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Orlando Economic Partnership CEO says DEI efforts are strong in Orlando

Diversity in the workplace.
Diversity in the workplace.

Florida state colleges and universities will no longer have funding for diversity, equity and inclusion programs starting July 1, 2023 after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill in May that banned those schools from spending money on DEI.

However, Orlando Economic Partnership’s CEO Tim Giuliani said that’s not stopping DEI efforts in the City Beautiful.

Listen to the full conversation in the player above.

Tim Giuliani landscape is the CEO of the Orlando Economic Partnership.
Orlando Economic Partnership
Tim Giuliani landscape is the CEO of the Orlando Economic Partnership.

Talia Blake: What is the state of DEI in Orlando?

Tim Giuliani: Well, it's obviously gotten more political. I kind of fear the politicization of everything at this point. If you look back, McKenzie did a study in 2019 of over 500 organizations, and they found that every time you increase the gender and racial diversity by 1%, it correlates to 3% to 9% increase in sales. So, there is an important business case to be made for not only companies to recognize the power of inclusion, but also from an economic stance, the more people that are doing well, and making higher wages, the stronger the economy is for everybody. So, I think it's a basic economic argument here that it's it's definitely the right thing to do.

Talia Blake: Have we seen any changes when it comes to DEI since some of this legislation has been passed in some of the politics surrounding DEI? What you're hearing from businesses right now?

Tim Giuliani: A couple of years ago, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, we had 170 corporate CEOs in Central Florida sign a pledge that speaks to diversity, equity, and inclusion and represents over 200,000 employees in the region. So, what we know is Orlando is a very inclusive place and the companies here reflect that, I think, largely companies reflect that across the country. But it certainly has gotten more complicated and more political. So this is an area where we would hear from company executives, even a few years ago, saying, "I know, I need to do more, but what is it that I need to do?" And that's where this pledge was born, is just trying to provide some direction and answer. So we convened broad swath of the community, kind of representation from all aspects of our community, and laid out what those action steps would be. I think a lot of those companies are continuing. I think it makes business sense (and) makes economic sense. There's the stories that continue to get circulated in national media, and then there's the reality of what everyday companies are doing. And I don't think there's been a loss and momentum on the action just on the conversation.

Talia Blake: Speaking of that, reality versus what's actually happening when it comes to DEI and the businesses, what efforts are happening here in our region when it comes to DEI efforts? I know that after the travel advisories were issued, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said the community embraces Dei. So, what DEI efforts is the region working on?

Tim Giuliani: I think, again, back to advancing Broad Based Prosperity, which is the mission of our organization at the Orlando Economic Partnership, the things that I can speak to that we're personally involved in. For instance, we realized, with the help of the Central Florida Community Foundation, that representation on nonprofit board of directors in Central Florida, highly underrepresented black members of our community. And so we started the Black Boardroom Leadership Institute as a way to help organizations become more inclusive, but also help black leaders emerge, be identified, and take away the thought that of "I don't know who to have fill these positions." In the last couple of years, the percentage of black members on nonprofit boards in Central Florida has gone from 11% to 17%.

Talia Blake: What have been the impacts on DEI on businesses, since some of these controversial laws were passed this year, and travel advisories issued?

Tim Giuliani: I think the impacts are really hard to measure at this point. It's recent. Also, have to remind everybody that when companies are making economic decisions, there's not ever a perfect answer. And they're looking at the relative options available. So while we have these things going on in Florida, there's other states as well that kind of are pursuing similar policies. And so it's just not Florida. There's also the separation between what's really happening, and then what is the national media continued to talk about and amplify. So there's a there's a difference there. And I think the people that are operating on the ground are still doing the things that are smart for their business. Some people want to characterize that as political. I think the business people that we talked to are interested in improving their business in the local economy.

Talia Blake: So would you say that businesses here are not really too worried about hiring when it comes to making sure that their workforce looks diverse and is inclusive? Would you say that they're not worried about hiring right now when it comes to DEI?

Tim Giuliani: Well, I think that there's two things. Number one we're a majority minority market. So we're further advanced, if you will, on that spectrum than a lot of the rest of the country. So I think a lot of companies are concerned, "do my employees look like my customers, and can they relate? And can my employees see people like them that are in higher position?" So I think companies have become very aware of the importance of that. I also want to say that this conversation long preceding our careers has always been two steps forward, one step back, and I feel like we're in that. It'll ultimately shakeout. The demographics and the economy move at a certain pace and elected officials come and go. I think, in the long run Florida is a very dynamic economy, a fast growing economy, I think it will remain that not withstanding some challenges that are obvious that are in front of us, but I think in the long run these things tend to head towards progress.

After a brief stint as Morning Edition Producer at The Public’s Radio in in Rhode Island, Talia Blake returned to WMFE, the station that grew her love for public radio. She graduated with a double-major in Broadcast Journalism and Psychology from the University of Central Florida (Go Knights!). While at UCF, she was an intern for WMFE’s public affairs show, Intersection. In her spare time, Talia is an avid foodie and enjoys working out.
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