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Heroes in Diversity 2024

The names & faces behind St. Louis’ greatest champions of diversity and inclusion

Dara S. Taylor, Missouri Historical Society


Position: Managing Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility

How are you incorporating diversity into your role?
Diversity is interwoven throughout the work we do and our vision for the decade ahead. That vision includes introducing the public to a St. Louis they’ve never met, sharing more of our collections, wrestling with today’s most pressing issues, and building community. In my role, I cannot think of diversity without also thinking of equity, inclusion and accessibility. Therefore, we seek to hire and work with people from a range of social and ethnic backgrounds, gender identities, sexual orientations, disabilities, and more, while also acknowledging the intersectionality inherent in all these identities. We welcome people of all abilities to MHS and strive to have accommodations available for everyone. Some of the accessibility accommodations we offer are a sensory room, American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation at programs, Braille label binders, ASL within videos, audio description QR codes, touchable tactile objects, and audio description walking tours for individuals with visual impairments.

How can a small company address diversity? What are some of the first steps companies should take?
For those unable to add a full-time staff member dedicated to diversity initiatives, you can still prioritize DEI by offering staff training; encouraging staff collaboration and input on decision-making processes; and diversifying your staff, leadership, and board of directors. We have 11 people who serve as part of our executive and senior leadership team: four are Black (36%) and eight are women (76%). Our board diversity makeup is 22% Black, 12% Asian, and 43% women. We’re actively working to increase the diversity of our staff, which currently stands at 27% Black and 2% Hispanic or other ethnicities. If hiring full-time isn’t feasible, you can also consider establishing an internship program. We've launched an internship program specifically for our African American History Initiative. Depending on size, small companies may also consider forming employee resource groups that will help attract and retain staff from diverse backgrounds.

What are the benefits of diversity in your organization and for other organizations?
As an institution, we tell a variety of stories to a wide public. Therefore, we need diverse voices at the table. We achieve this through community advisory committees for our exhibits and programs and by striving to have a staff that reflects the communities we serve. MHS’s commitment to diversity has led us to establish the African American History Initiative, the Chinese American Collecting Initiative, and the Gateway to Pride (LGBTQIA+) Initiative. Historical societies have too often limited the scope of the stories they tell and the people they ask to tell them. We’re dedicated to challenging this by serving as a model through our exhibits, including Coloring STL, The 1904 World’s Fair (opening April 30), Gateway to Pride (opening June 8), and Mill Creek Valley (opening September 2025). Also, diversity has not only enhanced our creativity and innovation, but also improved decision making and increased overall productivity.


David "DJ" Jordan,  Aerotek

Position:
Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and Corporate Social Responsibility

How are you incorporating diversity into your role?
It is my responsibility to ensure that Aerotek is equipping its employees with the tools to cultivate inclusivity, dismantle barriers, and celebrate and understand the importance of diversity in teamwork. We’ve done this by establishing DE&I Foundational Training for all Aerotek employees; providing safe spaces, such as our annual Leadership Listening Sessions and quarterly Courageous Conversations series; and creating other environments for people of all backgrounds to commune. More than 1,000 Aerotek employees participate in the six Employee Resource Groups that we have formed, including P.R.I.D.E. (LGBTQ+); Women at Aerotek; BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color); and Veterans, First Responders & Spouses. These voluntary, employee-led workgroups serve as a resource for members and are empowered to advocate within and on behalf of the organization for underrepresented communities.

How can a small company address diversity? What are some of the first steps companies should take?
While companies like mine may have more resources to take diversity, equity and inclusion seriously, there are manageable steps small businesses can take to catch up to a growing demand for inclusive workplaces. Businesses don’t need to spend a lot of money to begin implementing inclusive hiring practices or to re-examine their policies. Looking at your organization from the top down and accounting for any biases that may exist is the first step in the process of eliminating those biases. This process may take time but will yield tremendous benefits down the line.

What are the benefits of diversity in your organization and for other organizations?
Creating an environment where people from all backgrounds feel appreciated and unencumbered in their pursuit of growth is critical for companies that want to attract and retain talent. Aerotek has found internally and through our research that a positive and supportive company culture is right up there with pay in terms of factors that motivate job seekers the most.


Dan Lester, Clayco

Position:
Vice President of Field Culture and Inclusion

How are you incorporating diversity into your role?
I am grateful to be part of a company that has always valued diversity. My work has contributed to reshaping the organization's paradigms around diversity and creating an environment of psychological safety, inclusion and collaboration. We’ve branded our inclusion efforts under the umbrella of Clayco Rising. Clayco Rising is a comprehensive approach to diversity and inclusion that aims to provide meaningful opportunities for our employees, minority and women-owned business partners, and the communities we serve. Additionally, I am responsible for leading our Culture, Equity, and Inclusion (CEI) education program. The program aims to guide our employees to engage in actionable behaviors and gain practical knowledge, emphasizing the unique differences among individuals and partners as strengths. In our CEI education program, we've discovered that factors impacting mental health have similar outcomes on jobsite culture as factors impacting diversity and inclusion—leading Clayco to integrate CEI content into all aspects of the Clayco Enterprise.

