Diversity Equity & Inclusion 2021

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Welcome to IBJ’s fourth annual “Business Cares: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion” microsite.

This year we hear from a variety of local business leaders about steps taken and challenges faced on the road to a more diverse, equitable and inclusive Indianapolis.

  • Katz Sapper & Miller President and CEO Tim Cook challenges other company leaders who look like him to act decisively. He offers five steps they can take to make genuine progress on the DEI front.
  • Citizens Energy Group CEO Jeffrey Harrison updates us on Business Equity for Indy, an initiative he chairs that has the support of 80 local executives who want to build a more equitable Indy economy.
  • Adrian Russell, director of diversity, equity & inclusion/procurement at Shiel Sexton Co., makes the case that the construction industry’s labor shortage isn’t a numbers problem, it’s a diversity problem.
  • Community Health Network President and CEO Bryan Mills says equal access to health care is a challenge that must be tackled on multiple fronts.
  • Selfless.ly co-founder Joshua Driver discusses the obstacles faced by LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs and how the broader community can support them.
  • Kelli Jones, co-founder of Sixty8 Capital, poses questions that well-meaning companies should ask themselves if they are truly trying to forward the cause of equity and inclusion.
  • You’ll also find: a success story from Easterseals Crossroads that makes the case for hiring people with disabilities, a resource guide from Central Indiana Community Foundation about race and racism in America, and a by-the-numbers look at the benefits of a diverse workforce.
  • Speaking of DEI resources, you might also be interested in the newest IBJ podcast, The Freedom Forum with Angela B. Freeman. The podcast will explore the intersection of business, race, and gender. Look for it later this summer.

Thanks to the 79 companies and organizations listed below that sponsored this important section of IBJ. Their investment will fund a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion awareness campaign throughout the month of July via print, digital and e-newsletter platforms. We hope you’ll support them as they join all of us in working toward a more diverse, equitable and inclusive Indianapolis.

Nate Feltman
Publisher, President & CEO

Ongoing Events

February 5
National Wear Red Day On National Wear Red Day, thousands of people, including employees at more than 10,000 companies across the country, will wear red to support the start of American Heart Month. This year is the 20th annual National Wear Red Day. Post a picture of yourself wearing red using the hashtag #IndyGoesRed and tag @AHAIndiana on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

February 5
Go Red Goes STEM The American Heart Association will host its third annual STEM event for local high school students. Students will learn about STEM opportunities from local companies and will participate in live Q&A and mentoring sessions with representatives of those companies.

February 7–14
Congenital Heart Defects Awareness Week Congenital heart defects affect nine of every 1,000 births and are one of the leading causes of death for infants less than 1 year of age. Thanks to years of research and medical advancements many congenital heart defects can be fixed.

February 26
Go Red for Women Digital Experience (Indianapolis) 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. / Zoom The 17th annual Go Red for Women celebration will be a digital experience in 2021. In addition to hearing from heart disease survivors, guests will be treated to a keynote address by Kathryn Childers, one of the first five women hired by the U.S. Secret Service. For more information, visit www.heart.org/indygoesred.

“If you are White and want to be part of the solution, take initiative, and get informed. Read books. Watch documentaries. Listen to podcasts. Gather your friends and family and go on learning journeys. Also, support Black- and Brown-owned businesses, Black- and Brown-led not-for-profits and Black and Brown colleagues. Make a courageous effort to begin trustworthy relationships with Black and Brown neighbors, even if you don’t have any in your immediate neighborhood. Hoosier Hospitality means all Hoosiers are our neighbors. I know you are afraid you are going to say something stupid, and you are right. You will. I have and, sometimes, still do. That’s where the little bit of courage comes in. It’s also where radical grace is usually offered by our Black and Brown neighbors who really still believe we White people will someday do the right thing.”
—Brian Payne, president and CEO

Tools for Accountability

Below are recommended books, documentaries, podcasts, and learning journeys that have influenced the CICF staff and our knowledge about race and racism in America:

How Those in Charge Can Spark Change

By Tim Cook

What does a middle-aged, white-guy CEO who has lived most of his life in a suburban metro area know about diversity, equity, and inclusion?

The answer is, not much.

“Not much” doesn’t make me unique to most other CEOs. The majority of us grew up during the same or similar era, share a common ethnicity and gender, and don’t have much insight into what it means to be a person of color or not male.

We also hold most of the power in the business world.

