Ken CoopwoodSBJ photo by AARON SCOTTClick here for more photos.
Ken Coopwood


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Nine months into the job, Missouri State University's first permanent vice president for diversity and inclusion is using education to get the word out to businesses and the community at large.

Ken Coopwood, Ph.D. - the June 19 guest for Springfield Business Journal's 12 People You Need to Know breakfast series at Hilton Garden Inn - got his start at MSU in October, and has since been visiting business and community leaders to plant the seeds for growing diversity and inclusion in Springfield.

"Maybe two or three years down the road, we'll have some hard-core, concrete things that are in place that make sense for the community," Coopwood said. "Right now, it's about education. It's about helping people understand that 'and' between diversity and inclusion."

Coopwood defines diversity and inclusion as separate concepts, with diversity being the individual talents and characteristics that people wake up with every day, and inclusion being the policies and practices a society or company uses to manage that diversity.

In speaking with company and organization leaders, Coopwood said he attempts to communicate that an organization has more to lose by not embracing diversity and inclusion than accepting and welcoming the concepts.

By not being diverse and inclusive, an organization could miss out on an opportunity to build a diverse talent base and to outpace competitors by moving above and beyond the status quo, Coopwood said.

"It's more than just about being inclusive. It's about having an infrastructure that draws people from various backgrounds, that uses people's talents and abilities to better engage other members of the community and to build the place up," he said.

Coopwood also has been speaking with company executives to try to get them to sign what he calls the code of inclusiveness, a set of principles representing policies and paradigms for diversity and inclusion. Though he hasn't had any takers, he said he believes his presence and ideas have been welcome.

"It's a simple concept but a really profound one in terms of getting people on board with the same value systems, the same action plans and the same principles and practices that would make Springfield a more magnetic city," he said.

For recruiting and retaining diverse talent, Coopwood noted the importance of making the community one where people enjoy the same or better quality of life that they would experience elsewhere. As examples, he pointed to after-work activities he would personally like to see, such as a black-focused radio station or jazz clubs. He added that generating an atmosphere where families can feel safe and welcome goes a long way toward recruiting and retaining talent.

"Those things make the difference," he said. "We're talking about building a lifestyle. We're not talking about just building a workplace environment that people can thrive in."

Coopwood is not alone in his quest to increase awareness of diversity and inclusion in the community. The Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, which has identified diversity as a priority, has launched its Facing Racism workshop, and the group Diversity MODES - which has representatives from MSU, Ozarks Technical Community College, and Drury, Evangel and Southwest Baptist universities - holds regular discussion and planning meetings, according to Springfield Business Journal archives.