Panelists discuss how to approach diversity, equity, inclusion in the workforce

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, March 1, 2023

(Update: A previous version of this story mistitled Angela Alford’s role within the Rowan-Salisbury school system. Her title within RSS system is director of equity and inclusion.)

SALISBURY — Members of the community gathered for a discussion on “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: How to Succeed in Today’s Workforce,” which was presented by the Salisbury-Rowan Community Action Agency Inc., a local nonprofit providing services for individuals, children and families to enhance their quality of life and promote opportunities for self-sufficiency.

Panelists discussed the topic with audience members at the Livingstone College Event Center on Tuesday afternoon. Panelists were:

  1. Gemale Black, the president of the Salisbury-Rowan NAACP
  2. Chavonne Greer, employment consultant and former offender reentry specialist with the North Carolina Department of Commerce’s Division of Workforce Solutions
  3. Rev. Anthony Smith, pastor, activist and Salisbury City Council member
  4. Angela Alford, director of equity and inclusion at two Salisbury schools and an active member of the community.
  5. Rev. Roy Dennis, Jr., pastor at Gethsemane Missionary Baptist Church

Eric Tillmon, the western field supervisor for Apprenticeship, NC, a state-approving agency for registered apprentices was moderator.

Tillmon started by asking, “What is your definition of diversity and inclusion, and what does that mean to you?”

Black said it means that “it includes all people no matter race, background, ethnicity, whatever it may be, and that people have access.”

Alford expanded, saying diversity and inclusion means there should be a presence of differences. “We make it complicated when it doesn’t have to be and to talk about inclusion, it’s just making sure that everyone has a voice and a sense of belonging,” Alford said. “We have a tendency to lump it all together when it’s not. And more than that, inclusion does not just mean having differences… but ensuring that in the differences we have a different lens that we’re pulling from.”

She said that diversity and inclusion should allow people to not only have a voice, but also have a voice that’s heard and respected.

Alford was also a proponent of making sure employers implement proper training so people can better understand why diversity, equity and inclusion is important in the workforce.

Smith was asked how he thought equity plays into the conversation. He said equity is often times confused with equality.

“Equity is a little different. Equity is taking into account what has happened and what is happening. It’s about, not just equal relations, it’s about what would we call a ‘just relation,’ ” Smith said. “Equity is a very deep, deep question and it simply means what does it mean to have a just, social relation in our community.”

Dennis continued, noting that to make things more just and to have an equal playing field, you have to acknowledge that it’s not an equal playing field. He said people have to get to a place where all are “starting at the same starting point.”

Questions from the audience were also taken with one being: is the matter of diversity, equity and inclusion in the workforce only a discussion for African-Americans or people of color and if it is how do we change things so white people are included and genuinely interested in the topic?

Dennis said he thought the conversation should be inclusive of everybody. If people aren’t included then they will miss out on opportunities of growth because they will be more able to understand their environment, he said.

Alford continued:  “We have to be mindful when we are sending the message, that we are sending the right message… it’s not just a Black subject.”

For the panelists’ final remarks, they were asked: “Where is diversity, equity and inclusion in the workforce going?”

Greer said that companies are going to have to make sure they are inclusive.

“You are going to have to accept that diversity and inclusion is coming. There is a paradigm shift and you are going to have to be on board with this train that’s coming. If not, then companies are going to begin to see that they aren’t experiencing the same level of success as they once did because there’s going to be a pushback,” Greer said.

Black and Alford said it starts with creating a more inclusive policy that allows for more diversity and inclusion. Dennis agreed with implementing more policies, but noted it will also take holding companies accountable if they don’t.

Smith said it will take a multitude of things including greater collaboration, strategic planning and being committed. He also said that before implementing new policies there should be more discussion on why more diversity and inclusion isn’t already in place.