As Black Lives Matter protests sweep the nation, the people of Maine are joining the calls for racial equality. From Caribou to South Portland, thousands of Mainers have rallied in George Floyd’s name — mere days after he was tragically killed in Minnesota.
While some have dishonored the Floyd name by rioting and looting, the overwhelming majority of Mainers are using the power of peaceful protest to make change. Our state may be the whitest in the country, but the fight for racial equality should matter to all Americans. As Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Now is the time for all of us to heed his words and make change however possible. This means all of us — white, black, all of us together.
Building on the momentum of recent days, the business community can and should lead the way. Nowhere are diversity and inclusion more important than in the workplace, where Mainers spend most of their days. Employers of all sizes must strive to prioritize and reward competence — regardless of skin color.
If a black job-seeker is more competent than his white counterpart, it is the former who should be hired. If a black employee is more competent than her white counterpart, it is the former who should be promoted. No exceptions.
Those employers who fail to make minority job-seekers and workers comfortable are not only swimming against the tide of racial equality, but they are also undermining their bottom line. The more diverse and inclusive a workplace, the more varied the ideas being brought to the table. Employers that court opinions from across the racial spectrum are more likely to think outside the box, not to mention succeed in serving the diverse communities of 21st-century America. Companies with racially diverse teams are 35 percent more likely to perform better, when compared to their more homogenous counterparts.
Indeed, many Maine-based employers have already picked up the baton of diversity and inclusion. For example, Colby College is now searching for a new dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, in an attempt to make minority students feel more welcome in Waterville. Similarly, the town of Oakland has sponsored its first sensitivity training, aimed at rural communities. Among other topics, the training will cover the prevalence of unconscious bias and the importance of bystander action in the face of racism.
The Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, hosted a meeting for the planning of a diversity and inclusion regional committee that will explore the ways the community can build on the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement. The chamber is actively recruiting committee members.
Although rural Maine may not be considered a national leader on racial equality, our people are taking concrete steps to promote diversity and inclusion. Mainers know that the time for talk is over; we need to change a system that has historically disadvantaged minority communities.
Again, each and every segment of the business community has a major role to play. Business parks like mine need to put forward a strong, welcoming culture for all employers and employees. And we are doing just that.
But, beyond business, we need to establish clear goals for what can be done to change our status quo for the better. As a society, we need to come together and have a real conversation about racial equality. Then, we must turn that conversation into action — concrete action. The best we can do is to lead by example.
In business and in our communities, we need to live and breathe racial equality in our everyday lives. Only by treating others fairly and justly can we hope to make any progress.
Jim Dinkle is executive director of FirstPark in Oakland.