Cedar Rapids: What’s Possible at the intersection of diversity and entrepreneurship?

By Kiran Sood

Source: https://www.thegazette.com/2014/05/15/discussing-diversity-at-entrefest

Sarah Binder and Kiran Sood, journalists and community builders for We Create Here at the Gazette Company, kick off Wednesday’s discussion on the intersection of diversity and entrepreneurship. Thirty community members took part in the discussion, part of EntreFest 2014, in Iowa City on Wednesday, May 14, 2014. (Justin Wan/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

What is possible at the intersection of diversity and entrepreneurship? What is the right role for a white male to play in the conversation on diversity? How do we measure success when it comes to diversity? And, how can we impact change?

These were some of the questions examined by participants in We Create Here’s community conversation on the role of diversity in business and entrepreneurship. The conversation on Wednesday afternoon was part of the kickoff to EntreFest! a gathering of 500 entrepreneurs from across the state Wednesday through Friday in Iowa City.

Inside HotelVetro, the group of 30 participants tackled these questions and more. Each participant had different goals and reasons for wanting to be a part of the conversation.

As we went around the room, everyone shared their name, role and one question they had about the intersection of diversity and entrepreneurship. One community member, a white male, said he has every privilege in life. The only thing standing in his way as a white male, he said, is that he is lazy. He came to the conversation wanting to learn more about diversity.Participants then split into small groups to discuss individual questions determined by areas of interest of the entire group.

Some wanted a definition of diversity; another wanted one for entrepreneurialism.

In one group, focused on how to impact change, a participant said he wanted to improve his cultural competency skills. Another asked: How do you make sure you have a diverse group within a company?

Kyra Seay of Ellison Eyeware speaks during a discussion session hosted by The Gazette’s We Created Here at EntreFest 2014 in Iowa City, Iowa on Wednesday, May 14, 2014. (Justin Wan/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

Kyra Seay, a student at the University of Iowa, said businesses need to understand that a lack of diversity within their companies is a problem.

“They need to understand what they are missing out on,” she said. “Diversity does make things better.”

Seay said diversity in perspective and background helps businesses incorporate solutions and ideas they would never have considered without diversity.

Another group participant stressed the importance of hiring a diverse team, but acknowledged hiring practices would have to change to do so.

One of the participants, a white male, asked whether it was necessary to always point out differences in race or ethnicity between people.

Seay, a black woman, said there are simply too few examples of black role models for young women. Therefore, examples of success must be highlighted and celebrated, she said.

Many participants expressed a desire to see things change and improve. Simply having a discussion on diversity and focusing on ways to improve relations between diverse members of the community is change, one community member said.

It takes time to change culture, though. The goal is to create an open environment and realize there is beauty in change, one participant said.

In one of our final exercises, we asked participants to share their greatest takeaway or “Aha” moment from their group discussions. Here are some of the highlights:

1. How can we appreciate our differences?

2. How can we create an open environment?

3. Be excited about diversity in entrepreneurship, it’s more than a concept, it’s a culture

4. We can’t make assumptions; we need to be more open-minded

5. We should rely on diversity to help the business community

6. We need to be a pillar of inclusivity, for example, financial institutions should be non-intimidating 

7. Create partnerships with others outside your field, industry or background

8. Diversity comes in all types – not just culturally, but can also be economics, gender, education

At the end of our discussion, we asked each participant to share what their next step would be after taking part in the conversation.

“Be an ally,” one member said. “Don’t make assumptions,” another community member said. “Continue the conversation,” someone added.

Most importantly, as one participant said, “Diversity is an economic issue.” We all need to get out of our comfort zone, create a supportive environment and show empathy to others.

We welcome your thoughts and want to continue the conversation. Send us a note at engage@wecreatehere.net. 

Skip to toolbar