The last year has been incredibly difficult for all of us. COVID-19 has changed the way we go about our everyday lives, disrupting work, school, time with family and friends and how we interact with our community. No one has been spared.
But the impact on people of color (POC) has been disproportionately high. POC, working as essential workers, have kept critical parts of our society working. They also face a higher likelihood of overcrowded living conditions, higher levels of poverty, inadequate access to health care and higher levels of underlying chronic conditions that are tied to worse outcomes. And last summer, we saw protests against the ongoing inequities of our justice system.
We have all heard the expressions of commitment to equality, to a world free of racism and discrimination. Yet the evidence around us clearly shows that we do not live in that world.
Whether we talk about the justice system, economic opportunity, education, housing or any of the other social and economic systems that exist, example after example demonstrates that we continue to have disparate outcomes related to race and ethnicity.
Some may want to conclude that people who disavow racism are only saying the words but not truly committing to the action that is required to affect change. But that seems to me to be a dark and cynical world, one that I do not believe we live in.
I do believe there are many well-intentioned people in the community. I work with many of them on a daily basis. The problem is, it hasn’t been enough. Our society has baked inequality and discrimination in so deeply, that breaking them down requires massive and powerful shifts.
It is time to admit failure – even if it is unintended.
It is time that we recognize that if we want to live in a different world, one that offers real opportunity to everyone, one that we can be proud of, we must take a different, more strategic approach to change. And everyone must get onboard. The business community must step forward to lead the way.
As the CEO of Denver Health, I have joined a group of fellow chief executives in saying now is the time to come together and make a commitment to real change. And that change must not be in the form of words and promises, but action.
Our group – Colorado Inclusive Economy – is committed to doing the work personally and through our organizations to provide opportunities to those who have been without for too long. We launched last year with a diverse coalition of 30 private and public employers and expect our membership to reach 100 by year’s end.
We are committed to creating new, well-paid jobs that offer benefits as well as the chance for professional growth and development. And we are tackling the issues of diversity, equity and inclusiveness in our organizations.
In the last nine months, we have built a toolkit to share best diversity and inclusion practices for recruiting, hiring and building supplier networks; developed an immersive learning journey for CEOs and their teams to build multicultural workforces; and raised $200,000 to support programming and partnerships to advance initiatives aimed at achieving economic equity.
At Denver Health, we are developing career paths that give employees the opportunity to advance professionally and financially. We are working to hire individuals who have long faced significant barriers to employment, such as inadequate education, involvement with the justice system or homelessness. And we are very intentionally rethinking how we recruit leadership in the organization to increase the diversity of our senior leaders.
In my opinion, admitting to the failure of previous efforts does not mean that we did not intend to do better or to achieve more. It is simply looking at the world as it is and deciding that we will now work differently to drive the change that we all want to see.
I invite you to join us in creating this new world. We’re up to the challenge and hope you are, too.
For more information about Colorado Inclusive Economy, visit https://inclusiveeconomy.us.
Robin D. Wittenstein is the chief executive officer of Denver Health, with more than 35 years of experience in the health care industry.
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