Some change agents view “too old, too white, and too male” as a hopeless albatross on the necks of chief executives. But many of us within this demographic want to see meaningful progress. Our challenge is to act decisively, but where do we start? Here are some steps you should take:

Put people from underrepresented groups in leadership positions that carry real authority.

Of all the actions CEOs can take, empowering our diverse workforces with the authority to make important decisions is the most impactful. This is where real transformation can happen. We need to put employees of diverse backgrounds and perspectives in charge of our most critical teams and assignments, insist on their input when hiring new employees, and add them to our boards of directors.

Be authentic, not a cynic.

When civil unrest ignited across the country last year with George Floyd’s murder, my firm, Katz, Sapper & Miller, knew expressing support for racial equity and justice would be an easy thing to do. But we also knew that we had to do more than check a public relations box. As a firm, we backed our message of support with a redoubled commitment to DEI. We know we have much more work to do, but through our internal and external actions we have committed to making our policies and community engagement match our rhetoric.

Look within and take bold action.

Pointing out where other firms’ DEI efforts fall short might make us feel better about ourselves, but the much tougher task is taking a hard look in the mirror at ourselves. When we can’t find job candidates from underrepresented groups, are we going to pat ourselves on the back for trying, or are we going to keep looking until we find them? Will we try to make personal connections with all of our employees, or just the ones who remind us of ourselves? When we meet with a job candidate from a marginalized group and wonder if they’re a cultural fit, are we going to ask if the issue is with the candidate or with our culture? Letting ourselves off the hook is not an option.

Blend bold action with humility.

For self-proclaimed know-it-alls, smugness is not a great teacher, especially when trying to persuade others against beliefs grounded in highly charged emotions. If Hollywood award shows have taught us anything, it’s that sermons don’t soften hearts. The DEI cause is not about asserting righteousness at the expense of progress; it’s about moving the ball forward and making a difference.

Commit to a lifetime of listening and learning.

A long list of accomplished business leaders can attribute some measure of their success to following their gut, but the intuition of CEOs on DEI matters often misses the mark. We don’t know all the answers, nor do we have the life experience or biological blueprint to know what all the questions should be. We can never listen for too long or learn all there is to know. Acknowledging and owning our blind spots is the first step in a lifetime journey to creating richer opportunities for everyone.

On matters of diversity, I wish I was speaking from a position of earned accomplishment. Unfortunately, my own track record has often been one of “physician, heal thyself.” When I look at my history and that of KSM, it is well-intended but imperfect.

Each CEO has to make their own decision on what role DEI will play in the culture of their company.

For KSM, I believe we have a special obligation to engage in this effort that goes to the very roots of our firm. I can only imagine the anti-Semitism our founder Irv Katz endured in 1940s Indianapolis. At a dark point in world history, his religious faith was Ground Zero in the fight for humanity.

This history serves as a reminder that there are countless Irv Katzes out there, those encountering discrimination and barriers because of their religion, gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, or other characteristic. It fortifies our call to promote DEI within KSM and to champion it in our communities. It’s a challenge we boldly and humbly accept.

Tim Cook is president and CEO of Katz, Sapper & Miller, a consulting, tax, and audit firm headquartered in Indianapolis

Embracing the Journey as We Design a New World of Accountability

By Jeffrey Harrison

What happens when you bring together 80 executive leaders from small- to large-sized companies, various grassroot communities of color, and small Black businesses, all with one purpose: to advance racial equity? You learn a lot!

This effort, Business Equity for Indy, started because of a racial reckoning. We keep going because we cannot dispute the data and disparate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color.

There is a nearly $30,000 gap in median family income for the Black community. Seventy percent of Black students continue to fail state standardized tests in Indianapolis. Black people have experienced double-digit unemployment for an entire decade. Over the past five years, more than 100 Black males have been killed in Indianapolis annually.

Beyond embracing the data and research, for the first time we are challenging ourselves as business leaders and decision-makers to do more than just strengthen our commitments; we are working together to solve problems. We have the money and resources to do more, and it is our responsibility as a business community to step up and remove barriers, reduce disparities, and expand access. Here is how we are approaching this critical work:

Collaborating. We are bringing together business and grassroots leaders to reinforce a bias for action while leveraging and accelerating the good work already established in this space. We are proud to partner with the Indianapolis Urban League and build new community relationships along this journey.

