Making Philadelphia the Most Inclusive Region in the Country

Article written by Elizabeth Cavan on behalf of Global Philadelphia Association. Photo credit: Campus Philly.

On May 31, 2018, Campus Philly held their Annual Meeting at the International House in Philadelphia. This nonprofit organization encourages young adults, specifically college students, to study, explore, live and work in the Greater Philadelphia tri-state region in order to fuel the local economy.

This year’s theme, “Building the most inclusive region in the country,” sparked interesting and relevant conversation regarding how the people, businesses, institutions, and leaders of Philadelphia can build a safe, equal, and uplifting environment for everyone in our community. This discussion was led by prominent local leaders in the Philadelphia area, featuring:

  • Amber Hikes, Executive Director, Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs

  • Jameel Rush, President of Philly SHRM & Human Resources Director, Yoh

  • Nyeema Watson, Associate Chancellor for Civic Engagement, Rutgers-Camden

The discussion was moderated by Fabiola Cineas, Business Editor of Philadelphia Magazine.

The meeting kicked off with a welcome from Lou Pichini, Director of Deloitte’s Philadelphia office, who began by sharing the results of their annual survey completed by over 10,000 millennials across the globe. When asked to give feedback regarding their company’s business ethics, results showed a dramatic decrease in the trust millennials are placing in their employers. In the past seven years, respondents had primarily positive reviews of their employer’s business ethics, with 62% believing that their employers are committed to bettering society, and things beyond just making money. However, there has been a large shift in this perspective, with that number dropping to 47% this year. Results showed that those who did respond positively came from companies with diverse leadership teams, which is not something to be overlooked. Millennials (and younger generations to come) are valuing diversity and equality over many other factors in their workplace. This says a lot about the generation that is up and coming in the workforce- and is a good sign that those who will soon be running the world’s businesses are committed to inclusivity and equality for all.

The hour long discussion touched upon many of the key issues surrounding inequality happening around the world, especially in professional environments such as the workplace and in schools and universities. Moderator Fabiola Cineas framed her questions around how we, as a community, can combat these issues and educate ourselves and others on inclusivity and the importance of diversity.

A large portion of the conversation had to do with what concrete action people can take in order to change the trend of “lip service” towards diversity and inclusion. Amber Hikes, Executive Director of the Mayor’s office of LGBT Affairs, stressed that we need to include the voices of these people, rather than just “checking off the box.” She brought up how many companies will briefly talk about these issues or hold a small workshop for their employees, and then throw in the towel for their diversity efforts.The rest of the panel agreed that people need to ask themselves what real action we are taking for that population to feel equally included, whether it be in the workplace, at a university, or in day to day life.

Nyeema Watson, Associate Chancellor for Civic Engagement at Rutgers University, brought up civic engagement as a viable solution to the lack of inclusion that is present in our society. As one of the leaders of the university’s Camden campus, she found that there was a large divide between the Rutgers community and the residents of the city. Through her work, she found that the best way to combat this divide was to reach out and invite in members of the community, rather than keep those two worlds separate. She has found that this has made all the difference in the relationship between Rutgers and Camden residents, and has enjoyed seeing that relationship grow.

Another important topic discussed was intersectionality, which moderator Fabiola Cineas defined as “an analytic framework which attempts to identify how interlocking systems of power impact those who are most marginalized in society.” These “interlocking systems” include things like racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etcetera, which are often not examined separately from one another. Jameel Rush explained that in order to examine these systems and take action against them, we need to learn how to talk about these issues- correctly. “People are afraid to mess up, so they say nothing,” said Rush. He later explained that creating processes to stop biases, especially in the hiring process, is a huge step in promoting diversity within a company or workplace. Watson added that “intentional conversations” are necessary in this respect, to which Hikes added the concept of “proactive prevention.” “Take action first, don’t wait for the problem to start,” she encouraged. By educating employees and students on intersectionality, many of the issues surrounding inclusion and equality in companies or universities can be reduced or prevented. “It all comes back to education,” said Watson.

Rush brought up a crucial, yet often overlooked point in respect to how people outside of these marginalized groups can join the cause. “It is not only the job of blacks to speak against racism, and it is not only the job of women to speak against sexism,” he said. The other panelists agreed that by stepping in and speaking up for a group, even if you are not a part of that group, puts you in a position of power. They encouraged the audience to stand up for others in situations of discrimination, even if they are not a part of that marginalized group. This alliance is key step in meeting milestones in the progress of equality and inclusion.

The annual Campus Philly meeting allowed all in attendance to gain powerful insight towards issues surrounding diversity and equality at a community and global level, from powerful leaders in the Philadelphia area. This discussion was most definitely a crucial step in making Philly one of the most inclusive regions in the country.