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A Conversation With … Justyn Pippins

Staff, Minorities in Business

Posted online

Tell me about the diversity and leadership conference you are planning for March.
There’s some good momentum around diversity and inclusion. I just wanted to build on that. Stedman Graham is on this huge book tour right now for “Identity Leadership.” This was just a way to kind of get the book tour to come to Missouri and then put a conference behind it at the same time. This leadership group, the Institute for Leadership and Performance Improvement, they put on diversity conferences all across the country. They kind of scan communities and see what they need, and then they bring those services to the area if the community will engage.

This is the group’s first event in Springfield. What are the opportunities the organizers see here?
They didn’t know anything about Springfield. They were wanting to do this either in St. Louis or Kansas City. But the more conversations we had, the more Springfield made sense. When they scan Springfield, they immediately saw the city was 90% white. They immediately saw we have our issues: domestic violence, health care, opioids, homelessness, and so those are the types of services that they bring. If we will engage with them and listen to what they have to say, they will bring services and trainings. One of our sponsors right now is (CoxHealth). Through that sponsorship, one of our speakers will come back and do their multicultural day at Cox.

What’s the conference agenda?
With a name like Stedman Graham as keynote, we’re going to see a lot of people from Chicago, Indiana, Arkansas. We’re going to have a big speaker from the East Coast, Jimmy McMikle. He does a lot of trainings on leadership. Toni Robinson will do an introduction, the NAACP president. And James Bonds, he’s a Minorities in Business board member and he’s a life coach. There will be some breakout sessions. We’ll get opportunities to get some outside thinking, some out of town ideas, just some different voices in the room. That’s what I think Springfield struggles with a lot. They’re in these meetings all the time, and they’re only hearing their own voices.

Workforce attraction and development are big topics. Are we a welcoming city for potential diverse candidates? What do we need to do to get there?
Springfield is trying. It just will continue to be a struggle for any person who moves here to go to college, decides to stay here, goes into the workforce and they’re the only diverse person working in a company at 23 or 24 fresh out of college. That’s really intimidating to be a big-city person around a lot of small-town people that don’t think like you, don’t operate like you. Once they start to get more diverse people in the door, I think it’ll be really easy for Springfield to then attract and retain diverse people. You need to pull that person to the side and get to know them, make them comfortable. Then bring them into your circle. It’s not really a lot of work to make your neighbor feel welcome.

How has Minorities in Business advanced this vision you have for Springfield?
Let’s just take a company like Commerce Bank. When they first started coming to our meetings, they would always be like, “How can they be more diverse?” I would always tell them, “Hey, this guy standing right here next to you that you brought to this event, put him in a position.” You have to put people in positions to where they can attract other people to your organization. If all of your diverse people are in low-level positions, you can’t see nothing past that low level. You can’t be it, if you can’t see it.

Will Springfield be a more diverse community in the future?
If you could pay attention to some people who will go get a chief diversity officer or who will foster that training to get diverse people in the door and put them in position quickly, those are the companies that will lead Springfield into the future. A lady (at Springfield Business Journal) wrote an article about how you tried to hire (an African American) from Kansas City and her parents were scared for her life. That really resonates. That’s what Springfield people can do is just share more of those stories of struggles. That vulnerability says a lot. It says that you care.

Justyn Pippins can be reached at juspip8@gmail.com

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