“If you want to be a successful company in 2021, you need to be diverse,” said Ronald Roberts, managing partner at global marketing communications firm Finn Partners. Roberts led a recent discussion on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) as a part of Orange Umbrella’s new DEI initiative, Beyond the Umbrella.
Started by Mia Porter, Beyond the Umbrella seeks to educate the UM community “about what DEI is and what it means for companies,” said Naomy Lélis, a student and organizer for the event.
DEI initiatives essentially “create a safe environment for minority employees to be who they are,” Roberts said. According to Roberts, DEI is not simply a program. It is an initiative.
“A program is something that can be developed and put on a shelf and put away, but an initiative is a part of who you are and everything you do,” Roberts said. He added that, in order to strive for diversity in the workplace, companies must treat diverse employees with respect, “retain them, show them they’re valued and listen to their concerns.”
Roberts is a Tennessee native, graduating with a bachelor’s in broadcast journalism and a master’s in education from Middle Tennessee State University, where he also served as a professor for two and a half years.
Throughout his professional career, Roberts consistently leaped to the top of every company he worked for. He started at the Nashville Network as an intern and then became an assistant director, and he moved from assistant account executive to president and CEO of another company. He now serves as one of six managing partners at his agency, handling crisis communication and client retention.
When recounting his career, Roberts noted several instances throughout in which he was the only Black individual employed in various companies and programs. Building a career in Nashville meant that he spent a lot of his career “educating coworkers” and enduring hateful microaggressions. This inspired the CEO to strive for change in the workplace and educate others on DEI initiatives.
Roberts stressed that DEI results are measurable and observable over time. He said that while “it is easy to bring in diverse entry-level people,” a measurable goal is to “look at the senior levels and have diverse people at all levels.” The managing partner noted that companies can commit to several actions to ensure an inclusive working environment.
One example he stressed is unconscious bias training, a mandatory instruction at his former company. He said that a big issue is “companies claiming to want minority candidates” but saying that “they cannot find them.” Through unconscious bias training, they fix this “mindset issue” by exposing employees to situations in which job candidates were chosen simply for having “white-sounding names” in comparison to candidates with “Black-sounding names” who had resumes consisting of more experience.
“We have unconscious biases we don’t even know about and need to be taught how to look for those things,” Roberts said.
Another necessary strategy in DEI suggested by Roberts is to include a diverse set of people in minority outreach programs. “A truly strong DEI program has diverse people at the table planning it,” he said. Doing so ensures that the initiative addresses the concerns of the people it seeks to help.
Despite the urgency for DEI initiatives, Roberts is among many who are hopeful for the future of diversity in the workplace. He said he sees “larger companies being more intentional” and that in ten years, “conversations like the ones we’re having today will not be needed.”
Lélis recognized this shift in attitudes when she opened her Slack app immediately after the discussion, noticing that “students with different backgrounds went into their slack channels, saying they wanted more opportunities to speak how they feel.” Thanks to Roberts’s inspiration, people left the event knowing how to deal with DEI.
words_anjuli sharpley photo_courtesy orange umbrella miami