“Since the beginning, the Indianapolis Urban League has been at the table with the Indy Chamber and the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, and we are optimistic about the opportunities for African Americans and other people of color that will result from the work of Business Equity for Indy and collaborative efforts of our community’s engaged corporate, civic, and community leaders,” said Tony Mason, president of the Indianapolis Urban League. “This is an unprecedented opportunity for us to work together to craft long-term and sustainable solutions to improve the quality of living for African Americans and other people of color, making Indianapolis a place where more can live and thrive.”

Creating. We are creating space for accountability and consistency across the region by shifting mindsets and following through on our commitments. A key component here is changing business behaviors and how we operate. This means making it easier for small businesses to do business with larger corporations and within the ecosystem.

“As a best practice, we always work with minority-owned companies to ensure that they have opportunities regardless of bid requirements. We focus on educating and networking with small businesses through pre-bid events and webinars to ensure they are set up for success. Collaborating with other minority organizations as we build up our pipeline helps us develop a stronger and more inclusive workforce,” said Morayma Da Silva, vice president of diversity & inclusion at Infrastructure & Energy Alternatives Inc., an Indy based construction and engineering company.

Investing. We are investing in priorities such as our five taskforce areas: Hiring and Promotions (eliminating hurdles to improve Indy’s workforce), Procurement and Participation (increasing the launch, growth, and success of Black-owned businesses), Learning and Talent (training, educating, and providing access to key resources), Impediments to Health (addressing access and funding disparities related to COVID-19 vaccinations, maternal health, and food security), and Public Policy (engaging and supporting the community in effective advocacy efforts).

We know we cannot achieve these things in a vacuum and must also listen to lived experiences and empower communities of color by meeting them where they are. We are excited to have Black entrepreneurs on our Procurement and Participation taskforce to help guide our strategic planning.

Consider this testimonial from Jarvis Jointer, president of local engineering firm JQOL. “I launched JQOL here in 2019 with the mission of ‘improving the quality of life through engineering.’ In 2020, the global pandemic hit, so most people and organizations were focused on surviving and making it through the next day, which left new companies and organizations to figure things out for themselves. Being able to be a part of the Business Equity Initiative, I was able to bring light to my story, my vision, and my struggles, and the right people were around the table to listen and take action. Efforts have been made to help the JQOL organization, even before our final recommendations were delivered. The outcome of this committee is very promising!”

There is incredible value in having multiple organizations working toward the same goal. As our organizations advance equity internally, we have also challenged each other to come together as an incubator to move the needle together.

Cummins Inc. is one such organization working toward this goal.

“I am continuously humbled by the commitment of Cummins and the more than 350 employees who give their time, energy, and talents to further our Cummins Advocating for Racial Equity (CARE) initiative. Through the dedication of our leaders, teams, and strong partnerships, CARE has invested more than $18.8 million across our priority areas of economic empowerment, criminal justice, social justice, and police reform,” said Fernando Herndon, executive director for External Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives at Cummins. “While we recognize there is much work to be done, our core value of diversity and inclusion and long history of fighting for social justice leave me confident that we will continue pressing forward.”

As you hear more about BEI, know that we are a work in progress. We are a collective of business and community stakeholders on a mission to advance racial equity and justice in our city by collaborating, creating, and investing in communities of color, because we have broken systems and processes that need to be fixed. Over the next several months and years, our goal is to engage Black people and communities of color in our process and make large-scale changes across our region.

We will be investing time, money, and resources, but more importantly, beyond writing checks, we are looking at the impact of how we are improving the quality of people’s lives. Although this progress seems to move slower than we hope at times, our management committee and community partners are committed to immediate and long-term solutions as we build a more equitable future. We look forward to sharing more ways to get involved with BEI soon.

Harrison is president and CEO of Citizens Energy Group and chair of Business Equity for Indy.

Diversity Can Ease Construction-Industry Labor Woes

By Adrian Russell

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Wise words, first offered by Benjamin Franklin, which we have often heard repeated. Yet, amidst a global pandemic and in a world where we long to return to some form of normalcy, how can one plan while facing an uncertain future?

Make no mistake, what unites us all is the fact the pandemic has ushered in new levels of uncertainty. Whether it concerns the economy, our finances, health—even relationships, much of what lies ahead remains uncertain.

While planning into a cloudy future may seem like an almost-impossible notion, for one bedrock industry in particular, meaningful steps forward may be considerably more feasible.

The construction industry nationwide finds itself in what some may describe as a historically unprecedented and troubling position.

