Chamber names first workplace diversity executive

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Chamber names first workplace diversity executive

Concerns over injustice spark growing interest in diversity and inclusion in corporate America

BY JODI SHAFTO

Amid the increasing national focus on equity and inclusion in the workplace, South Carolina’s largest probusiness advocacy group has added its first chief diversity officer.

The S.C. Chamber of Commerce has named Cynthia Bennett, a 20-year veteran of the Columbia-based organization, to the new role. The first phase will be to assist employers interested in diversifying their workforces.

“You must be diverse and inclusive, and the equity piece will come,” said Bennett, who formerly was vice president of workforce development and education.

In that role, she advocated for the passage of the S.C. Hate Crimes Bill and supported other causes.

Bennett attributed the growing interest in diversity and inclusion within corporate America to the heightened concerns about injustice, which intensified after George Floyd’s death in May 2020. Workforce diversity “is the cost of injustice,” she said.

S.C. Chamber CEO Bob Morgan, who joined the organization two months ago, said diversity is now an essential value for companies as they compete and seek to succeed.

And as the population grows more diverse, hiring staffers to reflect society is a smart strategy that brings “better results,” he said.

It’s “good for business, and the market is driving it, but it is also the right thing to do,” Morgan added.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to some cutbacks at the chamber, but the group is now expanding again. Bennett’s promotion and new role is part of that.

Charleston-based Blackbaud Inc. said it sees the benefits of a diversity strategy. Last year, the global software company that works with philanthropic and nonprofit groups hired Michael Moore, who previously headed up the International African American Museum, as its first executive to oversee its “D&I” efforts.

“Focusing on diversity and inclusion is simply the right thing to do, particularly for Blackbaud, a company committed to making the world a better place, Moore said.

“When our workforce reflects the diversity of our customers and their communities, it enhances the way we connect to our customers and each other.”

Maggie Driscoll, the Daniel Island company’s chief people officer, noted that females now make up about half of Blackbaud’s staff.

“We have continually seen our diversity and inclusion practices pay off in our ability to hire the best, brightest and most engaged talent,” Driscoll said.

But while Blackbaud and other larger companies can address the call for workforce diversification, others, notably smaller employers, can find it more of a challenge, said S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce CEO Frank Knapp. “In our day and age of labor shortages, most small business owners are more concerned with getting employees,” Knapp said.

While diversity is important, he added, “small businesses compete with larger companies with more money to offer, so they can’t be intentionally diverse.”

Knapp, who favors legislation that would allow for “a moderate increase” in legal immigration of working-age adults, said he thinks part of the labor shortage relates to so-called dreamers, the more than 1 million young, undocumented people brought to the U.S. as children and now awaiting legal status that would allow them to stay in the country and work. “The country is at a 40-year low in new business startups. We need dreamers to work in our small businesses and to start their own,” Knapp said. Driscoll of Blackbaud said that regardless of budget, companies can do simple things, such as evaluating their hiring practices to ensure job descriptions are unbiased and designing corporate events that reflect the different interests of their employees.

“The most important thing is challenging the status quo and re-evaluating the way things have always been done in order to open up opportunities to more people who bring unique perspectives and values to the company,” she said.

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