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Companies Discuss Workplace Diversity At UNCW Event

By Jenny Callison, posted Feb 27, 2013

Update: This version corrects Victoria Boston's title.

Organizations that embrace diversity and encourage all employees to contribute their ideas and help solve problems are better places to work and have a competitive advantage in the marketplace, speakers said Wednesday during a diversity conference.

Speakers and panelists discussed those issues at the Different Shades of Green, a daylong session held at University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Burney Center and co-hosted by UNCW’s Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion and Verizon Wireless.

In the opening session, Victoria Boston, Verizon’s vice president for customer service, Northeast area, talked about her company’s widespread efforts to recruit and retain employees of widely differing ethnicities, backgrounds, ages and points of view.

“Diversity across our employee base is a channel for the organization’s conversation with customers: identifying their needs, shaping solutions and improving customer service,” she said. “Everyone, regardless of their title, is encouraged to speak up and be respected. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s smart business.”

When UNCW chancellor Gary Miller asked why educational institutions with diverse populations could still miss the boat on inclusiveness, Boston responded by emphasizing that for any organization to successfully instill a culture of inclusion, the initiative must start at the top and be reinforced through education and consistent efforts.

On a panel with Boston were Shann Coleman, a manager at Duke Energy Nuclear Generation and founder of the Wilmington Minority Professional Networking Group (WMPNG); Rhonda Bellamy, executive director of the Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County; Stephanie Pallante, associate director of PPD’s North American recruitment; and Kathy Spencer, superintendent of Onslow County Schools.

Coleman spoke about the importance of affinity groups within corporate organizations as springboards for discussions about inclusion and opportunities for networking. He also spoke of the growth of WMPNG from an initial gathering of about 30 people to its current contact list of about 1,700 minority professionals in the Wilmington area.

Pallante spoke about the importance to multi-national companies of understanding the cultures of the countries in which they operate and from which they recruit employees. She also noted that an appreciation of diversity has helped PPD develop clinical trials for diseases that affect underserved populations.

Spencer talked about her school district’s efforts to make its 25,000 students aware of global issues and cultures through teacher exchanges, technological links to schools in other countries and a Spanish language immersion program from kindergarten through 12th grade.

“We are preparing our students to work with people everywhere in the world,” Spencer said.

Bellamy emphasized the importance of the arts in creating communities that embrace diversity.

“What I do helps provide the quality of life people look for when they are moving,” she said. “People often decide to live somewhere before they decide they can work somewhere.”

Attendees chose between two concurrent morning sessions: The Business Case and Best Practices for Diversity or Mentoring and Advancing Women and Faculty of Color. After lunch, they heard keynote speaker Roger Worthington, project director of the Difficult Dialogues Program and a professor at the University of Missouri.

Two afternoon sessions, dealing with research on diversity and inclusion and the value of doing diversity work in higher education, followed the keynote address.

“We created this conference to serve both the business community and the campus community,” Jose Hernandez, associate provost for the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, said in a statement about the conference.

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