Throughout the country, numerous businesses are beginning to understand the necessity of having a person on their staff dedicated to the function of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).
There are many examples across Northwest Arkansas and the Fort Smith metro of organizations adding permanent DEI positions. Going back to April 2019, Arvest Bank announced the hiring of former Walmart executive LaTricia Hill-Chandler as the company’s first diversity and inclusion officer. Arvest has since added the “E” to her title, and she now has two people who report to her.
More frequently, it seems a new group announces a diversity-related position or program. Businesses, nonprofits and schools realize that just as you need accountants and marketing specialists, professionals must implement DEI programs.
Effective Jan. 19, John William Blue will become the first executive director of DEI at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith. In October, Edison Williams joined the University of Arkansas School of Law as the law school’s first DEI coordinator.
Also in October, John Brown University in Siloam Springs announced a new Office of Diversity, headed by Ted Song. This past summer, the city of Bentonville announced the Bentonville Together initiative to focus on diversity and inclusion in the city.
Those are only a few examples of organizations doing more to be intentional in their inclusion efforts. Others are in the process of hiring DEI-related positions or adding jobs in that area. Rod Bigelow is the chief diversity and inclusion officer at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. The organization is currently advertising to fill the job of director of inclusion and belonging.
The job posting says the role is committed to advancing the institution’s DEI strategy internally and externally.
“The role plays a critical part in leading our institution to becoming an anti-racist institution,” the job description says.
Also in Bentonville, the Walton Family Foundation is in the hiring process to bring a DEI coordinator on board. The director of inclusion and equity “will provide leadership, knowledge and vision that will embed a strong DEI focus in the foundation’s work,” according to the foundation’s website. The position will report to the executive director, Caryl Stern.
“I am excited to bring in someone with a substantive background in building equity and inclusion,” Stern said. “This position will assist our program directors in embedding these values to have a more significant impact.”
Some organizations may not have the resources to employ a full-time DEI position, but there are other available opportunities. The Northwest Arkansas Council, one of the region’s most influential nonprofits, is offering support through learning and development opportunities. The council’s EngageNWA program recently partnered with five regional chambers of commerce to launch the NWA DEI Business Cohort.
According to Nate Green, the council’s communications director, 15 small- to mid-sized businesses in the region are getting customized training and expertise focused on actionable strategies. That includes a DEI framework to assess key business policies and practices, forming an individualized DEI plan and the tools and resources to implement and sustain the plan over time.
The cohort will also connect business leaders to a community of peers interested in learning and implementing DEI practices in the workplace.
In the transportation and logistics industry, J.B. Hunt Transport Services announced in December it is providing $2.25 million to the University of Arkansas’ Sam M. Walton College of Business that will, in part, support DEI efforts.
“The transportation industry has changed so much in the last decade that fresh, innovative thinking is necessary for developing modern solutions,” said John Roberts, president and CEO of J.B. Hunt. “Through this collaboration, we will help educate and promote the value of an inclusive workplace, one that respects the individual and creates a welcoming environment for all ideas, values and beliefs.”
TRUE Northwest Arkansas, an initiative supported by the Walmart Foundation and Walton Family Foundation, is helping 14 local organizations bolster their DEI efforts. In 2019, the organizations completed TRUE’s nine-month TRAIN program, where they participated in peer-learning opportunities and expert-led coaching sessions.
The foundations will now provide a combined $1.2 million to help grantees implement individualized DEI plans. The support is part of TRUE’s commitment to ensure all Northwest Arkansas community members can thrive and feel included.