such events, he said, but over time, they became some of the city’s most beloved celebrations, as well as major economic drivers.

For employers, building a culture of inclusion and diversity in the workplace is an important way to foster new ideas as well as attract and retain employees, Gill said. But employers won’t diversify if they continue working through the same channels to recruit employees. They must reach out through social media and ethnic media in addition to more traditional outlets, he said.

Diversity must be a priority at all levels of an organization, he added. For instance, many employers already ask their teams to participate in diversity trainings, but top-level management must also be involved.

Most importantly, Gill said, managers must treat everyone equally, giving them respect as well as space to express themselves and speak their minds.

“People don’t leave a company because of low wages,” he said. “They leave because they don’t feel respected and valued. These things don’t cost anything. Once you do that, people will look up to you. That’s what I call a true leader.”

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Founded in 2002, the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque strengthens communities and inspires giving. We are dedicated to improving the quality of life throughout Northeast Iowa by serving donors, making grants to local nonprofit organizations, and providing community leadership through convening and collaboration. Guided by the values of integrity, equity and inclusion, collaboration, excellence and innovation, we seek to ensure a vibrant and inclusive Greater Dubuque region with resources and opportunity for all.