Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce and the Daniels College of Business hosted Voices of Experience Nov. 11
Three leaders in the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) space told the Voices of Experience audience that it doesn’t matter how organizations name their DEI efforts as long as they are prioritizing the work with real objectives and measurable outcomes.
The University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business in partnership with the Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce hosted more than 165 people for Voices of Experience Nov. 11. Featured guests included Ball Corporation’s Senior Director of Diversity and Inclusion Charles S. Johnson, Newmont Corporation’s Global Director of Inclusion and Diversity Beatrice Opoku-Asare and NBCUniversal’s Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Salvador Mendoza.
The conversation was moderated by Daniels Dean Vivek Choudhury, who, after asking each speaker to give a brief bio, asked them to define DEI and share its importance in today’s business world.
Opoku-Asare gave a succinct definition, explaining that diversity is the differences in a group or mix of people, inclusion is creating a sense of belonging within that mix, and equity is leveling the playing field in that mix of people.
“I wish that we’ll get to a point in our world where nobody has to make a justification, a business case for why inclusion and diversity is important at all,” Opoku-Asare said. “Nobody makes justifications for why you need to breathe or why you need to eat or drink water. Right? And we don’t treat other aspects of our business in the same way.”
The speakers agreed that when organizations are focusing on what to call their DEI efforts, their attention isn’t on the mission at hand.
“I have zero patience for the conversation,” Johnson said. With more than 25 years’ experience working in the diversity space, he explained how the business case for DEI has never been stronger. “I want clear objectives about what we are trying to do.”
While Mendoza, who has worked in media and entertainment for years, does think the branding of DEI is important, he also believes the intent of the organization is what really matters. He, like the other panelists, didn’t set out to pursue a career in DEI. In fact, Mendoza, who majored in computer science, worked in nonprofits and higher education before taking positions in DEI at Hyatt Hotels and then at NBCUniversal.
“Looking back, the common thread has always been around advocacy,” he said. “That is my role and purpose in life as I see it.”
Mendoza shared that he emigrated from Honduras to Chicago when he was just 14 years old, leaving his parents to live with his grandmother. His adjustment to a new culture and environment created an incredibly formative experience that shaped his passion for diversity and inclusion.
“Looking back at my journey … every instance for me has given me context for DEI work,” he shared.
Similarly, Opuku-Asare, who is originally from Ghana, shared how she studied environmental science before launching a career in health and safety, human resources and now DEI. She’s proud of the approach at Newmont Mining to find the root of a problem and address it, even running experiments to find the best outcomes. It appears her background in science and experience living in many cultures has helped her career.
“I feel it just tells everyone who is on the call that you don’t have to be in one box. You have to take the unlikely possibilities and opportunities when they’re handed to you or you come across them,” she said. “You can do anything you put your mind to.”
When Johnson was at the University of Colorado playing football, he certainly didn’t anticipate a future career at Ball Corporation. As he shared, growing up in the inner city of Detroit was formational for him.
“Like Salvador, like Beatrice, life experience really lends itself to the preparation for these roles,” he said.
Johnson indicated that corporations like Ball are prioritizing DEI at the highest levels of the organization, engaging their workforce and showcasing the priority by having the DEI representative report directly to the CEO. And while Johnson believes corporations can move the needle, he seemed most hopeful by the youth of today.
“I am so impressed with what motivates many of our young boys and girls, many of our young men and women—they have values. They have a purpose in life that I think is relevant to the times,” he said.
Mendoza agreed, sending a message to the younger people who might want to get into the DEI field. He admitted that he used to say he would work himself out of a job, but not any longer.
“It doesn’t matter how successful you are in relation to diversity and inclusion, you’re going to need somebody … if indeed this is a business imperative,” he said. “You need somebody there to keep pushing, keep challenging, to keep creating.”
Hosted by the Daniels College of Business and sponsored by U.S. Bank, Voices of Experience (VOE) brings CEOs and significant leaders into the University of Denver community to share the lessons learned from their triumphs, mistakes and decisions as they navigated through their leadership careers.
This discussion was so rich, much of the planned material wasn’t covered. We’ll be following up with each speaker to have further conversations. Please visit the VOE website: daniels.du.edu/voe to learn about future events or view past recordings.