Every so often, the Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC hosts a seminar, but this one was different.
It was one that chamber board Vice Chair Meron Yemane has waited years for.
Today, the Chamber held a webinar entitled, “Chamber Live: A Conversation about Systemic Racism.”
“Today’s event is part of the desire of our board to try to do better and try to make a difference,” President David Black said.
Yemane explained how he believes this is the beginning of the process towards change for the Chamber. He pointed out the power structures within the organization itself and the hope he has for positive movement towards inclusivity.
“Next year, I’ll be the first black chair of the Chamber, and that doesn’t mean anything if there’s not a second,” Yemane said. “The Chamber can lead in this.”
He cited statistics showing black people are less likely to occupy executive positions, have a seat in Wall Street and even less likely to be hired if their name sounds black on an application.
Another panelist, Amma Johnson, member of the Chamber board of directors, recommended specific ways for businesses to make changes in their organizations. She encouraged making a clear statement against racism, considering hiring a diversity and inclusions professional, letting employees and customers in on the conversation and promoting black employees to leadership positions.
“I’m a big fan of internal task forces and councils,” she said. “Blending voices is the most helpful.”
Johnson suggested hiring black interns, as well, and looking for ways to mentor and provide opportunities for youth.
Black addressed the growing percentage of people of color in the central Pennsylvania region, about 20%, and the Chamber’s awareness of that.
“Your workforce should look like your customer base […] your workforce should look like your executive team,” he said.
The Harrisburg Chamber did release a statement against systemic racism on June 2 and called for more inclusivity and diversity within the organization. Johnson thinks more businesses need to take this important first step.
“I would encourage any organization who has not made a statement to not be silent,” she said.
For more information on the Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC, visit https://www.harrisburgregionalchamber.org/.