On one hand, skyrocketing materials costs partnered with unrelenting demand, supply chain woes, challenges in transporting goods, and lengthened lead times threaten to derail the industry’s expected 2021 resurgence. On the other hand, the industry faces one of the most significant labor shortages it has ever experienced. It’s been more than a decade since the Great Recession, but many workers at all levels of the industry that departed from the workforce have not since returned. In the here and now, those reaching the age of retirement often conclude their careers with no one ready to step into their place.

Make no mistake, these two extraordinary challenges in some ways touch us all and, if left unattended, will affect future generations and our shared quality of life. A depressed construction industry results in limited new structures in which to live, work, play, travel and enjoy. It also causes existing structures to fall into disrepair.

I can certainly speak to the labor shortage.

During my time in the field managing projects across America, I’ve unfortunately experienced both sides of the opposing paradox. Countless times, I’ve knowingly far overpaid for services in an attempt to keep a job on schedule. When desperate to find qualified and willing individuals to perform the work, your ability to control costs, enforce schedules, and make sure everyone makes it home safe to their families is in many ways compromised. It is a high-wire and frustrating practice presenting many risks: overtaxed workers, poor quality, an unhappy client, and frayed relationships.

In spite of our considerable labor challenges and in an industry heavily invested in securing its future by replenishing its workforce, many are left on the outside knocking on the door.

I carry with me an experience of meeting a middle-aged gentleman in Orlando by the name of Malcolm. He is one of the nicest, most tender, hardworking and charming individuals I have ever encountered.

The entire project team was under the gun, with immense pressure to deliver a successful project to a top client. I was a project manager and Malcolm was an on-call temporary laborer who happened to be African American. In him, I gained much more than the tireless and trustworthy help he provided. I gained a real friend.

One day, while working after hours to assist Malcolm with a painstaking task, we found ourselves in a conversation in which he spoke of how encouraged he was to see someone his same skin color in my position at such a young age. He said he felt as proud as if I were his own son. Like a father would, he offered advice on what to watch out for, stating that being from Mississippi, he’d “seen it all.”

As things got quiet and we picked up the pace in order to get done, I mustered up enough courage to ask what I hoped would not offend. How, at his age, could he still be in an entry level position? He sheepishly replied, “I don’t know … I guess I’ve never been given a chance.”

If you take the time and ask the right questions, you will encounter such stories offered by men and women at all levels who don’t reflect what many assume to be the prototype for the industry. Those individuals represent untapped communities starved of opportunity and grossly underrepresented in an industry desperate for people.

This is the story of real people who, like Malcolm, have experienced this unfortunate reality at every step.

Those with an interest must understand that a critical shortage of talent in the construction industry is not simply a numbers problem, but rather, a diversity problem.

Allowing this to persist at this juncture is not only irresponsible, it’s frankly bad for business.

Russell is director of diversity, equity, and inclusion/procurement at Shiel Sexton Co.

An Urban Design Perspective on Equitable Community Inclusion

By Ramon Morrison

Regardless of political philosophy, the time has come for intentionality in progressing and addressing the ideas of diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout our communities. While some are for, some are against, and some are indifferent, the heightened commitment to realize diversity and inclusion is encouraging on multiple fronts.

While genuine strides have indeed been made, much more can be done. The symptoms of historically extreme social and economic inequality restrict the economy for everyone. Creating inclusive community equity within our cities and neighborhoods is an essential remedy.

But what does inclusive community equity yield? 1.) Enhanced capacity for community development organizations; 2.) A community empowered to have agency, input, and influence on outcomes within their neighborhoods; 3.) Neighborhood-based resources and tools that are focused on the unique needs of historically under-resourced groups; and 4.) Innovative pathways and programs that reach, teach, incubate, and undergird the building of diverse inclusive economic engines in communities of color.

Without question, such investments could yield generational benefit to families and neighborhood small businesses alike.

Equitable inclusion illuminates that we all have more in common than what separates us, and intentionally inclusive engagement can be a highly effective bridge. Noted economists state that creating more balance between the haves and historical have-nots is not a zero-sum game that negatively impacts those who have historically had more. “More” is broadly defined in the socio-economic context as influencing access to resources and privilege.

How do we get there from here? Part of the answer is found in a proverb that teaches “… in all thy getting, get understanding.” Another part of the answer is found in the translation of the Zulu term “Unbuntu,” meaning “I am because you are.” The literal translation means that a person is a person through other people.

If the rising tide lifts every boat, then the rising tide of economic revitalization occurring in historically under-resourced neighborhoods of color should also lift every boat in the community. The community leaders, planners and designers in these communities must guard against neighborhood displacement while ushering in a variety of mutually beneficial amenities, housing types, income levels and community resources to insure a sustainable thriving neighborhood.

