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Published Mar 02, 2021 by A.J. Mistretta
HOUSTON—More than 100 Houston area companies representing over 220,000 employees have committed to a set of racial equity principles developed by the Greater Houston Partnership. The principles clearly communicate a position on business behaviors and actions the Partnership and individual businesses can commit to in advancing racial equity within their organizations and throughout the community.
Although many businesses have made their own individual statements and pledges, this unified approach sends an important signal about the Houston business community’s collective commitment.
The Partnership’s development, adoption and call to action around the principles follows nine months of work to determine how the region’s principal business organization would engage and lead the business community on this important issue.
Amid the ongoing national conversation around racial equity and justice, the Partnership last summer launched One Houston Together, its commitment to leverage the power of the business community to address racial inequity in our region. While the issues of inequity and systemic racism are not unique to Houston, the Partnership believes the business community has an opportunity to lead the way in reforming broken systems, partnering with communities, offering support and removing barriers.
The Partnership began by conducting a series of listening sessions with leaders in the Black community last June to gain a greater understanding of key issues and challenges. The information gathered from these listening sessions helped define the focus of One Houston Together.
In August, the Partnership created a new board committee to guide the organization's actions through One Houston Together. The mission of the Racial Equity Committee is to harness the collective commitment and resources of Houston’s businesses and institutions to advance bold solutions to strengthen Houston as the most diverse, inclusive and equitable city in the nation. The committee is co-chaired by Ruth Simmons, President of Prairie View A&M University, and Gretchen Watkins, President of Shell Oil Co. Click here to see the full roster of committee members.
“The Partnership has a responsibility to help ensure our region is a place where everyone has the opportunity to succeed,” said Bob Harvey, President and CEO of the Partnership. “We have to be more than just the most diverse city in the country—we must work to be the most inclusive city. By launching One Houston Together and forming our Racial Equity Committee, we now have a pathway to lead the business community on these important issues and realize meaningful change.”
“I have been greatly heartened by the robust collective enthusiasm of Partnership members for identifying concrete actions to address racial inequities in employment and business opportunities,” said Racial Equity Committee Co-Chair Ruth Simmons. “Their commitment bodes well for the future of our city.”
The committee has engaged in a process of reflection, listening, and debate to establish the set of eight racial equity principles, which were approved unanimously by the Partnership’s board in December. The Partnership has asked its member companies to commit to the principles within their own organization. Since December, 120 companies have signed the pledge to demonstrate their commitment to the principles within their own organizations.
“The principles established by the Greater Houston Partnership will drive member businesses to attract, develop, and progress the careers of people whose opportunities have historically been limited,” said Racial Equity Committee Co-Chair Gretchen Watkins. “As we follow through with our commitment to these principles, Houston’s workforce and corporate leadership will more closely reflect this city’s brilliant diversity, while our professional culture becomes even more caring and inclusive.”
In September, the Partnership hosted a series of conversations around racial equity under One Houston Together, featuring experts on topics including understanding racism, health and racial inequity, and developing equitable communities. The five events drew more than 1,830 participants and subsequent viewers.
To help understand the existing landscape of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts among Houston companies, the Partnership conducted the first regional survey of member and non-member companies in November. It’s important to note that the survey results are not meant to be representative of the entire Houston business community, rather an indication of how DEI activity is progressing in the responding companies.
The survey found that 94% of responding companies have started DEI work within their organizations, with 54% having been on the DEI journey for five or more years. Roughly 90% of respondents have active recruitment efforts to attract minority job candidates. Almost 50% or respondents, however, indicated that they have no formal DEI plan and that there is a significant perception gap between CEOs and staff regarding DEI goal achievement. Normalizing conversations about race, opportunities to learn from others, and lack of metrics to assess progress on DEI were also cited as top areas of need at local companies. Over 60% of respondents indicated they have no spending goal for diverse supplier contracting, which is a theme the Partnership also heard in the early listening sessions with Black entrepreneurs.
The survey data helped the Partnership determine two areas for immediate action: enhance corporate DEI with a focus on advancing equity throughout the talent pipeline and supporting equitable entrepreneurship for historically underutilized businesses. The organization is in the early stages of crafting an action plan.
To support planning and implementation, the Partnership recently created a new executive staff position. LaTanya Flix, a veteran of DEI, strategy and community engagement in Houston and nationally, was hired in December as Senior Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Flix understands the importance of having a coordinated and intentional focus on equity to maintain economic growth and the vitality of the Houston region for all residents. She is leading the development and implementation of the Partnership’s internal DEI strategy and broader efforts throughout the greater Houston region. Flix also serves as executive staff liaison to the Racial Equity Committee.
“The Partnership is proud to convene and lead more than 100 area companies committed to the One Houston Together pledge in taking concrete actions that create positive change for Houstonians,” said Amy Chronis, Chair of the Greater Houston Partnership and Houston Managing Partner for Deloitte. “As a business community, we have the opportunity to come together to promote equity, root out bias and take action against systemic racism and social injustice. I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish together.”
Quotes from Business Leaders Who Have Signed the Pledge
Houston’s incredible diversity gives us the unique opportunity to be a leader in inclusivity. The Partnership’s racial equity principles are the framework we need to educate and empower our business community to make meaningful change. – Uwem Ukpong, Executive Vice President of Regions, Alliances & Enterprise Sales, Baker Hughes
“It is past time that the corporate sector take a more deliberate and intentional role in bringing about further economic, racial and social equity. That is why Bank of America fully supports the Partnership’s efforts to make Houston the national leader not only in diversity, but in inclusive business practices and responsible growth.” – Hong Ogle, Houston Market President, Bank of America
“As a corporate citizen of the greater Houston community for 25 years, Burns & McDonnell proudly joins the Greater Houston Partnership in its commitment to advancing racial equity throughout our communities, knowing our long-term success depends on our shared progress. We pledge to: practice and encourage behaviors building trust and understanding rather than resentment and bias; set measurable goals and practice rigorous accountability in our diversity, inclusion and outreach efforts and within our own institutions; regularly engage with and listen to underserved people and communities to deepen our understanding of the inequities experienced and seek to partner with them and create lasting solutions. Together, we stand united as One Houston.” – Leslie Duke, President, Burns & McDonnell Houston
“Current discussions around systemic racism, inclusion, and diversity demonstrate the importance of taking bold actions to create a more equitable and sustainable future.” – Antonio Neri, President and CEO, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Inc.
“We are fortunate to live in a city of extraordinary diversity, and that diversity is a source of both excellence and joy that fuels the success of Houston. But we cannot realize that excellence and that joy unless we commit to fully achieving equity, opportunity and inclusion. All of us, and especially our educational institutions, must play an active role in this endeavor.” – David Leebron, President, Rice University
“At Waste Management, we are family of nearly 50,000 from all walks of life and it is the richness of our diversity that makes us strong. Bound by our purpose of always working for a sustainable tomorrow, and with inclusion and diversity embedded in our company values, we are committed to making a positive impact from the inside out. From fostering an inclusive environment for all teammates to thrive, supporting supplier diversity, and partnering with community agencies to create a bridge to career opportunities, we are committed to being part of the solution.” – Jim Fish, President and CEO, Waste Management
Greater Houston Partnership
The Greater Houston Partnership works to make Houston one of the best places to live, work and build a business. As the economic development organization for the Houston region, the Partnership champions growth across 12 counties by bringing together business and civic-minded leaders who are dedicated to the area’s long-term success. Representing 1,000 member organizations and approximately one-fifth of the region’s workforce, the Partnership is the place business leaders come together to make an impact. Learn more at Houston.org.
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