Putting Values into Practice to Prioritize Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Aileen Cohen, MEDC DEI Officer

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

As we begin Black History Month, we at MEDC are reflecting on our efforts to demonstrate our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in all that we do – and looking ahead to ensure we continue to create a more equitable and resilient economy for all.

Over the past year, our communities have been tested in ways we could have never imagined. From a novel coronavirus threatening our public health to changing the way we work, learn and interact with each other, this year has been challenging in unprecedented ways. Unfortunately, the same types of racial disparities that informed our strategic plan’s focus on equity over a year ago, were played out on the national stage again last summer.

In June, the MEDC spoke out about the need for us as an organization to take time to listen more intentionally to our team members and the communities we serve. In so many ways, Michigan is an incredibly diverse state; from our rich tribal communities to our growing immigrant population, we share a sense of pride in being a place where people of all walks of life can build a successful life.

Last summer’s protests against racial injustices brought into focus for us at the MEDC that to have a meaningful impact in creating equitable opportunities in Michigan communities, we needed to create a cultural shift. We are working to ensure that beyond being a part of our values in writing, diversity, equity and inclusion are key in everything we do. At the same time, we must continue holding ourselves accountable for these efforts by setting hard targets in a way that is transparent to both our staff and stakeholders.

As an organization, we are looking inward to ensure our own practices and policies reflect our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion of all kinds.

MEDC remains committed to ensuring that all our programs and services are delivered equitably to the residents and businesses of our state. We realize that no company, including MEDC, is ever perfect, but that is never an excuse for inaction; rather, it’s a reminder that it’s on all of us to strive toward becoming more perfect across all of our programs, policies and hiring practices.

Since my appointment as MEDC’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer last summer, we have created two workgroups to help ensure our ideals are reflected in both our internal and external processes. While participation in these workgroups is voluntary, we are proud to have 40 team members participating in these workgroups, with representation from every department across our organization.

Through our Employee Policies Workgroup, we are focused on strengthening and diversifying MEDC’s internal recruiting and hiring efforts while also working to ensure our workforce is inclusive and welcoming of all communities, backgrounds, generations and ideologies, including people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. This group is also working to keep the lines of communication open to break down barriers within the organization and ensure all voices can be heard and respected.

Meanwhile, our Programs and Services Workgroup is developing value statements for the organization to more clearly define our commitment to DEI efforts, in addition to growing relationships with more diverse organizations and business communities throughout the state. This group is working to ensure that MEDC programs and services are offered in a way that provides equitable opportunity and ease of access to the businesses and communities that we serve.

It remains critical for us to proactively think about diversity, equity, and inclusion in all aspects of our ongoing work and ensure that we track and implement our efforts in a transparent and accountable way. From hiring and promotion; our programs and partnerships; our contracting and advertising; and the representation on our committees and boards. It’s vital that we evolve our ideals as core values that are represented in every aspect of our organization, from our workforce itself to the projects that we support and the partnerships we develop.

Now more than ever, it is critical that we focus our efforts on creating a more equitable and resilient economy that works for all Michiganders.

Since our five-year strategic plan was adopted in September 2019, it’s been clear how important it is for us to find ways to create a more equitable and resilient economy for all Michiganders, which has become even more urgent in the wake of COVID-19. For example, the need for more intentional and inclusive policies to support minority-, veteran- and women-owned businesses in the state has been underscored this year, as the pandemic has been particularly damaging for diverse-owned businesses that make our communities vibrant places to visit and call home.

We realize that easy answers won’t be found here; these are difficult, and in many ways, deep-seated challenges that we are working to address, and they deserve the time to be fully considered before there can be any kind of real, lasting change and cultural shift as a result.

While this work will not be completed overnight, it is vital that we move forward, together with Gov. Whitmer, the Legislature and all our local and regional partners, to make our state a more just and equitable place for every Michigander to live, work and play. Because at the end of the day, the work that we at the MEDC do plays a vital role in helping to move our organization – and our state – forward in a way that will help us live up to our highest ideals of equal justice, rights and dignity for all.

With this in mind, our Michigan Strategic Fund (MSF) Board recently approved updated guidelines to our flagship Michigan Community Revitalization Program and Michigan Business Development Program to better align these opportunities with our DEI values. This includes making the programs more accessible for diverse-owned businesses and emerging developers to unlock support, while emphasizing our focus on supporting geographically disadvantaged areas.

To build on this progress, however, we also know that we cannot do this alone. That is why our strategic plan aligns us to strive for meaningful impacts across all regions of our state to create equitable opportunities for geographically disadvantaged areas and underrepresented communities, in partnership with local economic development organizations, the state’s diverse tribal community and other state agencies. Throughout our efforts, we’ve also worked with our regional partners to see these values represented in their own strategic plans, including the strategic plan developed by our partners at The Right Place last year.

We recognize that our organization is uniquely situated to create significant and powerful economic opportunities for every resident of our state, from Black Americans and minority communities to geographically disadvantaged areas throughout Michigan. Every single day, our work has the potential to help create shared prosperity, wealth and opportunities that can have an impact on generations to come. And through our partnerships and ongoing efforts to keep improving our own organization internally, we are focused on work that profoundly matters – and we know that it will matter more than ever in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.

To learn more about the MEDC’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, click here.

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