Consider then that equitable community inclusion actually adds to the whole of us all. I submit again that it is not a zero-sum game. Community equity will help empower both those who own and those who aspire to own boats, navigate the economic tide, and positively impact the racial generational wealth gap that impedes individual health, and a healthy community economy.

Which comes first, the need, the desire, or the commitment? In the hierarchy of community development, the role of city leadership is as essential as the community organizations with whom its missions must align. The most critical task of city leadership, community planners and designers in neighborhoods targeted for revitalization is active listening. Active listening can often lead to deeper mutual understanding.

To reach mutual understanding and to assist communities in the strategic planning and implementation of inclusive community equity, the planning firms, the urban designers, the architects, landscape architects and the engineers must demonstrate a commitment to a richness of diversity and collaboration.

Are those who are tasked with designing and planning our communities and neighborhoods representative of the communities and neighborhoods they design and plan for? Do these firms demonstrate a history of inclusive collaboration without being required to?

Equitable inclusion is not a zero-sum game.

There’s wisdom in this quote, sometimes attributed to Maya Angelou: “An honest enemy is always better than a friend who lies. Pay less attention to what people say, and more attention to what they do. Their actions will show you the truth.”

In all our getting, let’s first get understanding.

Morrison is a founding partner/principal of Meticulous Design + Architecture (meticulousda.com), a diverse global design firm based in Indianapolis with offices in Abu Dahbi, UAE. Meticulous’ staff of 20 represents 10 different nationalities.

Addressing the Challenges of DEI in Health Care

By Bryan Mills

Enhancing health and well-being across the community, which is the mission of Community Health Network, encompasses many interrelated challenges. It takes a wide-ranging effort to fulfill this mission in a way that respects diversity, ensures equity and promotes inclusion.

Our organization has for years maintained a special focus on the challenges of diversity, equity and inclusion in the work of health and well-being. We believe we have a responsibility as a major Indiana non-profit organization to help our society address these complex and systemic issues.

In our experience, DEI in health care must be viewed through multiple lenses, all of which are vital for moving forward. That means working for progress as a major local employer, making a positive impact as a provider of health-care services, and standing as an example and civic leader in the community.

Focusing on DEI first as an employer is essential because it sets the stage for the rest of the work. The patient experience that a health-care organization delivers is made possible by the organization’s employee experience, and the employee population must reflect and respect the diversity of the community.

To build a DEI-centric employee experience, Community has for years incorporated diversity training and related education. This includes instructor-led and mandatory online education that, among other things, focuses on recognizing the inherent biases we all naturally bring to the table—related to such differences as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, gender identity, age, language, education or disability.

Building a diverse and inclusive workplace also means ensuring opportunities for all. At Community, we’re doubling down on examining where we excel and where we must grow, in terms of advancement and leadership, all the way up to and including the independent boards of directors that oversee our organization. We continue to add career-ladder and scholarship programs to help open doors and have for years operated vocational programs that create training and job opportunities for area high-schoolers with disabilities.

This work also requires a commitment to self-examination. We have conducted listening sessions to surface employee concerns in the area of DEI, and also engaged an outside consultant to assess where we are and where we need to be. We’re now receiving the results and look forward to addressing the opportunities the assessment is uncovering.

The second vital area of focus is as a provider of health care. Community’s mission states that we’re here to enhance health and well-being across the communities we serve, and we recognize that our nation’s health-care system has historically suffered from inequities in both access and outcomes. There’s more and more data on a nationwide basis showing disparities in insurance coverage, the prevalence of chronic health conditions, access to mental health services, and death rates from such things as cancer and heart disease.

In response, we presently have teams of internal experts assessing the issues and exploring the data, nationally and locally. Our task forces are researching best practices and exploring what changes we should adopt to reduce inequities in such areas as cancer screenings and care, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and overall access to care.

As with our focus on DEI as an employer, much of this work has been on our radar for years. For example, we’ve continually improved our language services to remove potential barriers to better outcomes and are always exploring how we can improve our cultural competencies to reflect the specific, diverse population groups seeking our care. We’ve launched collaborative efforts with other stakeholders addressing such issues as infant mortality, a significant issue locally that has put a spotlight on racial and ethnic health disparities.

Community also has long been focused on the many social determinants that can impact health, from transportation challenges to food insecurity to legal issues, and we’ve created new programs to address these issues. Most recently, we’ve pioneered a new screening process to ensure our patients with social needs don’t fall through the cracks.

