3rd Annual DEAI Summit: Fostering Excellence Through Diversity

By Asia Nail
The Truth Reporter

The Diversity Equity Access Inclusion (DEAI) ALLiance of Northwest Ohio recently convened its 3rd Annual Summit and CEO Panel, hosted at Imagination Station’s Key Bank Discovery Theater. Under the theme The Human Perspective, the summit attracted approximately 250 participants, eager to explore the pivotal role of diversity, equity, access and inclusion in the workplace.

Established just two years ago, the DEAI ALLiance emerged from the collaborative efforts of many of Toledo’s most dedicated DEAI Officers and community engagement leaders from anchor institutions throughout northwest Ohio. Grounded in principles of influence, communication, respect and service, the alliance aims to be a trusted advisor in forging connections, unlocking opportunities and crafting solutions that advance diversity, equity, access and inclusion across all sectors of society.

The summit commenced with a morning session featuring esteemed CEOs and representatives from leading national companies and organizations, including the Obama Foundation, SSOE Group, Mercy Health/Bon Secours, Disability EmpowHer Network, Owens Corning, Equality Ohio and the Lucas County Commissioners Office.

Vince DiPofi, CEO of SSOE Group, delivered the opening remarks, drawing on over 40 years of professional experience and highlighting the company’s commitment to a technology-driven strategic plan.

CEO panel moderated by Marquis Miller featuring panelists Stephanie Woodward, Bob Baxter and Leah Maguire-Schrupp

“At SSOE, we’ve learned that most of our employees fall into one of two groups:

• Those who, at times, feel underrepresented; the classic example of being invited to the dance but not being asked to dance.

• Those who don’t know how to engage in DEAI discussions because they are not underrepresented.”

DiPofi’ went on to explain that as a white-male middle-aged CEO, he initially questioned his own relevance in DEAI conversations. However, alongside Candice Harrison, SSOE’s Director of DEI, they’ve seen remarkable results. Since embracing new DEAI initiatives, their diverse employee base has grown from 28 percent to 38 percent, with executive diversity doubling to 20 percent.

“Without setting quotas, we focus on doing what’s right and that alone has led to our significant growth,” he explained.

SSOE’s employee engagement scores have also soared to 86 percent, placing them in the top 10 percent in the U.S. in this category. This remarkable growth in both employee diversity and executive representation underscores the effectiveness of this approach. Moreover, their soaring employee engagement scores attest to the tangible benefits of creating an inclusive environment.

The summit provided many actionable strategies for advancing DEAI principles within organizations of any size, by fostering inclusive cultures, and driving business success through diversity. As participants engaged in dialogue and exchanged insights throughout the day, we all learned something new.

Marquis Miller, the panel moderator and vice president of Economic Development at the Obama Foundation, offered a lighthearted yet profound introduction, illustrating the variety within the room. Each participant was asked to provide a personal description of themselves for diversity considerations, ensuring accessibility for individuals with low vision or those who are blind. Additionally, a sign language interpreter facilitated accessibility by signing the entire event.

Miller’s description set the stage for a conversation that delved deep into the human experience.

“I am a Black male with glasses, a blue blazer and gray slacks, a golden bow tie and dress socks I hope don’t fall down,” he shared.

Next, panel guest Stephanie Woodward, executive director of the Disability EmpowHer Network introduced herself:

“Hi I’m Stephanie, I’m wearing a purple dress in a grey blazer, I have curly hair and a hot pink wheelchair strategically used so people don’t underestimate me!”

Bob Baxter the president of the Toledo Market for Bon Secours Mercy Health, introduced himself next.

“I’m a white middle aged man who is folliclly challenged,” he said as the audience laughed.

Next Leah Maguire, vice president of Inclusion and Diversity at Owens Corning shared,

“I’m a light brown skinned Black woman with curly hair. I’m wearing a burgundy dress, twinning with Stephanie.”

As the conference progressed, each DEAI leader illuminated his or her organizational journeys and shared invaluable best practices, enriching the collective understanding of this vital work across various sectors and fields.

Executive Director Woodward brought her unique perspective to the forefront. As a disability rights advocate and attorney, Woodward’s work embodies the principle of “Nothing About Us Without Us.” Her commitment to amplifying the voices of disabled individuals underscores the importance of inclusivity in decision-making processes.

Tiffany Preston Whitman, PhD, and Marquis Miller

“At the Disability EmpowHer Network, DEAI isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a fundamental value ingrained in every aspect of our work,” shared Woodward.

