This year has been nothing short of unequaled in our lifetime. From a global pandemic wreaking havoc on our lives and livelihoods to the social and racial injustices that we watched unfold on our televisions and in our backyards around America, 2020 has truly offered much hindsight from which to learn. And that, is a good place to start. When we are in a place where our minds are genuinely open to learning something new, change occurs. And in today’s world, change is the most essential component to achieving a more inclusive and resilient future.

The Georgia Chamber recently held its third annual Diversity and Inclusion Summit, highlighting the systemic racial injustices and inequities that have long permeated our society. Open dialogue and frank conversation dispelled the notion that we have even remotely achieved an equal-opportunity economy, and speakers espoused from personal experience the statistics we have read on the disparities among race and gender when it comes to the economic impact of COVID-19. The challenges highlighted in these conversations were many, but the common thread among them was the call for change. Change in the way we administer health care, how we re-engage citizens re-entering the workplace, what we do to champion inclusion in our businesses and social circles, how we address minority-owned business challenges and why we must acknowledge the impact that privilege has within our socioeconomic cycle.

Let’s look, for example, at a study recently done by the National Bureau of Economic Research on COVID-19 impact in the U.S. Results indicated that for every white-owned business forced to close because of the pandemic, two-and-a-half black-owned businesses permanently closed their doors. This trend reached Hispanic, Asian, and female-owned businesses as well. Many minority entrepreneurs also struggle with access to capital, support infrastructure, and supplier contracts. The average minority-owned small business is 30% smaller and has 47% lower receipts. This disparity in business creation is also seen in today’s unemployment figures where black Americans are experiencing 3% higher unemployment, on average, than the general population. So how do we change these trends?

Leaders at the Diversity and Inclusion Summit emphasized training in our health care systems as key to unlocking the unconscious bias often exacted in medical treatment facilities around the nation. Businesses discussed how to re-engage re-entering citizens to the work force. Minority-owned businesses shed light on the challenges they often face with start-up processes and what governments can do to retool those procedures for a more entrepreneur-friendly, minority experience.

Corporate executives conveyed actions that their organizations were taking to create internal programs for upward mobility, education opportunity and corporate citizenship that includes regular and ongoing diversity training for all employees. Fiserv announced its recent sponsorship of the Georgia Chamber’s Small Diverse Business membership grant. Currently underway, this grant affords eight qualifying minority-owned businesses a one-year membership to the Georgia Chamber. Access to health care benefits, brand-building opportunities, connection, and advocacy support are just a few features offered through this initiative. Businesses can learn more and apply today online at gachamber.com/smalldiversebusiness.

Each one of these intentional acts toward inclusion adds up to collective change in our culture, our way of thinking, our resolve to act and our ability to create an equitable environment for all.

Pinnacle moments of the summit centered around keynote speaker addresses by president of AT&T Georgia, Venessa Harrison, and resident/CEO of the Atlanta Falcons, Rich McKay. Both catalytic leaders shared personal experience for how they were instilling change and advocating for ongoing and intentional inclusion not just within their organizations, but also in their broader industry spheres of influence.

In 10 years, Georgia will become a majority-minority state; some of its 159 counties are already majority-minority communities. Georgians should begin now to foster an environment of intentional inclusion. That is why we have partnered with the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and work closely with the Atlanta Black Chambers. Working together, we will create a culture that celebrates diversity, addresses concerns, and embraces the essential change needed now to produce a more resilient and reimagined New Georgia Economy for our collective future. To learn more and engage in ongoing discussion with us, visit gachamber.com/equality-inclusion

Chris Clark is the president/CEO of the Georgia Chamber.

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