This focus on social needs also is part of the third important area of addressing DEI in health care—responsibility as a major corporate citizen. Community has long supported and partnered with local organizations working on behalf of diverse citizen groups, and we have encouraged our employees to take part in many thousands of hours of volunteer service, including work in food pantries, community gardens, and health screening events targeting disadvantaged communities.

The importance of leading as a corporate citizen also resulted in a groundbreaking joint commitment with some of our peers in health care: Eskenazi Health and Indiana University Health. Our organizations last fall pledged to work tirelessly to eliminate systemic racism and address a wide range of social and economic inequities that impact health.

We’re encouraged that our past work in DEI has put us on a solid path, most recently recognized by Forbes, which ranked Community 29th in the nation and highest in Indiana among the best employers for diversity. But we recognize that the challenges of DEI in health care are deep, cultural and systemic. A long road lies ahead in understanding and addressing those challenges.

Mills is president and CEO of Community Health Network.

LGBTQ+ Entrepreneurs Aren’t Just ‘Chasing Rainbows’

By Joshua Driver

It was wonderful last month to see the rainbow flags and temporary logo changes as we celebrated Indy Pride. I love seeing the additions of pronouns in email signatures and increased representation in the media and government—and in the C-Suite. In addition, a new LGBTQ exchange-traded fund recently launched on Wall Street and is already outperforming the S&P 500.

It’s important to note that the progress represented by all of these positive developments grew out of the unique challenges LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs have faced and continue to face when starting a business.

The challenges for an LGBTQ+ entrepreneur

—”Great company but concerned that your sexual orientation may be a distraction.”

—”My only feedback on your pitch deck is that you should remove your NGLCC (National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce) logo, so you do not out yourself.”

—”Nobody cares that you are gay, investors just want to make their money back.”

—”We do not invest in founders that live your lifestyle.”

These are quotes I’ve received over the last three years from potential investors and venture capital groups. In a few cases, we never even had an opportunity to pitch the company. Yes, some of these comments are local. I hear similar stories like this from other entrepreneurs too frequently.

Let me be clear: I come from a place of significant privilege. I am a white cisgender male with a supportive husband at home and an invaluable network of advisors. I also benefit from my previous successes in Indianapolis and heightened visibility that came from those efforts.

No doubt, it is an exciting time to be an entrepreneur. It’s even more exciting for our community to see people like ourselves become successful. And we are very aware of the strategic marketing opportunities pride celebrations can bring. Companies can provide authentic support of the LGBTQ+ community by providing assistance in several ways. They can connect us with subject matter experts, provide mentorship opportunities, and open the doors to networks that we may not otherwise be able to access.

With the creation of new funds like the Pride Fund 1 from LOUD Capital in Columbus, Ohio, and Sixty8 Capital’s new fund for Black, Brown, Women, and LGBTQ+ -led startups in Indianapolis— we are seeing opportunities increase for our community to start a business and potentially get funding to become the next “unicorn.” The intentionality of these funds focused on underrepresented founders creates a safe space for new entrepreneurs and also provides the supplementary support for founders to become successful. This is a fantastic step in the right direction and an opportunity for Indiana to add to its ranks of diverse leaders.

But these courageous founders need more than just a check. We need investors, mentors, and advisors who can lead us to the resources our companies need to hit the next milestone. We need support structures built for the challenges ahead—and people with the inspiration and resources to get us where we need to be.

The benefits an LGBTQ+ founder brings

The benefits of supporting an LGBTQ+ founder FAR outweigh the challenges. Our community supports each other. According to a recent study by LGBT Capital, it is estimated that our community has more than $3.7 trillion in global buying power. This is a significant audience. If you are a certified LGBTBE (LGBT Business Enterprise), there is unique access to supplier diversity initiatives and a deeper talent pool of employee candidates.

Several companies even provide discounts on products and services for LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs to grow their companies. Considering the founder’s background, you know that you have a founder that has faced adversity “head-on” and found a way to overcome barriers to get to where they are now. This creates a strong case for resilience and innovation.

How we can support LGBTQ+ Entrepreneurs

Believe it or not, we have all the tools here locally that we need. Become a mentor or angel investor through inclusive organizations like gBETA, Endeavour, The Startup Ladies, Out in Tech’s Indianapolis Chapter, and NEXT Studios. If you are part of a company, create corporate innovation opportunities, partnerships, or pro-bono assistance to help. Support local LGBTQ+ organizations like Indiana Youth Group, Trinity Haven, Indy Pride, and Indy Rainbow Chamber of Commerce—to name a few. And finally, advocate on behalf of us by asking our local venture studios, venture capitalists, and startup community leaders to build welcoming and accessible programs for our entrepreneurs to take the first step.

