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Jon Swope: Physicians in the U.S. are increasingly foreign-born.
Jon Swope: Physicians in the U.S. are increasingly foreign-born.

Diversity in Development

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In 2009, four groups with varying agendas reviewed Springfield’s cultural makeup and each found the city to be lacking in diversity.

“Putting it in purely numerical terms, Springfield is the second-least diverse of metropolitan areas with a population of 400,000 or more,” said Tim Rosenbury, chairman of the board of directors for the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. “That doesn’t make us second from the top, that makes us second from the bottom. Those companies, especially that have diversity as a corporate value, see us as a noncompetitor.”

According to the 2008 Census, 92.4 percent of the Springfield metropolitan statistical comprises white residents – a big red flag in last year’s four reports. The city beating Springfield for the dubious distinction is 94.1-percent-white Portland, Maine. One report looked at attracting and maintaining a work force in the young professional category; one identified the strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats Springfield faces as a business community; another was the city’s community report card; and another examined the community’s retention of students from area universities after graduation.
As a result, the chamber board decided to make diversity part of its 2010 strategic priority issues, Rosenbury said.

“The chamber views diversity through the lens of economic development,” he said. “Diverse groups will need to come together to solve the whole problem. We can’t be one group solving problems for the whole. It would be presumptuous.”

Attracting and retaining talent – and their employers
A key issue is attracting talent to the community, Rosenbury noted.

“In an increasingly diverse world, the best and brightest are not always white,” he said. “If we don’t have a community that welcomes nonwhite people, are they going to want to come here?”

The local hospital systems are continuously trying to recruit the best and brightest.

When prospective doctors and their families visit, they look at schools, churches and the cultural areas of a community, said John Hursch, vice president of human resources at CoxHealth.

“More and more physicians in the work force in our country today are foreign-born,” added Jon Swope, president and CEO of St. John’s Health System. “To bring them to an environment that does not have cultural diversity makes it really hard for them to fit in and really feel a part of the community.”

From his role as principal at architectural firm Butler, Rosenbury and Partners Inc., Rosenbury said a lack of diversity could put a damper on employee recruitment in the future.

“Our firm has done work internationally, which means we’ve been working with people who are very different from us,” Rosenbury said. “If we can become, culturally, a little more sensitive, we can do better business and build better relationships.”

Even if nonwhite employees sign on, they aren’t always comfortable staying, Swope said, noting a 2007 American Medical Group Association survey that said 51 percent of physicians in the U.S. stated the
reason they left a practice was a poor cultural fit in their practice and their community.

Swope said health care recruits look for people with similar backgrounds and views or historical connections.

“They don’t ever feel comfortable,” otherwise, he said.

Talented workers aren’t the only ones making a conscious decision to bypass Springfield because of its lack of diversity. Employers also are looking at cultural makeup when they’re seeking out new locations, said Francine Pratt, director of Isabel’s House and president of the Springfield chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

“We have large companies that want to come here and because they operate in a global work force, they want to attract people to come here,” she said, noting if companies determine their employees wouldn’t want to relocate to Springfield, that also impacts their decision.

Fostering a culture
To help foster a feeling of community, St. John’s Health System started its CREW -– Connect, Relax, Engage and Welcome – and S.H.E., M.D. – Socializing, Healing, Encouraging – initiatives for its physicians and its families, Swope said. The groups offer activities and opportunities for St. John’s staff to socialize and connect with others in similar positions.

At JP Morgan Chase, diversity is part of the company’s culture, said Jennifer Walsh, human resources site lead at Chase Card Services in Springfield, 303 E. Republic Road.

“All employees can bring their whole selves to work,” Walsh said. “That includes background, lifestyle, education. At Chase, I don’t think anyone is left out. It’s all of us.”

Walsh said what started as a grassroots initiative by Chase employees has turned out to be a key to the company’s inclusive culture. Employee network groups, created and run by staffers who feel a common link, help support career development, community outreach and diversity initiatives within the company. Groups include the Pride network, which represents gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees; Adelante, which represents employees with Hispanic heritage; ujima, which represents the black community; and WFN, which stands for working family network, Walsh said. Often groups have a month long heritage celebration, she said, noting Adelante will hold different events between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15.

“There is a host of activities going on around the community that I don’t think everyone is aware of,” said Pratt, noting diversity efforts by the chamber, the city, universities and others. “I think the city is headed in the right direction. … And I’m glad to be a part of it.”[[In-content Ad]]

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