WilmingtonBiz Magazine

Diversity In Business

By Vicky Janowski, posted Jun 30, 2021
Last summer, many businesses and organizations pledged to improve their diversity efforts.
Those came in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis while in police custody that sparked protests nationally and internationally and prompted conversations about the state of race relations around the country.
On May 25, a year after Floyd’s death, the Business Journal talked with a panel of diversity officers from some of the area’s largest employers about what some of those conversations have been like since last summer – both in the community and at work – and what comes next. Here are excerpts from that panel talk. For more from the roundtable, go to

How and why did your role come about?

ZEDRICK APPLIN, who in March was named fintech company nCino’s first-ever program manager of diversity, equity, inclusion and community:
“This role, the genesis of it started the end of our last fiscal year. We have a company kickoff every February to talk about the goals of what the company does for the year. So back in 2020 when we had our company kickoff, our CEO (Pierre Naudé) expressed his importance of really wanting to put an emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion even before all of the events of last summer happened. … I was a part of a council of probably about nine employees across different departments that advised our CEO on D&I topics, discussions, informed them about what our employee base was thinking. And as we continued to have these conversations, not only with our CEO, but then he started having them with the board of directors, their emphasis was we need to hire somebody specifically to really manage and do this for us for the company.”
DARION JERALDS, who serves as general manager for sourcing at GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy but is also the company’s chief diversity officer:
“After the events that happened in the spring and summer of last year, (GE CEO) Larry Culp put out a message to all employees and reaffirmed his position in support of diversity and inclusion and developed the CDO role for the company. That is Mike Barber, who represents us as a global company. In addition to that, he wanted to make sure that we had focused efforts around this in each business, and so diversity leaders were named within each business. Our president for nuclear reached out to me and asked if this was something that I’d be interested in leading. I’d led our African American forum in the past – highly engaged with our community efforts – and so I was thrilled to step into this capacity to support the business.”
LINDA THOMPSON, who became New Hanover County’s first chief diversity and equity officer last year:
“Last August, the county decided to hire a diversity and equity chief. The discussions had been coming a little prior to George Floyd. In June, … county commissioners as well as the county executive leadership team decided it was time to create an Office of Diversity and Equity for New Hanover County. I was hired in August of last year. … They decided to create the diversity and equity office to, first of all, train and educate not only our 1,800-plus employees but to also reach out and train and educate our community, companies and businesses, and not-for-profits throughout our community. And to also look at the way we distribute services and how we operate on a day-to-day basis as a county government. And then lastly how we engage as a community, especially in those communities that are often overlooked, those demographics that just don’t come up around the table all the time when we were discussing our services.”
JOE CONWAY, who became NHRMC’s director of health equity and human experience in 2017 when that was a new position for the hospital:
“In 2017 … I had been roped into the diversity and inclusion part of new employee orientation, and I loved it. I mean it’s always been my forte, even back when I was at a hospital in Mississippi, I roped myself in there too. … I was a lean facilitator at the time (at NHRMC), who was beginning to organize employees on my own throughout the organization that just wanted to see a difference … To make a long story short, we formed a team known as Health Equity Advisory Team.”
(Around that time, then-incoming hospital CEO John Gizdic signed the #123forEquity Pledge to Act national campaign for hospitals and health systems to take actions on health disparities.)
“My role gets created. I apply for it, get it Sept. 11, 2017, and been running ever since.”

With this being a year after the death of George Floyd, what has your company or organization been doing in the past year?

