Local View: Welcoming Efforts Face Shared Challenges

A version of this article originally appeared in the Duluth News Tribune on September 21, 2022. You can view it here.

No matter how many strategies you have in place, if employees do not feel respected, your business will not thrive. This is one of the major takeaways from my summer as Northspan’s justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) policy and sustainability intern. In this role, I studied Northland efforts to help foster and create welcoming communities in our region.   

My first task was to compile lists of individuals and groups in the Northland engaged in welcoming work. I focused on several key industries: manufacturing, government, the nonprofit sector, and construction.  

In the process, my colleagues and I heard many accounts of people who tried to move to the Northland from outside the region, but struggled to find the support they needed to put down roots. Housing, child care, community groups — how do people find these resources in our region? One option is BeNorth.org, an all-in-one directory we’ve built as an online home for leads, including for relocation assistance and for groups that focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DEI. 

For the second part of my internship, I dug into national studies on how organizations are creating welcoming environments for employees. Then I met with individuals from various organizations in the Northland to get a better understanding of DEI policies and practices in place in our region.  

What I learned is that this work is relatively new within most organizations. It typically takes the form of a handful of people serving on a DEI team of some sort. These teams work to ensure all people within the organization feel they have a space for their voice to be heard. They also help organizations become aware of a broad range of equity issues and advise management on steps needed to make changes.  

Success for these groups can translate as JEDI practices that not only improve company culture but also improve the overall success of the business.  

However, DEI teams often face several challenges. According to the individuals I interviewed, difficulties include:   

  • DEI groups tend to lack the support they need to make major changes, either from upper management or other employees who voice pushback for various reasons.  
  • Change is often slow-moving.  
  • At times, it can feel like DEI efforts are not taken seriously enough. Lack of follow-through is common.  

Overall, there is lots of work being done across the region to ensure there are resources and opportunities available for individuals of all backgrounds. However, there is still a long way to go for many organizations and communities to be truly inclusive. As the saying goes, “The best time to start was 20 years ago, the second-best time to start is now.”   

Caring for people on an individual level translates into better results in all aspects of life. By doing this in our communities and workplaces, we will create thriving and sustainable environments to last for generations to come.     

Olivia Niska, of Cook, Minnesota, is a senior at The College of St. Scholastica majoring in organizational leadership with minors in marketing and management.