It is increasingly apparent that companies and institutions that make diversity, inclusion and equity part of their culture are more successful with customers and staff.

These dynamics will be part of a community discussion led by Shonda Johnson, a transfer specialist at UCCS and board member of Hillside Connections. The panel event will be part of the Southeast Express and KOAA Coffee Connect panel “Changing the Narrative on Diversity and Inclusion” at noon at the Chinook Center on Aug. 25.

Johnson will be joined by Regina Lewis, a speaker, author, and the Communication Department Chair at Pikes Peak Community College, and Danielle Summerville, the community diversity and outreach programs manager for the city of Colorado Springs. She will also be joined by Moni Hernandez of Viva Marketing. 

Diversity, equity and inclusion have become a focus for companies, organizations and institutions of higher education in recent years. The prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement and national protests over the death of George Floyd have emphasized the need for more diverse, equitable and inclusive spaces.

 “Diversity and inclusion have always been a passion of mine,” said Johnson. “As a Black female, something that we often experience is walking into environments where nobody looks like us. That’s what sparked my passion in learning more about diversity, inclusion and equity. I started at UCCS in 2011, and there I dove a little bit deeper and started serving on search committees as a Diversity Champion. The Diversity Champion position at UCCS is a person who sits on the search and they are able to receive the data and the demographics from the search that they’re sitting on. They’re able to see the diversity of each candidate, whether they’re male or female, whether they specified an ethnicity or indicated they were military.”

The push for diversity, equity and inclusion is not just diversity for diversity’s sake. A 2018 report from McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm, found, “Companies in the top-quartile for ethnic/cultural diversity on executive teams were 33 percent more likely to have industry-leading profitability. That this relationship continues to be strong suggests that inclusion of highly diverse individuals — and the myriad ways in which diversity exists beyond gender (e.g., LGBTQ+, age/generation, international experience) — can be a key differentiator among companies.”

Johnson notes that the benefits of successful diversity, equity and inclusion policies don’t just provide benefits to companies and institutions, but to employees and customers as well. “Institutions, whether nonprofit, for-profit, are diving in harder to see what they can do to solve the problems that we face in these arenas, with helping people to feel like they are included and they belong,” she said. “The main importance is that it creates a safe place. Having a voice when you feel like your voice doesn’t matter is important.”

Not only do these policies benefit companies and employees, but their target audience as well. 

“I work for a higher ed institution, but I have worked for organizations and companies, and in both those instances we serve people of diverse backgrounds,” said Johnson. “Realizing that it is a full-circle thing, that we’re not just diverse in our industry but we serve diverse communities, and the importance of helping them feel that they belong. On my campus, or in an organization, our customers, our students, people who come and sponsor events, they all come from diverse backgrounds and we need to understand how to serve them.”

As more institutions embrace diversity, equity and inclusion, more opportunities are opening up for specialists in the field. 

“My best advice, one of the things I’ve learned from other people, is to be self-aware first,” said Johnson. “Be self-aware of what your biases might already be before getting into the industry, and then learn about different cultures, different backgrounds, different races and ethnicities, learn about the LGBTQIA community, learn about what diversity, equity and inclusion means as a whole and then find a careers where you feel you can make a difference. There are many careers in higher education, there’s careers in public health, careers all over that now have diversity-based titles.” 

Heidi Beedle is a former soldier, educator, activist, and animal welfare worker. She received a Bachelor’s in English from UCCS. She has worked as a freelance writer covering LGBTQ issues, nuclear disasters, cattle mutilations, and social movements.