More resources are needed to help the region’s small and mid-sized businesses implement diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs, according to new study commissioned by the Northwest Arkansas Council and conducted by the University of Arkansas’ Center for Business and Economic Research. In an effort to address some of the gaps identified in the survey, the Council is partnering with the IDEALS Institute and the five regional chambers of commerce to launch the NWA DEI Business Cohort to help build capacities to better serve the region’s diverse workforce.
The NWA Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Study, completed in 2019, found that only 35% of small employer respondents in the region (classified as organizations with fewer than 50 employees) indicated they had an internal group responsible for supervising their organization’s diversity and inclusion efforts and only 18% had workplace demographic goals. Organizations were also asked if they had other initiatives to develop spending with historically underutilized businesses, organizations owned by minorities, women, veterans and LGBTQ. Only 23% of small employers reported having this type of initiative.
“The survey showed an overall gap in sourcing, contracting and accessing talent pools among businesses, which helps explain why the bulk of the workforce in Northwest Arkansas was white, as are the board of directors, top-level leadership and supervisors,” said Mervin Jebaraj, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research. “As the region continues to grow, businesses, including small and mid-sized, will need to address the type of environment they wish to foster for their workforce.”
Supported by the Walmart Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, the NWA DEI Business Cohort runs from October 2020 through March 2021 and offers small to mid-sized businesses customized training and expertise focused on actionable strategies, including a DEI framework to assess key business policies and practices, the formation of an individualized DEI plan and the tools and resources to implement and sustain the plan over time. The cohort will also connect business leaders to a community of peers interested in learning and implementing DEI practices in the workplace.
“Launching this cohort with all five regional chambers of commerce is a symbol of the ongoing commitment and dedicated action we as a business community are ready to take towards workplace diversity, equity and inclusion” said Nelson Peacock, president and CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council. “Ensuring small businesses have the resources and support to join – and lead – these larger efforts will be a game changer for progress in our region.”
The chamber cohorts have already been selected and the following 15 organizations will participate:
Greater Bentonville Chamber of Commerce
-Black Hills Energy
Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce
-Specialized Real Estate Group.
-Lewis Automotive Group.
Rogers-Lowell Chamber of Commerce
Siloam Springs Chamber of Commerce
-Lightning Bolt Advertising.
-Alliance Ventures, LLC.
Springdale Chamber of Commerce
-Ozark Electric Cooperative.
-Truity Credit Union.
“Local chambers are a direct conduit to small businesses across the region, proudly representing nearly 7500 small business members collectively,” said Graham Cobb, president and CEO of the Greater Bentonville Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the Northwest Arkansas Chambers of Commerce. “These small business owners recognize that their businesses are higher performing and have a better opportunity for profitability when they have diversity of thought and experience within their workforce. This cohort gives these businesses access to tools and training to attract and retain diverse team members and foster an inclusive culture.”
The creation of the NWA DEI Business Cohort is the latest effort of the Northwest Arkansas Council, through its EngageNWA program, to mobilize the business community around concrete action towards greater equity and inclusion in the region. In July, the Council launched the NWA Leadership Pledge to address systemic racism. To date, more than 140 businesses and organizations have signed the pledge.
For more information about the NWA DEI Business Cohort, please contact Margot Lemaster at firstname.lastname@example.org.