How can a small company address diversity?
Small companies can promote diversity by adopting a simple yet powerful strategy: focusing on one relationship at a time. Sometimes, it can be difficult to understand diversity as a broader concept. At Clayco, we define diversity as an acknowledgment of differences. We recognize that even identical twins who share the same DNA are still unique individuals. With this in mind, our approach to diversity involves finding better ways to meet the specific needs of our clients and the people we work with. One company, regardless of its size, cannot solve the world's problems. However, we can make a significant difference by addressing the concerns of those we trust the most: our people.


What are some of the first steps companies should take?
The first step is to consider centering yourself and your company around humility. We don't know what we don't know, so it's essential to be open to each other and the possibility that others’ perspectives and experiences are equally valid as our own. Take the opportunity to engage with your employees and teams. Solicit employees' help to create standards and meaningful engagement opportunities. Our employees are the champions of our engagement programs and often already have relationships with community organizations. Empowering employees to explore their passions and be leaders in the community has helped Clayco significantly impact the St. Louis community. Also, businesses should consider supporting grassroots-based organizations that need more support than others, helping your efforts go a long way. A small company can significantly impact the community with focused and intentional engagement.

What are the benefits of diversity in your organization and for other organizations?
With an expanded view and an intentional focus on inclusion, the benefits of diversity are significant. Clayco's Founder, Bob Clark, said this in our latest ESG report: "We have created a win-win situation by building a company that has benefited from having a diversity of people and ideas. We have been strengthened tremendously by having people of color and different cultures adding new perspectives to the industry." It can be scary for a small business to embrace change. I encourage you to take the leap and be open to the possibilities. Because of visionaries before me and their commitment to diversity, I've seen fantastic work and life-changing engagements in the St. Louis community. What I know is that life is enriched by our unique strengths, and businesses thrive when they approach diversity in a meaningful way that meets the needs of their people.



Rory G. James, Saint Louis Zoo

Position:
Director of Diversity, Equity, Accessibility & Inclusion (DEAI)

How are you incorporating diversity into your role?
When I arrived at the Zoo, I used the first six months to do a “listening tour” and connect with zoo employees and members of the broader Saint Louis community. Though I have 18 years of experience doing this work, it would have been foolish of me to come in and make drastic changes without historical knowledge of the Saint Louis area, the zoo, and our partners. Plus, I had to hear what our Saint Louis citizens would like to see from the zoo and what collaborations they would like to initiate. I met with members of the African American and Hispanic/Latinx community; members of the deaf, hard of hearing, and blind communities; minority business owners; etc. I am infusing their wishes and desires into the strategic decisions I am making. I am sharing those ideas with my zoo colleagues, and we are approaching access and inclusion as a TEAM.

How can a small company address diversity? What are some of the first steps companies should take?
Ask yourself who your stakeholders are—both internally and externally. Do they reflect the demographics of your town, state, region or country? You need to know if you are doing everything you can to grow your audience or incorporate new stakeholders and customers. Conduct focus groups with diverse communities. I realize budget and funding for audience research can be a barrier for smaller businesses. Larger corporations can pay for consultants and marketing firms, which may not be an option for your small business now. However, even hosting informal focus groups can be beneficial. Partner with professors or graduate students who can assist you in these endeavors. They may be researching some of the things you want to know. For example, meet with constituents from different faith backgrounds—reach out to local churches, mosques and synagogues. Send out surveys about their experiences with your services or products. You may be surprised by what you discover. Peoples’ religious practices, cultural backgrounds, income, geographical location, and command of the English language all play a role in how they interact with your business, including their spending habits.

What are the benefits of diversity in your organization and for other organizations?
“Representation Matters” is more than a catchphrase at the Saint Louis Zoo. Whether it is the work we do onsite or our community outreach, the goal is for underrepresented people to see the Saint Louis Zoo not only as an attraction, but as a place to build careers. While we have a diverse staff, there are still professional areas and positions where African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and multiracial people are not represented. This is not unique to our zoo, but also the larger zoo and aquarium industry. We want youth of all backgrounds to see zookeeping, veterinary medicine, and other STEM-related fields as career options. Moreover, we hire people for positions that are unrelated to Animal Care, including the skilled trades. As the Saint Louis metropolitan area and our country become more diverse, we have an obligation to reflect that “beautiful mix” with the staff that greets you and the communities we serve.

Submitted 42 days ago
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