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President's Message

July 2020

From the Business Perspective Newsletter

Starting the Conversation

One of my favorite quotes is by Sister Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy in 1831. She said, “Dear Lord, give us the courage to begin important tasks that last longer than our lives.”

Since I first heard this quote 25 years ago, I’ve often felt she was nudging me not to shy away from opportunities that make a difference.  This is one of those opportunities.

Last week the OP Chamber joined 500 local chambers and business associations in partnership with the U.S. Chamber in a National Summit on Equality of Opportunity. This resulted in nearly 5,000 business and community leaders from across the country convening to learn concrete actions to address inequality through education, employment, entrepreneurship and criminal justice reform. In opening remarks, U.S. Chamber CEO Tom Donahue emphasized the business community is a powerful voice for change.

Now is the time. Global attention through the Black Lives Matter movement provides opportunity and momentum. Locally, we heard in every single ForwardOP session the overriding goal is that Overland Park is welcoming. Business and community leaders tell me they want their businesses, boards and community groups to reflect our community’s diversity. More importantly, they want to be intentional about increasing their diversity in numbers, but most importantly, their culture of inclusion. That means welcoming everyone.

During one of the Summit’s breakout sessions, Dr. Terri Cooper, Chief Inclusion Officer at Deloitte, explained that “diversity” is inviting someone to the party, while “inclusion” is inviting them to dance. It’s admirable to put in place policies to recruit, and hire diverse candidates, but if a company hasn’t recruited to ensure candidates share similar goals while also fostering a company environment of inclusion, these candidates will not feel welcome and success will not be achieved by either party.

While the issues are similar, there’s not a singular solution for any community. To make this effort and moment in time truly different, Suzanne Clark, President of the U.S. Chamber emphasized that we must focus on data and results.

As a business organization, this is our wheelhouse. These issues of diversity, equity and inclusion as they relate to workforce, access to capital and board composition are within our members’ opportunity – and challenge – to change. It’s everyone’s opportunity, from the C-suite to every desk, and in every home in each neighborhood, to make our businesses, our community and region welcoming and prosperous for all.

I serve on the KC Rising Steering Committee, which represents business, governmental and civic organizations throughout the region to align, accelerate, amplify and act on a vision of prosperity. This group thrives on data to measure how KC’s prosperity is rising – or not – compared to peer cities. Leading by example, diversity goals are set and measured for each of KC Rising’s committees. On a macro level, the shared prosperity goals lead collective work for our region so we’re driving together to impact connectivity, education, inclusion, neighborhoods, culture and business.

But on a micro level we must ask if we’re doing all we can to ensure that all are welcome in Overland Park. Do we have diversity, equity and inclusion strategies in our businesses with measurable goals? Individually we make a difference by recruiting and hiring diverse candidates. Collectively, we can create broader networks and pipelines to make it easier for companies to access candidates for jobs, corporate and civic board service. These enhance mentorship, engagement, and access to opportunities for service, including elected office.

Suzanne Clark summed up our collective responsibility: “Business is a force for good. We can and must be a champion for all.”

Tracey Osborne Oltjen

written by

Tracey Osborne Oltjen, CCE, IOM

President & CEO

tosborne@opchamber.org