Friday, October 12, 2018

On Tuesday, October 2, 2018, Americans for the Arts in partnership with the Arts & Business Council of New York presented a Business Roundtable: Leveraging the Arts to Advance Equity in Business. The roundtable convened at Wells Fargo Private Bank in New York City and gathered 42 business leaders across sectors to discuss the arts impact on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, as well as barriers and breakthroughs. The roundtable is part of an ongoing series presented by Americans for the Arts designed to bring together local business leaders.

Eric Ellis, President and CEO of Integrity Development, set the stage for the afternoon’s discussion, presenting an overview of DEI and a few foundational ways that arts relate.

Amy Webb and Emma Osore of Arts and Business Council of New York led an arts activation where participants shared quick personal stories about themselves and drew a self-portrait—in 90 seconds. Although there were nerves surrounding personal artistry, the portraits brought smiles and laughter as table members showcased the portraits to each other. The activity broke barriers between participants prior to starting discussion on DEI. All the portraits were collected and hung as a gallery wall for participants to enjoy.

Following the creative spark, Ellis facilitated discussion among four speakers surrounding their DEI work as part of an everyday mission and work their company has completed to integrate these practices. The speakers included Ryan Williams, Director of Multicultural Initiatives at NBC News; Michael Dumlao, Brand Director at Booz Allen Hamilton; Floyd W. Green III, Vice President of Community Activation & Local Marketing at Aetna; and Leah Fischman, Board Chair at Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.

Dumlao shared how Booz Allen Hamilton sponsored film screenings of The Imitation Game and Hidden Figures across the country that allowed for nuanced conversations about identity between employees, clients, and community members. Fischman described the use of an inclusion rider and how similar tools can combat the shortage of equitable opportunities in the entertainment industry.   

After hearing an expert take on how the arts can advance equity, participants broke into small groups facilitated by the speakers to discuss how the arts can align DEI activities to core business strategies and how businesses can creatively develop and retain diverse talent.

Each of the four groups shared key takeaways and strategies, including:

  • implementing quick arts activities across a company to start DEI conversations
  • utilizing heritage months as a springboard to consistent engagement with artists
  • advocating for arts, business, and community partnerships through arts-passionate clients, C-suite executives, and shareholders
  • driving talent pipeline development by supporting arts education as a key way to empower innovative and creative individuals for the future workforce
  • ensuring that hiring practices uphold a company’s DEI values

To wrap up, participants were encouraged to write a commitment of action, which was then posted on the gallery wall. Some of the commitments were:

“I will make [my financial services company] better by lead(ing) by example and bring(ing) the arts and culture to our EDI work and partnerships.”

“I will make [my healthcare company] better by identifying the barriers in the system that are holding us from DEI.”

“I will make [my music manufacturing company] better by teaching the principles and the practices of DEI early, at a child’s early stage of development—using music-based learning as the tool.”