APPLIN (nCino) – “Shortly after, we started building out some of our ERG (employee resource groups). The first one we built was our diaspora group, which is centered around our African American employees and those who represent the African diaspora. We had our nPride group that we built out around our LBGTQ community. And then our veterans networks for all of our former armed services and families that represent the armed services and build out those ERG groups. What we’re actually in the middle of right now, we’ve hired in an outside consultant to help us measure where we stand currently from a D&I (diversity and inclusion) perspective.”
THOMPSON (New Hanover County) – “Certainly we can’t avoid the conversation of talking with our law enforcement community and trying to educate our community about the relationship and what changes need to be made. Just recently, our office hosted a Know Your Rights seminar. It was a webinar with our local law enforcement community … We probably had about 60 or 70 individuals from the community who signed on to be a part of that discussion. They went through a presentation, sharing exactly what citizens’ rights are when they engage with police officers. After about a 30-minute presentation, people were able to ask questions of police officers, of the DA, of the public defender, and so those questions were answered … Our goal in our office since George Floyd is to certainly have the conversation that seems to be the elephant in the room. We want to try to lead our community into having those conversations, and people want to talk. They just don’t know how; they’re afraid to. They’re afraid they’re gonna get accused of things, but they want to understand.”
CONWAY (NHRMC) – “You remember when it was White Coats For Black Lives, that was actually organized by our physician residents … who just wanted to do something to communicate to the community that, ‘Hey, we hear you; we see you.’ And then there’s been other things. We’ve still got our Everyday Bias (for Healthcare Professionals course) going. We’re right at about 43.8% as of last month of the organization being trained. … We’ve had a Day of Understanding, which several CEOs across the country have committed to. Carl Armato, our CEO, has definitely made that commitment, and he led that Day of Understanding. … I want to tag on to what everybody else has said: a lot of internal training, talking, hearing stories, talking some more and hearing more stories.”
JERALDS (GE Hitachi) – “For nuclear, we developed a four-pillar strategy. We wanted to put something in front of employees that they could understand and continue to hang on to throughout the process.
And so, those four pillars were culture; affinity networks – or ERGs, employee resource groups is what we’re starting to move toward calling them; partnerships; and development.
If I think about culture, a lot of that one is around how we measure things. At GE we say, and I’m sure a lot of other companies say, you measure what matters. … And so those metrics that we’ve put in place around representation of females and underrepresented minorities at the top level are being managed by each business CEO, and it waterfalls down the organization. So that was a big piece to start at the culture.
…From a partnership perspective, a lot of that is with universities and trying to build the pipeline to pull in diverse talent into the business. With HBCUs and Hispanic- and Latino-serving institutions is where we’ve been mostly focused, but within that partnership pillar, we also talk about supplier diversity … How are we helping to empower economically our underrepresented groups around the communities? Where are we spending our money?”

In terms of recruiting talent and employees, what has that been like, specifically just the Wilmington sites not the other offices? 

JERALDS (GE Hitachi) – “For us, it’s a challenge for multiple reasons. Wilmington itself isn’t the most diverse place to move to. We’re working with our HR teams to be more proactive in developing the candidate pool. … We saw a good amount of conversion from applied, to interview, to award the job, and so we’ve been focused in on how we cultivate more interest and make sure that we’re pulling the qualified candidates into our pool.
I would say the pandemic has been a gift and a curse (for hiring).
I think we’ve seen a lot of folks be more open to assignments that aren’t located in Wilmington. So when you think GEH as an organization and our diversity, it’s been a plus in ways where we’ve been able to offer roles to folks that did not want to move or didn’t want to move at this time. It has allowed us to pull in great, diverse candidates from across the country or the world. But at the same time, we’ve seen that be a detractor as well, where you have local talent or existing employees that were previously thinking, hey this is one of the best organizations in Wilmington, but now they have the opportunity to go wherever and work remotely for other organizations. So we’ve seen kind of the give and take there.”
APPLIN (nCino) – “I think we can echo at nCino that same challenge, especially in a lot of our technical roles. We get a lot of applicants, and what we’re pressing upon our hiring managers and our recruiters is as you’re going to the interview phase, making sure that those people that you’re bringing it into the interview phase of the job, have a diverse pool of candidates. And if you don’t, don’t move into that phase yet. … I think the biggest hurdle that we’re trying to jump is those mid- to senior-level candidates and trying to recruit them to Wilmington … And what we’re finding is that it’s harder, especially those with families to get them here versus going somewhere like a Charlotte or Atlanta or even a Raleigh.”
THOMPSON (New Hanover County) – “Beaches are wonderful, but that’s not what attracts diverse groups of people. … We need to enhance the social and cultural experiences of diverse communities in order to attract a diverse population. But if you’ve got something that will attract young adults, you’ve got something that is going to keep them here and show them there’s an opportunity to move up in this community, they’re going to come.
… And so the challenge is, how do we rebrand our community so it’s more attractive than just the beach. There is so much more to this community. And we’ve got to see ourselves as more than just a community for one group of people. We need a makeover when it comes to attracting professionals.”
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