Amplified Voices want to be heard

Amplified Voices want to be heard

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Contributors:

Ken Partridge
Managing Editor and Head of Content, My East Coast Experience Media

We support you. We stand with you. These words, or others like them, were on everyone's lips in the days and weeks following the death of George Floyd. As the Black Lives Matter movement rapidly expanded across the world, all aspects of society wanted to be seen as allies in the struggle for true equality.

It is now more than a year since the tragic events that spurred such an outpouring of support. The question now is whether all those words have resulted in tangible action.

Answering that question, at least in terms of Halifax's business community, is the goal of a new study called Amplified Voices. The study is being conducted by a local partnership between the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, Ashanti Leadership and Professional Development Services, My East Coast Experience and Footprint Life Coaching.

The goal is to discover how the local business community understands the needs of an increasingly diverse workforce, and how it's adapting management styles as a result. This information will be gathered via direct conversations with business leaders and shared with the broader community.

“How those with power in society see and value racialized individuals is directly linked to incidents of injustice, mistreatment, and the with-holding of opportunities to participate in the wider society,” says Professor David Divine, founder of Footprint Life Coaching.

“What we are seeking to learn are the lessons local businesses have discovered on what works and what doesn’t. Why did they believe they needed to change in order to address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion? What resources did they use? What policies, processes, tools, and structural changes did they implement? Did they work? If not, why not?”

The project fits well with current focus areas of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, which is trying to move the intent of its policies regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion into concrete action.

"The Chamber has long been a champion of diversity but, as many have discovered over the last few years, passive solidarity is not enough," says Chamber President Patrick Sullivan. "We need action. This project is one of many important steps we are taking to ensure our organization is representative of Halifax’s diverse mosaic of businesses.

"We’re eager to tap into our members’ knowledge in engaging with communities of colour. This project will help our members and all businesses in Halifax access information and best practices to better engage with all communities and create a stronger business community."

Many studies were undertaken as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement, mostly focusing on Black communities and Black business. That is a focus the partnership behind Amplified Voices wants to expand.

"A rising awareness of Black business was obvious,” says Ifeanyi Emesih, founder and CEO of My East Coast Experience.

“Studies were commissioned, start-ups were celebrated, and awareness initiatives undertaken, but they all had one thing in common. They all approached things from the perspective of the Black community. That left a huge section of the existing business community unexplored. That is what makes Amplified Voices different. We wanted from the start to find out what is currently happening in the business community in general, then find ways to promote what is working and make it generally accepted, so that communities of colour can be integrated into the business sector regardless of who owns or runs the company."

What currently exists is a patchwork of diversity initiatives across the business community with every organization taking its own approach, if any at all, at trying to find the right balance. What will define success for the Amplified Voices study is if it can find which of these efforts are working and share that information so that other businesses adopt these approaches and achieve real change.

"Central to the Amplified Voices project is creating cultural and organizational change in addressing systemic racism and institutional bias in organizations,” says Ann Divine, founder of Ashanti Leadership and Professional Development Services. “To support leaders and employees in their organizations, challenge themselves to build an inclusive environment, create a sense of belonging where diversity, equity, and inclusion is a reality for everyone regardless of their difference. Where everyone can express their uniqueness and be a part of the decision- making process without judgment."

“The goal is to create a non-judgemental, safe environment in which businesses and Chamber members feel comfortable sharing their experiences,” David Divine says. “This information can then be shared in an anonymous fashion so other businesses can benefit without having to reinvent the wheel.”

The study seeks to provide insight into such questions as:

  • How do businesses engage with communities of colour?
  • Where are the toolkits to build better relationships?
  • How do businesses consider the needs of the communities they work in?
  • Are businesses asking communities of colour what they need to flourish?
  • Are there some businesses who have successfully addressed reflecting diversity, equity and inclusion into the fabric of their operations and structure? Where are they?
  • Can other businesses access their information and practices to learn from them?
  • What can businesses do that is genuinely sustainable?

Getting the answer to these questions out to the wider business community is where My East Coast Experience comes into the picture. The company has spearheaded several publishing and event projects aimed at raising awareness of the role played by communities of colour in supporting and sustaining Atlantic communities.

"Our efforts to date have celebrated and raised the awareness of the contributions immigrants make every day to our communities,” Emesih says.

“Amplified Voices is our first effort to look beyond awareness and celebration, to try to find ways for immigrants and other people of colour to become not just part of, but integrated into, our communities. It is only by recognizing the ways in which people of colour are excluded from decision-making that we can start to rectify the situation. We can only achieve true equity and inclusion if everyone is consulted and listened to right from the start."

The participation of the Chamber is seen as critical to the success of the study. David Divine points out the Chamber represents 1,800 businesses, with more than 93,000 employees. Small business, defined as 25 employees or less, makes up 85 per cent of those businesses. About 80% per cent of those businesses are White-owned, the exact segment the partnership most wants to reach with its research and results.

“The Chamber is thrilled to be working alongside community leaders like Ann and David Divine and the team at My East Coast Experience,” Sullivan says. “Thanks to our strong relationships, we’re able to share our ideas, work collaboratively, and move this important project forward.”

The study began in June and runs till the end of the year. Results will be published and shared via the partnership to ensure all local businesses, regardless of size, have the opportunity to learn and implement best practices in their operations.


Professor David Divine and Chamber President Patrick Sullivan are available for further information on the project. You can reach Professor Divine at profdaviddivine@gmail.com or 902- 430-3591. Patrick Sullivan can be reached at 902-468-7111 or via Abby Tucker at abby@halifaxchamber.com.

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