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Panel: Iowa businesses must be 'intentional' in making diversity, inclusion priorities

Jessi Stoll (center), directorate training program lead with Collins Aerospace, speaks on diversity and inclusion in the workplace at he Geonetric building in Cedar Rapids on Friday, June 28, 2019. Ben Dillon with Geonetric and Sharina Sallis with CUNA Mutual Group also were on the panel. (Thomas Friestad/The Gazette)
Jessi Stoll (center), directorate training program lead with Collins Aerospace, speaks on diversity and inclusion in the workplace at he Geonetric building in Cedar Rapids on Friday, June 28, 2019. Ben Dillon with Geonetric and Sharina Sallis with CUNA Mutual Group also were on the panel. (Thomas Friestad/The Gazette)

Iowa companies can benefit from a melting pot of employees at all levels, with varying backgrounds in terms of gender, race and sexual identity, but that workforce won’t come together out of the blue, a panel agreed.

The three-person panel discussed their experiences with workplace diversity and inclusion Friday afternoon with about 30 Corridor company representatives at the Geonetric building in Cedar Rapids’ New Bohemia District, at a lunch sponsored by the Technology Association of Iowa.

Sharina Sallis, community relations manager at CUNA Mutual Group’s Waverly office, said her company started taking a more active approach in recruiting qualified candidates from outside the “small, white” city’s limits as well as from within.

“We knew that we wanted to do something different, we knew we needed something different, and so we had to be very intentional and purposeful about going to find that and stop waiting for it to find us,” she said.

Jessi Stoll, directorate training program lead with Collins Aerospace, said both leadership and employees can help in crafting a company culture comfortable for all employees.

Stoll recounted an experience within her company, in which some employees reacted negatively to emailed lists of preparations to consider before taking company headshots. The list of items for female employees was noticeably longer than for their male counterparts.

“People, they pick up on those things, and being able to talk through those in a way that you’re not calling out that person and saying, ‘How dare you, why did you do it like this?’ but instead ‘Here’s another option and here’s how we can learn from the situation’” is beneficial, she said.

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Ben Dillon, co-owner and chief strategy officer for Geonetric, which won a Best Technology Company Culture award from the Technology Association of Iowa in April, said his company has hired a consultant to assess “blind spots” regarding diversity and inclusion within the company.

“Our organizations are more effective and less fragile when all the people involved don’t look alike, don’t think alike, aren’t coming from the same place,” he said. “Diversity has a real positive effect across the board for how well organizations are able to execute and how well they’re able to find their way forward.”

• Comments: (319) 398-8366; thomas.friestad@thegazette.com

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