By engaging with diverse perspectives and centering the experiences of those most impacted, EmpowHer fosters genuine inclusivity with their members and community partners alike. Woodward’s emphasis on representation within her organization spoke volumes. With a board, staff, and contractors comprising 100 percent of multiply-marginalized individuals, EmpowHer leads by example, demonstrating the power of diverse leadership and perspectives.

Woodward’s call to action resonated deeply with all her listeners. She reminded everyone that being present in DEAI spaces is just the beginning and underscored the ongoing work required to truly foster inclusivity. By actively seeking out those not represented in the room and amplifying their voices, everyone can ensure diversity and inclusion efforts are truly comprehensive and impactful.

As a healthcare leader in Toledo, Bob Baxter oversees strategy and operations for eight hospitals, including a children’s hospital and a Level 1 Trauma Center – one college, Life Flight critical care network and more than 100 sites of care across northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. Mercy Health continually asks the community what culturally competent healthcare means. What does access to care look like for different groups and demographics? They also work hard to expand access to care for the underserved.

“I think as CEOs and organization leaders we must take the words of our mission statements and turn them into specific actions,” shared Baxter.

“It’s also important to find partners who share your company values.”

Leah Maguire of Owens Corning, highlighted the transformative power of courageous conversations and employee resource groups in fostering a culture of belonging and development. Through four strategic pillars focusing on Belonging, Development, Education and Service, Owens Corning is empowering employees to bring their whole selves to work and contribute to their communities.

“Five years ago we were not mature in this space, now we know the most important thing we do is listen to our people. Owens Corning calls them “courageous conversations,” said Maguire.

Rhonda Sewell, John Jones, Megan Casiere

The impact of Owens Corning’s courageous conversations increased employment engagement tremendously.  They now conduct employee listening in a multitude of ways from workshops and focus groups to polls and surveys. Their 19,000 global employees have been exposed to these courageous conversations from the executive suites to the manufacturing floors ultimately driving positive change throughout their entire organization.

In addition to the insightful discussions from the esteemed panelists, we were privileged to hear from Cam Ogden, founder of Trans Allies of Ohio. She’s a passionate 23-year-old trans woman advocating for the rights of trans youth in Ohio. Her words underscored the importance of community care and grassroots activism in navigating challenging legislative landscapes and highlighted the necessity of amplifying marginalized LGBTQIA+ voices to enact meaningful change.

Crystal Harris Darnell, DEAI ALLiance board member and the Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Lucas County’s Board of Commissioners introduced Lucas County Commissioner Lisa Sobecki whose extensive background in public service exemplifies the spirit of leadership and advocacy.

Commissioner Sobecki reminded the attendees of the importance of having uncomfortable conversations and that inclusive decision-making should serve as a guiding principle for Toledo’s collective journey towards equity and justice. Before leaving the stage, she took a selfie with the audience behind her, serving as a reminder of our community’s ongoing encouragement for her efforts to do what’s right for everyone in Toledo.

Following the morning session, attendees enjoyed lunch before diving into two sets of breakout sessions, each offering two options for exploration:

  • Empowerment Exchange (EE): The Making of a Great Minority Supplier Program
  • Equitable Foundations (EF): Examining the Impact of Access on Employment
  • Moving Forward Together (MFT): Advancing DEAI Amid Political Challenges
  • Intersectionality at Work (IAW): Building Bridges for Inclusive Cultures

As we look ahead, the DEAI ALLiance of Northwest Ohio is poised to reach a significant milestone with their pending 501(c)(3) status, soon offering memberships to those eager to continue this vital work.

Mark your calendars for upcoming events that further the conversation on diversity, equity, access, and inclusion:

  • April 27: City of Toledo and Human Relations Commission hosting Human Library at Toledo Public Main Library
  • June 5: World Education Services Training for Employers Serving Skilled Immigrant Refugees
  • June 8: Welcome Toledo Lucas County hosting the annual Multicultural Twilight Market

These events serve as platforms for learning, engagement and community building, reminding those in attendance of the ongoing importance of DEAI work. The goal was for all to continue this journey together and remain committed to amplifying diverse voices.

This 3rd Annual DEAI ALLiance Summit showcased the transformative impact of DEAI initiatives across sectors, inspiring attendees to drive positive change in their organizations and communities.

Follow https://www.deainwo.org/ for more DEAI initiatives