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6 executives focused on diversity have big ideas for Buffalo Niagara’s companies


A Buffalo Niagara Partnership survey in 2020 found that nearly 3 of every 4 businesses responding had launched an initiative to become more diverse, but fewer than 1 in 5 had set concrete diversity and inclusion goals, and just 1 in 20 said they had fully achieved those goals.

“You get different perspectives, lived experiences and skill sets into these rooms that are helping us to make decisions that for in the best interest of the customers,” said Jackson, the bank’s chief diversity officer.

M&T has set targets to diversify its leadership by 2025. Five years ago, women accounted for 25% of senior leadership. Now that figure is approaching 40%, and the bank is aiming for gender parity. M&T is also aiming to increase the number of Blacks and Latinos in its leadership ranks.

Recruiting is part of the strategy. About 40% of the most recent class of its Management Development Program – a source of future leaders – consisted of people of color. M&T is also looking to partnerships with Buffalo Public Schools, and interns from SUNY Buffalo State, to help meet its diversity goals.

“If you don’t have that, you have very little,” Jackson said. “René has led in a way now where he’s made it commonplace for people to talk about their unique lived experiences. He’s made it commonplace to talk about his challenges as being a Black male.”

“The other mistake that we make is thinking this work benefits only, let’s say, people of color, or folks from an LGBTQ+ community,” she said. “Work in this space benefits the entire campus, not just those from underprivileged backgrounds.”

Gehl joined Say Yes in a full-time role in July, but he had been working with the organization for a couple of years, splitting his time between Say Yes and Child & Family Services of Erie County. Gehl, a City Honors graduate who has a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Medaille College, also is president-elect of the Buffalo Niagara Human Resource Association.

When looking to hire diverse candidates, Gehl said, organizations have to make connections and get the information in front of specific communities and sometimes post it in different languages. It also helps to have an already diverse team that has a broad network of contacts, with a far reach, to promote job opportunities.

“Inclusivity leads to higher populations and less unemployment. So it’s a win-win,” she said. “ There are some companies that are doing great work for immigrants, creating inclusive environments even before now. But we have to continue to recognize innovation and creativity, all the beauty of having these diverse people in our workforce.”

Brown says most companies take it seriously. “There are a lot of companies that have always been committed to creating inclusive cultures, and there are some companies that aren’t,” Brown said. “You can’t just put pictures on the website. That’s what we call performative. But I can speak to a lot of organizations that we work with, and they’re doing the real work.”

“I think there’s a real group of people that’s really committed, and a group of people that want to be committed, but aren’t sure what to do, and then a group that just don’t care. They aren’t interested,” she said.

“What we did was we kind of took it and reversed it, because we knew that we wanted HR to be looked at through the lens of equity and ensure that the things that we were doing were going to be inclusive and have that equity in mind,” said Mends-Aidoo, a Syracuse native who came to Buffalo for college and never left.

She’s also making an impact on the Orchard Park-based dealer group as its director of inclusion, diversity and equity. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to really be an advocate,” said Davis, who was named to her position last summer.

Davis said diversity should be seen as more than just race and ethnicity, extending to everything from age and gender, to socioeconomic status and physical ability. At West Herr, she is part of interviews with job candidates and employee orientation sessions.

West Herr is already one of the nation’s largest dealer groups and keeps growing through acquisitions. As new groups of employees come into the fold, Davis shares with them the message of what diversity means to West Herr.

What about smaller businesses that lack the resources for a full-time diversity, equity and inclusion officer? Davis recommends they still pay attention to those issues, such as by hiring a consultant to offer feedback and run training sessions for employees.

This content was originally published here.

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