By JEFFREY A. HARRISON
During the summer of 2020, at the height of racial tensions coupled with the dire, disproportional impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, the Central Indiana business community united to form Business Equity for Indy (BEI). Through this initiative — a partnership of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership and Indy Chamber with support from the Indianapolis Urban League, led by 120 growing businesses — we’re working to create collaborative, sustainable solutions to dismantle more than 240 years of systemic racism, injustice and inequity that are preventing our Black and brown Hoosiers from opportunity and advancement.
The creation of BEI was quite daunting — with goals of growing a more inclusive business climate and greater equity and economic opportunities for the region’s Black residents and people of color — and yet, when I look back at the work that’s taken place over the last two years, I remain more energized each day.
Over the last two years, as the chairman of BEI, I’ve had a front row seat to the energy, effort and passion that Central Indiana businesses and business leaders of all sizes and from all industries have been able to demonstrate and maintain with their time, resources and commitments to this initiative. This is illustrated by the outcomes BEI has had to date and the impact of those outcomes have had on our most disenfranchised residents.
As BEI has grown, learned and evolved over the last two years, we’ve been able to make great strides in providing Central Indiana employers with resources to better support their Black and brown employees. Some of the most impactful accomplishments of the last two years of work include:
- BEI’s Procurement & Participation Taskforce had been laser focused on creating opportunities for Central Indiana businesses to increase their supplier diversity. Through quarterly Procurement Roundtable events, contract-ready, Black-owned businesses are matched with Central Indiana businesses for multiyear, multi-dollar contracts.
- BEI’s people initiative taskforces have united to create an inaugural Workforce Pilot. The intensive, two-year cohort is designed to assist companies with adopting evidence-based strategies alongside industry experts that will reduce disparities, drive equity, and support companies’ talent strategies. The participating companies will be announced later this year.
- BEI’s Learning & Talent Taskforce hosted an Employer Opportunities Summit to connect business leaders across the Indy region with critical resources to address equity within their industries and companies. As a result of insights shared during the summit, the BEI website now houses these employer recommendations, free for companies to reference and implement within their own organizations.
- Additionally, the Taskforce assembled a virtual Education and Workforce Development Catalogue available to the public. This resource allows companies to search a database filled with more than 200 local companies that are doing work to support the education and training needs of Black and Hispanic individuals, ages 0 to 25, in greater Indianapolis.
- BEI’s Impediments to Health Taskforce assembled a first-of-its-kind Impediments to Health Playbook which provides a variety of recommendations that companies can consider implementing to improve equity across their companies and in the communities they serve.
- Finally, BEI’s Public Policy Taskforce remains dedicated to building relationships, identifying and advocating for policies that remove barriers to opportunities for Black people and other people of color. The Public Policy Taskforce was able to leverage community partnerships that worked to shut down anti-CRT legislation in Indiana — Indiana was notably the first red state to accomplish this as reported by CNN.
Nearly all of the resources produced by BEI over the last two years are available to businesses across the country, free of charge — and that was an intentional decision by task force members. One of the things we excel at as Hoosiers is uniting to support one another. Through BEI, we’ve come to terms with the realization that our companies are on the equity spectrum. The journey of BEI is helping companies to understand if they’re leading the pack, in the middle of the pack, or just getting started in their actions to ensure equity and opportunity for Black and Brown employees — and that’s OK. The goal of BEI is to help companies understand their gaps today that lead to actionable steps toward equity tomorrow.
As BEI celebrates two years of work toward equity, we also recognize that in many ways, our journey is just beginning. Working together, we must continue to question how our actions today are leading to positive impacts and improvements in the quality of life for Black and Brown residents in the years to come. Some of our actions will succeed, and some of them will ultimately fail, but the energy, attitude, and commitment of Central Indiana leaders will allow us to make positive impacts and create equitable opportunities for everyone in our community.
Jeffrey A. Harrison is chairman of Business Equity for Indy.