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ECCO International recently attended a panel discussion hosted by the Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal Forum.  The speakers came from the private and public sectors and consisted of three men and three women, three of whom were people of color. A few common themes emerged.

Diversity and inclusion must be supported at the CEO level.

The uppermost levels of the organization must walk the talk. Bev Brown, Director of Inclusion and Engagement at Excel Energy gave several examples of how diversity and inclusion is part of the fabric of employee life at the company. A Council for Diversity and Inclusion was created in 2011.

CDI Vision: Be a diverse and inclusive culture

CDI Mission: Create and foster a culture of diversity and inclusion that drives employee engagement by recognizing both individual and group contributions in support of corporate goals. Promote an environment that recognizes, celebrates and embraces diverse cultures, interests, perspectives and experiences in the communities served by Xcel Energy.

In July 2013, Ben Fowke, chairman, president and CEO of Xcel Energy, met with the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee to discuss our military hiring practices. Clearly, this is an effort to walk the talk.

“We all do better, when we all do better.” Senator Paul Wellstone

Diversity and inclusion is a business imperative.

Several of the speakers spoke of a worker shortfall. The Chamber of Commerce estimates that there will be a shortfall of 100,000 in the Twin Cities by the year 2020. Excel Energy noted that 38% of their employees will be retiring soon. HealthPartners, a non-profit health care provider and insurer stressed the importance of diversity and inclusion as a way of being able to reach out to their patient and client base – who “are as diverse as is our society.” Currently HealthPartners is 85% female and 18% minority.

Diversity and inclusion is not a program.

It must be incorporated into all levels of an organization – from the mission, vision and values, to the hiring practices to the compensation and benefits. Any diversity and inclusion effort must be fully integrated throughout the organization and should be part of an organization’s annual plan.

Ravi Norman of Thor Construction mentioned that without data, people will default to their self-interest. Diversity and inclusion is a way to unlock people’s common interests. He described the ideal organization as a Human Asset Organization.

In the U.S., diversity is a reality. Inclusion is a choice.