“Magic” was on the minds of everyone Wednesday at the 30th anniversary of St. Thomas’ Forum on Workplace Inclusion at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
That was not just because Gov. Mark Dayton declared the day “workplace inclusion” day in Minnesota, recognizing the Forum’s three decades of leadership in diversity, equity or inclusion (DEI). And not just because more than 1,600 people – a forum record – were in attendance. No, Magic himself was in the building: Basketball and business legend Magic Johnson was the keynote speaker, highlighting a three-day event that annually brings together professionals from around the world at a hub of solidarity, innovation and learning in DEI.
“Issue of diversity, equity and inclusion have never been more important than they are today. They’ve also never been more challenging,” said St. Thomas President Julie Sullivan in welcoming attendees. “The good news is those of you committed to DEI leading. [DEI] brings a richness to our life, our work, our learning and creativity. This truth is evidenced in all corners of our world. When people of diverse backgrounds and experiences come together, we have a much greater ability to realize positive impact.”
Across a packed main room Johnson dished out anecdotes and thoughts as readily as he did assists in his playing days. Mixed along with dozens of personal stories, he articulated a message underscored by the need to bring diverse voices “to the table” of company’s decision-making; the fact that prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion creates a stronger return on investment and is simply good business; and the need for companies’ leadership to fully believe in DEI.
“Team sports allowed me to understand how to come together with someone who didn’t look like me. We would band together as brothers, to go out with one common goal: win the game. He didn’t care what color my skin was, I didn’t care what color his skin was; we came together to do our jobs, perform at the highest level. One agenda, one plan, and then we executed,” Johnson said. “If we don’t get to that in corporate America, no company wins. It can’t be about the color of a person’s skin. It has to be about whether the person can perform. It has to be in the D.N.A. of the CEO, president, and trickle down to everyone else. If it’s not, you won’t get diversity.”
In introducing Johnson, Target CEO Brian Cornell commended everyone in the room in their efforts to advance DEI in their professional and personal lives.
“Target could not be more proud to sponsor this event. The work you’re doing is so important right now,” he said. “Your jobs are really, really big. Today, perhaps more than ever, it’s more important of us to stay open.”
Three decades of leadership
With more than 100 sessions scattered across three days, the forum has grown to be a dynamic event whether attendees daily work is in DEI.
“I’m somewhat new to this space, so more than anything I’m here to learn,” said attendee Julia Metro of the New York City-based National Organization on Disability, which works to help companies recruit and hire employees with disabilities. “It’s been a great experience.”
“I’m here to learn how to best build, grow and network in this [DEI] space, as well as learn some global best practices,” said attendee Tyler Aman of Radisson Hotels. “I’m also a Tommie alum [with my master’s in human resources], so there’s a great sense of pride that my school gives back in this way and is doing great things as a leader in DEI.”
That has long been true at St. Thomas: As the Forum celebrates 30 years, executive director Steve Humerickhouse said he is proud of how far it has come since its first year of “75 people in a room watching a teleconference out of Chicago.”
“The forum is seen as the premier event in the country, and may very well be the largest in the world. That’s significant,” he said. “It represents the university and makes a stand about what St. Thomas believes and the work St. Thomas is doing. That, along with [Dougherty Family College] in particular, are great ways to put stakes in the ground and not just make a claim, but show the actions behind the statements. This is a university that believes in diversity, equity and inclusion, and doesn’t just talk about it but actually does it.”
As the Forum continues to grow its year-round programming and integrating into St. Thomas (it is now housed within the university’s Office for Mission), its contributions are more valuable than ever.
“It’s critically important. … DEI is a core professional competency. If we’re not thinking about it in a strategic way, we’re not thinking about our [St. Thomas] mission,” said Artika Tyner, St. Thomas' Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion. “Without thinking about DEI, how do you ever get [to our mission]? Morally responsible leaders understand we live in a globalized world, one that is constantly changing, and seeing DEI as a value added is a must.”