by Jessica Carreras
On Tuesday, April 21, Crain’s Detroit Business, in collaboration with the Detroit Regional Chamber and the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, will present the Innovation Through Diversity Conference.
Held each year, the conference aims to facilitate education and discussion about the impacts of diversifying businesses, as well as the changes faced by minority groups, such as ethnic minorities, the disabled and the LGBT community.
Thomas Costello, CEO of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, said LGBT issues are a huge part of the discussion – both in his organization and the business world in general.
He said though the Michigan Roundtable has long addressed these issues, he sees them coming to the forefront more in the past few months, both through the passage of legislation and in the social sphere. “We have a particularly large youth program that touches 4,000 students in the Detroit metropolitan area, and LGBT issues are a big part of our work in schools, not only with students but with teachers, principals and school superintendents,” Costello explained. “We have forums and leadership programs around these issues.”
Costello added that since the last presidential election, which has brought the most progressive president ever on LGBT issues in President Barack Obama, laws that protect the community will be on the table more often. “I think you’re going to see more legislation, such as the (local) anti-bullying bill and anti-bias crimes statute and the ordinance in Kalamazoo,” he said. “I think (LGBT issues) are getting more traction or more play since the election, but in my world, it’s always been there.”
And it will be present at the Diversity Conference, too.
The day of panels, speeches, exhibits and discussions will include over 300 people from areas as diverse as banks, health care systems and technology companies. Issues addressed will include the role of diversity in economic transformation, the aftermath of the anti-affirmative action Proposal 2 and establishing minority businesses in Michigan.
LGBT issues will be most prominent in an hour and a half session called Building Inclusive Communities Agenda. Speaker Kurt Metzger will address the question “Are you as diverse as you think?”, while Edward Egnatios of the Skillman Foundation will speak about a funder’s perspective of diversity and inclusion.
Then, there will be a panel discussion about diversity and inclusion at work, which will feature panelists from several minority communities. They include Bharatiya Temple Outreach Chair Padma Kuppa, Pride Source Media Group co-publisher Jan Stevenson, President of Arete Industries Leon Tupper and Roger McCarville, executive producer, owner and host of “Disabilities Today Show” on PBS.
Costello tapped into Stevenson, who publishes Between The Lines newspaper and serves as vice president of finance for the company, because of her experiences working for an LGBT business that often interacts with the business sector at large, both for editorial content and for advertising.
All four panelists, said Costello, will address their experiences with similar issues. “We want the panelists to discuss how diversity inclusion works in their community,” he said. ” What’s the current climate of diversity inclusion? What challenges are you facing? What opportunities to you see and what impact has it had on your business success?”
In addition to speaking, Costello said that the panelists will take questions from conference attendees. “We hope to make this as interactive as we can,” he added.
The discussions and speakers, Costello said, will highlight the need for diversity in the business world – not just from hiring, but also from creating a safe workplace for all employees – including protecting LGBT workers from discrimination. “A diverse workforce, it’s been proven, is more creative, comes up with more solutions, is more productive than a non-diverse workforce,” he maintained. “It makes sense to do that. The more opportunities you have for all people…you make yourself a better company, not just from the bottom line, but from employee engagement, retention and employee attraction in recruiting. There’s a business case for it.”
But moreover, he added, it’s just the right thing to do. “Everyone has to have an opportunity. That’s the bottom line,” he said. “Those are the signs of a healthy community, whether it’s your business community, neighborhood community, school community, faith community – whatever it is. There has to be an opportunity for all.”
Innovation Through Diversity Conference
8 a.m.-5 p.m. April 21
MGM Grand Casino, 1777 Third St., Detroit