Diversity in Business

By Nicole Kraft
From the September 2012 issue of Columbus CEO

President John F. Kennedy wished that even if the world could not end its differences, “at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.”

How he would have loved Columbus.

Ohio’s largest city has become a true melting pot—a multicultural, multifaceted population that weaves what community leaders call a “fabric” of diversity that blankets the region.

True, the city has its share of high-achieving minorities: Yvette McGee Brown (the first African-American woman to sit on the Ohio Supreme Court), countless athletes and even Mayor Michael Coleman (the city’s first African-American mayor). But the list is far broader and deeper than the names commonly found in the headlines.

“In Columbus, folks truly are judged on what they can do and who they are, rather than what they are,” says Dan Williamson, spokesman for Coleman. “And a large number of those quality people bring diversity to our culture.

“When you look at the high professional positions in Columbus and Central Ohio, you will see a culture of diversity in Columbus that is different than in other places. … Diversity here is just part of our culture. It’s part of who we are. It’s not numbers; it’s people who make up the fabric of the city itself. It’s organic.”

Diversity has, in the past, been used to reference only race and ethnicity. But the evolution of the U.S. population has broadened the scope to incorporate the many demographic variables that represent a community as a whole, says Gail Zoppo, media relations manager of the International Society of Diversity and Inclusion Professionals. Diversity now encompasses religion, gender, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, age, education, geographic origin and even skill characteristics.

U.S. Census figures provide a snapshot of Columbus’s variety. In 2010, 82.7 percent of the Columbus metropolitan statistical area population was white, 12.2 percent was black, 1.7 percent was Asian and 3.1 percent was Hispanic. In addition, 6.7 percent of the local population is part of the gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered community, according to a 2006 study by the UCLA School of Law Williams Institute.

That diversity can also be seen in Central Ohio’s businesses. Of 152,011 companies in the eight-county region, 19,988, or 13 percent, are minority-owned based solely on ethnicity, says Sharon Smith, interim assistant deputy chief of the minority business section of the Ohio Department of Development. Of those 19,988 businesses, which were counted during a 2007 economic census, 2,325 reported having at least one employee other than the owner.

Because those numbers do not reflect gender, sexual orientation or disability status, the true business diversity numbers are likely significantly higher. “[Columbus] is simply one of the best places to do business,” Smith says. “We have tremendous tools and resources.”

More and more organizations are hiring, cultivating and retaining the best and brightest employees from all facets of the community—a clear indication of any city’s commitment to a culture of business diversity, says Zoppo, who once profiled Columbus as a poster child for such business acumen when she was an editor for Diversity Inc. magazine.

While the region’s reputation as an open, welcoming place is well-known to residents, others also are beginning to take notice. The city will host the 2013 Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference + Expo, an annual event that attracts more than 1,200 attendees; the Ohio Hispanic Business Summit will be held here in August; and the Ohio Diversity and Leadership Conference takes place in the fall.

Accolades for the city’s diversity include being named No. 9 on the list of Top Cities for African-Americans (Black Enterprise magazine), among the best places in the Midwest for meetings and vacations (Black Meetings & Tourism) and among the Top 10 Cities for African-Americans (Black Enterprise magazine).

Columbus C.E.O. talked with some area leaders who are actively striving for diversity in their own business culture and the community. All compliment the strides the region has made and offer advice on how to make it an even more colorful and unique tapestry that reflects the broad array of people and views Central Ohio has to offer.

Nicole Kraft is a freelance writer.

Reprinted from the September 2012 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.