There is still a massive disconnect between our biggest local funds and the LGBTQ+ community. Increasing the visibility of completed funding rounds and company successes creates massive positive ripple effects in our community. This in turn inspires more of us to consider taking the leap and chasing the dream of starting our own business.

We can all agree that it truly takes a village to start a business, no matter who you are. My company would not be where it is today without the support of our great community. Please consider your support of LGBTQ+ founders here in Indiana and take a moment to think about what you can do that would make a dramatic difference for an LGBTQ+ business. Help us to finally “catch the rainbow.”

Driver is co-founder of Selfless.ly, which helps small and medium-sized businesses develop a purpose-driven culture through giving & volunteering.

Black Voices are Crucial to Inclusive Economic Development

By Kelli Jones

In the last year we have experienced an unprecedented change in the health and economy of our country, compounded by a racial reckoning that rivals the marches, protests, and battle cries for equity of 1968.

We, the Black community, are still aching for support, resources and, most importantly, equality more than ever. But what has changed? What has made this moment different? For the first time ever, we are seeing the public, private, government, corporate, and non-profit sectors come together to create solutions for real systems change. We see very concerted efforts to build a fully diverse, inclusive, and equitable society—a society where wealth gaps are addressed, and the topics of education, entrepreneurship, health, and housing are in the forefront.

However, there is still one thing missing: BELONGING. Black voices, storytellers, community advocates and grassroots organizations are not being engaged equitably. Unfortunately, this means that the sense of belonging still feels far away in our communities. If we are truly looking to build the solution to problems that go back over 300 years, institutions, funders, corporations, and governments must ensure that Black people and Black organizations are not only at the table but have a sense of belonging. That means fully involving them in decisions, execution, and funding strategies. Black people must be the central decision makers for systems-level change.

Here are four ways to get there:

1. Capacity & Impact. For many large institutions, this is the first time they have dedicated funding, resources, and a thoughtful strategy to creating actionable and sustainable efforts toward racial equity. However, what is often missing are the people and organizations that were committing themselves daily to these efforts way before they became our collective focus. There is a unique opportunity to do something truly different. It is no longer fair to invite representatives of the community to your meetings for their insight and opinions to help build your strategies without their participation. For best results, you must ask: How can we help you, through funding, to scale and sustain your efforts? How can we help you reach new regions? How can our team volunteer and connect directly with your audience? Who else can we leverage to help build your capacity? Are there others we should introduce you to?

2. Replication: You might find that a group or organization is doing exactly what you’re contemplating doing. Here you have a choice: Do you boil the ocean and take on another project, which will likely go to one of your employees who may not have the bandwidth to execute it? OR do you find ways to maximize efforts already underway by investing in their work. Many times, organizations don’t need promotion or to be “lifted up.” Sometimes the difference between serving 20 people or 1,000 truly comes down to resources and opportunities created by institutions with the capacity to help. Questions you should ask: Is there a local group or organization that is doing similar work? If so, is there room to help them build something new to add on to their existing efforts? Where are the gaps and how can we help fill them? Can we help them with strategies and efforts to create more sustainability?

3. Cultural Competency: Above all else, there is a unique cultural language, style, and competency that is uniquely addressed via Black-led organizations that serve Black people. This cannot be ignored when developing your strategies for inclusive impact. Many times, we’ll find that larger, White-led organizations that are actively looking to seek change will create a program to serve a particular community without a team, board, or leadership that is representative of that community. It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean you should hire one person or engage one organization as a partner to check the diversity and inclusion box. What it does mean is listening, directly engaging, and equitably partnering (with resources, funding, and expertise), with organizations that are actively and successfully serving the community directly. You must be in the trenches to do this work.

Questions to ask: Are we directly serving this population in a culturally competent way? Are there organizations we can support that are already in the community serving this population in an engaging way? What can we learn and how can we get better by engaging them directly in our efforts?

4. Systems Change & Institution Building: We cannot create systems without a flipped funnel. In an upright funnel, everyone enters through the top, but what comes out is a slow trickle of change. This can no longer be our strategy. When we flip the funnel, we see overarching goals sitting at the top, and opportunities for engagement getting broader at the bottom. This is only possible if we actively and equitably bringing more people to the table to collaborate and create more impact.

