Spokane Journal of Business

The Journal’s View: Diversity needs to become part of Spokane’s ongoing dialogue

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Diversity, inclusion, and fairness need to become a central part of the Spokane business community’s ongoing dialogue. 

In the wake of George Floyd’s death and the resulting movements for police reform and social change, the private sector needs to play an active role in developing an environment in which people of color are treated equally by employers and institutions, including law enforcement.

If you think that environment already exists, you aren’t listening. 

For this to happen, white people must play a larger role in making sure the subject remains a priority, compelling conversations about race without controlling them.  

Why? It’s pretty simple. Census data show that Spokane County is 89% white and 2% African American. In raw numbers, that’s roughly 465,800 and 10,500 people, respectively. Unlike jobs, property values, and other statistics that paint a picture of what Spokane is, population by race isn’t going to change dramatically. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up over it, but we should be mindful of the facts and cognizant of the role we can play in hearing the concerns of our nonwhite neighbors and affecting necessary change. 

If we don’t make diversity and fairness a central part of our conversation proactively, here’s what happens. Eventually, the marches will stop being news, then they stop altogether. Issues concerning race and law enforcement fall out of the general public’s purview, and little, if anything, changes, including the prevalence of racism. 

That would be a disservice to people of color in general—and especially to those we’ve propped up as examples of diversity in the Spokane area. A handful of African-American leaders and professionals have served as ambassadors for the Inland Northwest in business-recruitment videos and other promotional materials through the years. They’ve been there when we, as a community, needed them. We should be there now when they are feeling exposed, potentially in danger, and have a message in need of support. 

A business case can be made for the importance of diversity in leadership and in the workforce. A growing body of research suggests diversity in backgrounds and opinions can lead to more positive outcomes and have a tangible return on investment for an organization. That, coupled with a moral obligation, should make a compelling argument for action. 

In recent years, the Spokane business community has placed a focus on women in leadership and spurred conversations about how to get more women into C-suite positions. A number of groups have formed, rallying around professional women. Prior to the pandemic, one could find an event or workshop on the subject routinely. 

Such conversations about race likely would look different than conversations about women in business. They might not be driven by the private sector, but perhaps they should. Either way, business leaders can play a role in making sure they occur and stay top of mind. 

In light of recent events, it’s a logical step to take. And the right thing to do.

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