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Utah businesses can eliminate racism. Here’s where to start

Aerial view of Salt Lake City, Wednesday, March 9, 2016.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

We do so many things well here in Utah — things we are, rightfully, very proud of. But one thing we can never be proud of is racism, of any degree, in our community. The business community represented by the Utah Black Chamber and Salt Lake Chamber mourns the lives that have been lost because of police brutality, and the effects of racism and violence against the black community and people of color.

At this time when we are confronted with the painful reality of racism in our society, we recognize that words are not enough. We must be better active allies than we have in the past. We must do all we can in our sphere of influence to eliminate injustice and promote equality. We must listen to those who have been, and continue to be, deeply affected by racial injustice and discrimination.

Acknowledging areas of needed improvement as individuals, as businesses and as communities, can be uncomfortable. But rather than turn away from the difficult conversations, we should lean into them. We cannot let this moment pass without real action and real change.

We commit to ensuring that as a business community, we will actively listen to, learn about and willingly advocate for our communities of color.

Many businesses are assessing their own practices and determining how they should respond. The following are things that all businesses can do right now:

  • Reach out now. Even as you are thinking about how to respond and assess your own strengths and weaknesses, don’t wait to say something. Your most important response is your internal response, not your public one. Contact your black colleagues and employees in the most high-touch way possible. Don’t just send a survey — reach out to individuals, personally. Ask them about their experiences in the recent weeks and as a black person in our community, in your industry and in your company. Ask them what you and your company may be missing. Ask them how you can do better. And then listen.
  • Examine your leadership team. If you have a homogenous leadership team, determine how you can improve that, how can you expand the scope of those who inform your executive views, policies, decisions and hiring practices. How can you know what steps to take or even how to educate your team about addressing diversity, when the group making those decisions is not diverse?
  • Create employee resource groups. Employee resource groups provide opportunities for your employees to share their experiences, views and concerns with their peers in a place they can feel comfortable expressing those things, and with colleagues who will understand and relate to their experiences. Hiring or designating a diversity coordinator is also an important role, creating and strengthening your overall diversity and inclusion strategy. While a diversity coordinator can be an important part of your team, an immediate step is to create resource groups for your minority employees.
  • Don’t make your diverse employees responsible for your efforts to improve. Listen to your diverse employees. Try to understand their experiences, views and concerns, but don’t make them shoulder the responsibility for solving the problem — this is something you need to do together.

These are just a handful of ways to get started, but we are the first to recognize we don’t have all of the answers. We do know we need to ask the questions. We also know we need to discuss these questions together. As a business community we are prepared to do just that. The Black Chamber of Commerce and the Salt Lake Chamber are committed to work together to guide the business community through this important point in time, initiate change and find understanding and answers together.

Utah is widely known as the best place to do business. But that is not enough. We commit to working together to make Utah the best place to do business for everyone.

James Jackson III is the founder and executive director of the Utah Black Chamber. Derek Miller is the president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber and Downtown Alliance.