The Northwest Arkansas Council, which for years has striven to help the region become more welcoming and inclusive for people of all backgrounds, is now expanding that focus to its own work.
After commissioning research into its own operations last year, the Council this week committed to take several actions aimed at fostering a sense of belonging for all in the region, including actively recruiting diverse members and staff, ensuring that the participants of Council programs reflect the region’s demographics, and partnering with local and federal policymakers to promote equity and inclusion.
The commitment was included in the Council’s newly published 2022 Diversity Report, which highlights Northwest Arkansas’ rapidly growing and diversifying population as well as the benefits these changes can bring.
“A welcoming Northwest Arkansas is a more prosperous one for lifelong residents and newcomers alike,” said Margot Lemaster, executive director of the Council’s DEI arm, EngageNWA. Lemaster will join Marshallese chef and Street Lakwe Eulala owner Judy Tatios, Arkansas Association of Asian Businesses founder and President Yang Luo-Branch, and Banco Sí President Francisco Herrera to discuss the report during the next Onward Ozarks event on July 29.
“Belonging makes a place home, which means people can put down roots and give back to their communities in meaningful ways,” Lemaster said. “Prioritizing belonging also acts as a magnet for the talent, whether homegrown or from around the world, that makes Northwest Arkansas one of the country’s most dynamic and thriving communities.”
Much of the report reflects longstanding realities and the Council’s previous findings. Enrollment in Springdale and Rogers school districts, among the state’s largest, remains mostly Hispanic, Marshallese and other diverse populations. Bentonville’s population is still skyrocketing both in overall number and proportion of Latino and Asian residents.
The report also gives an updated picture of the region’s growing success in leveraging that diversity into social and economic well-being. Local programs in entrepreneurship, workforce development, health care and other sectors are making it a priority to reach those communities as well as women and LGBTQ+ people.
The Council partnered with Benton County and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences to create Our Healthy Alliance, a multilingual and multicultural health education campaign that provides resources for the Latino and Marshallese communities, for example. And Walmart and other organizations throughout the area have signed the Council’s NWA Leadership Pledge to fight racism and promote actions that create a more equitable and inclusive region.
With its new commitments, the Council seeks to better imbed equity and inclusion in Council operations and better project these values in the areas of the community it serves. Other objectives include providing pertinent training internally and for the wider community, collecting and sharing relevant data, and establishing a DEI-focused advisory committee.
The Council’s research into its own role in diversity, equity and inclusion stemmed from TRUE Northwest Arkansas, a 2018 pilot supported by the Walmart Foundation, Walton Family Foundation and Arkansas Community Foundation. Its findings will be incorporated into an updated EngageNWA strategic plan set for release this fall.
“Northwest Arkansas is changing rapidly, and the Council will redouble its efforts to promote diverse voices across the region to allow all NWA residents a chance to prosper. This is the right thing to do, and Northwest Arkansas will gain economically and culturally for it,” said Nelson Peacock, Northwest Arkansas Council president and CEO.