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Starting as a diversity and inclusion activist as a Central High School freshman, Wes Pratt has seen change in Springfield firsthand. He now leads efforts promoting equality from his role on the MSU campus.
2019 Projection: As Springfield’s population becomes more diverse, following a national trend that “white” will be the minority by 2045, the community will value the inclusion of diversity by becoming more culturally conscious and competent.
SBJ: Describe the current climate in our community related to diversity and inclusion.
Pratt: The current climate is moderately good for this community, and it’s actually been improving since I came back to Springfield 10 years ago. We have leadership in the public sector, the private and corporate sector, and higher education and public education that see the value of inclusion. That bodes well for future development. I was just at an event where the (Community Foundation of the Ozarks) had awarded diversity and inclusion grants for the first time.
SBJ: What are some of the drivers behind that?
Pratt: There’s a significant business case for valuing the inclusion of diversity. Our young professionals prefer to live, learn and earn in a diverse environment. I think people are starting to understand the value of cultural consciousness and competency. The public sector is looking at how can we enhance opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds in employment.
SBJ: Maurice Jones was just named the deputy city manager. His position is the highest someone who is a minority has reached in our city government. What does that mean for our city?
Pratt: It’s not only the symbolism but the professionalism that this man, Mr. Jones, brings to Springfield. I’ve been championing, and some other folks in this community have been a champion, for the need for diversity in the professional ranks. We need to be able to see professionals who are in positions of authority, of influence, who are making public policy decisions and who have a background perhaps similar to theirs. I look forward to meeting him and collaborating with him on issues that promote minorities in business, women-owned businesses, disabled businesses and veteran-owned businesses. It’s a long time coming, but I appreciate the city manager, [Jason] Gage, for taking the lead.
SBJ: A study by GQR, a global talent and acquisition firm, found 55 percent of businesses agree that diversity and inclusion is built into recruitment strategies, but only 31 percent say they’ve seen progress with those strategies. What are the ways that you’ve seen businesses locally be successful recruiting from diverse people groups?
Pratt: You have to be very intentional. At Missouri State, we set goals. It’s not a quota, but we set goals. We define diversity very broadly; it’s just not about race or gender. You have to have someone from a diverse background in your final pool. You have to do outreach, recruitment in innovative and creative ways.
SBJ: Springfield’s population is over 85 percent white. How do you encourage businesses and individuals to come here when these are the facts?
Pratt: That’s just numerical. You have to look in the public schools; 26 percent is racial, ethnic diversity. When I was a student it was 1 percent. You look at the region, Monett, 50 percent of the students in the public school system are Latino. The demographics are changing rapidly. Because we lack cultural consciousness and awareness, we’re intimidated by that. We’ve got more in common than we have differences, but we don’t know that because we don’t engage.
SBJ: You serve as the board chairman for Minorities in Business. How has the group provided engagement?
Pratt: We have networking meetings where we want to connect with folks in all the sectors in the community. We advocate for minority and women-owned businesses and (Disadvantaged Business Enterprises) and we’re working to build capacity for our businesses. We do business development workshops once a quarter. Springfield historically – back in the 1900s, but, unfortunately, before the lynching – African-Americans had a number of different businesses. There were African-American City Council members, African-American school board members and the largest grocery store was owned by a black family. Historically, there was a black business class in Springfield. We’re trying to rekindle that spirit of entrepreneurship.
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