The Grand Rapids Chamber invites leaders to rise together

The issue of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in business is rising to the top for many organizations across West Michigan, as well as throughout the nation. Whether feeling pressure to address DEI or embracing it as a priority, concerns by those charged with executing a program are often the same.

The Grand Rapids Chamber has fielded requests for more training and tools regarding DEI, and 2022’s annual Diversity & Talent Summit acts definitely on those appeals. This year’s theme “Rise Together” will focus on igniting, implementing and innovating effective DEI. Held on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2at the J.W. Marriott Grand Rapids, the summit will feature a morning session running from 7:30 a.m.-12 p.m., with the added option to make it a full day, with afternoon workgroups forming from 1-4:30 p.m.

For some, there are still questions around why DEI initiatives are needed; for others, the benefits are clear, but the path to achieving it is hazy. The morning session of the summit aims to answer the why?, while the afternoon will concentrate on the how?

“We want folks to know that this summit is a direct response to feedback we’ve gotten over the years,” says Andre Daley, director of inclusion for the chamber. “We’re working with our members and the greater business community to understand what will be most helpful for them as they figure out how to do effective, sustainable and transformative DEI work.”

For this summit, Daley and his team have assembled an impressive lineup of speakers and presenters, as well as a highly engaged summit chair and experienced workgroup facilitators who will use a proven process developed by the Aspen Institute.

Christina Keller, president and CEO of Cascade Engineering, will serve as the summit chair and opening speaker. As the leader of a triple bottom line, B certified, and woman-owned business, she offers insight into creating a safe, healthy workforce that is boosted by opportunities for learning and development.

The event’s keynote speaker is Steve Robbins, Ph.D., chief “what if” officer at S.L. Robbins and Associates, who will focus on the innovating aspect of the summit’s theme. Robbins is based in Grand Rapids and has consulted with a number of global corporations, making him a highly regarded diversity speaker, trainer and implementer.

Angela Thompkins, vice president and chief diversity officer for Consumers Energy will talk about implementing DEI. Named a 2021 Top Diversity Officer by the Energy Inclusion, Thompkins’ leadership at Consumers Energy has elevated the company’s DEI initiatives, earning them recognition from a number of high-profile institutions.

Discussing igniting DEI will be Dr. Margaret Mary Wilson, MD, executive vice president and chief medical officer of UnitedHealth Group. Honored as one of the Top 100 Most Influential African Americans in Business by the National Diversity Council, Wilson has large-scale experience in fomenting DEI in significant and powerful ways.

Renée Cummings, data activist in residence and criminologist at University of Virginia School of Data Science, will be presenting during the afternoon workgroup session. Cummings is a digital AI specialist with expertise in applying equity in the AI and data collection space and using AI in a way that mitigates rather than creates bias.

Cummings’ insights are all the more reason to attend the full day. Attendees participating in the afternoon workgroups will be able to take all the inspiring and useful information they receive from speakers, work through the how?, and return to their organizations with a valuable toolkit.

“We believe this event will be a game changer for participants,” said Daley. “We have a lineup that can speak to every aspect of DEI from a variety of different perspectives, industries and groups. These learnings will provide the opportunity to be impactful in the business community as well as the community at large.”