Also, what is grassroots today might, in only a few years, become large-institution building. We have to ask ourselves, are we looking to have one person or group do all the work, or do we want to see a collaborative and collective ecosystem solving problems across the entire spectrum?

Considering these four principles can almost immediately increase the impact of organizations that touch the very community you seek to serve. The name of the game is capacity building and speed. We are all after the same goals, however it is almost impossible for large organizations to uniquely solve these issues alone. Going it alone is an attempt to “boil the ocean” and can waste time and impact. I call this sentiment augmented privilege. Using your place, privilege, funding, knowledge, and relationships to create opportunities for others. So how will you use your privilege to grow impact in our community?

Kelli Jones is the co-founder of Sixty8 Capital, a seed-stage fund shining a light on undercapitalized founders and innovators.

The Benefits of Employing People with Disabilities

Content provided by Easterseals Crossroads

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates more than 61 million adults in the United States have a disability—that’s one in four people. And hiring individuals with disabilities benefits both the employer and the employee.

A study by the National Library of Medicine, “A Systematic Review of the Benefits of Hiring People with Disabilities,” found that employers who hired people with disabilities enjoyed improved profitability, enhanced competitive advantages and a more inclusive work culture. For people with disabilities, the benefits include an improved quality of life and income, enhanced self-confidence, an expanded social network and increased independence.

“People with disabilities, in particular, bring a unique set of experiences and skills to the workplace, and a lot of that has to do with their overcoming adversity in their own lives,” said Easterseals Crossroads President and CEO David Dreith. “In central Indiana, we’re noticing more businesses hiring for diversity. And not just because that’s good for the community, but because it makes great business sense.

“We serve, advocate and empower individuals, regardless of where or how they come to us,” Dreith said. “Disability knows no boundaries in terms of race, religion or how an individual identifies. Our focus is always on the individual needs of people with disabilities and their families.”

In 2020, Easterseals Crossroads took part in a virtual program featuring Aaron Likens, an ambassador for Easterseals Crossroads who is on the autism spectrum. Diagnosed with autism at age 20, Likens is an award-winning public speaker and author of “Finding Kansas: Living and Decoding Asperger’s Syndrome.” He’s also a former resident of Indianapolis, a huge auto racing fan and a professional auto racing flagman.

“I’ve been involved in motorsports for more than 25 years, and last year I finally got the chance to be part of the IndyCar team,” Likens said. Now an official starter for the NTT IndyCar Series, Likens was in the flag stand for this year’s 105th running of the Indianapolis 500.

“To get the call up for what you’ve wanted your entire life, I’ll never be able to put into words just how much that means,” he said.

As an Easterseals Crossroads ambassador, Likens helps businesses better understand the value individuals with disabilities bring to the workplace as well as the need to include disability in their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion policies.

“A potential employee who has a disability, whether someone on the autism spectrum or someone with a physical disability, may be intimidated by the whole hiring process,” Likens said. “Asking for help—just requesting an application—may be extremely difficult for someone with a disability. Having an employer be aware of that and open to a more non-traditional interview process is a mutual benefit to both parties.” According to Likens, structure and mentoring within the workplace are vital to employees with disabilities.

“If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve only met one person with autism. And that applies to all people with disabilities,” Likens said. “What applies to one could have the opposite effect on another. For employers, it’s important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each employee, especially one with a disability. In the right environment, we will fly, but in another environment, we may have a difficult time being successful.”

“As a person on the autism spectrum, Aaron has a unique skill set that makes him perfect for the responsibilities of a flagman—he is focused, keenly attentive to details and committed to enforcing the rules consistently,” said IndyCar Senior Director of Technology Jon Koskey. “He is a great example of the successes that are possible when you follow your passion and embrace your strengths. We are fortunate to have him at IndyCar.”

“It’s just a smart business decision to hire someone with a disability,” Likens continued. “And organizations like Easterseals Crossroads that proactively reach out to employers can help educate employers and connect them to people with disabilities who have both passion and potential.”

“As businesses begin to diversify their workforce, Easterseals Crossroads is ready to meet employers in that journey,” Dreith said. “Whether it’s learning more about how to recruit, onboard, support and retain someone with a disability or you need consultation on making the work environment better, Easterseals can help.”

Easterseals Crossroads has been helping children, adults, families and veterans live more independent lives for 85 years by offering a variety of services that meet the needs of those in the community. It is both a challenge and an opportunity to make central Indiana a more inclusive place to live, learn, work and visit.