“If we want to operate in a global economy, we must respect and work with all religions and people, be that by race, gender, culture, physical ability, or sexual preference. We must focus on who people are and what they can do rather than what they are. Without that respect, it will be difficult to advance our business environment.”
So says, James “Jim” Dyke, a living legend within our Northern Virginia business community whose tireless efforts on behalf of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion have led him, amongst other roles, to become Virginia’s first Black Secretary of Education, the first minority Chair in the then 75 years of the Chamber (1999-2000), and a current member of the Chamber’s DE&I Board of Advisors. We sat down with Jim and asked about Northern Virginia’s inclusivity and where the Chamber’s DE&I Advisory Board fits into its future:
“Since 2019, Virginia has been named CNBC’s Top State for Business. We’re doing a lot of things right, but to remain competitive and to continue to grow, we need to keep pushing the ball forward. We’re on a path to have a “minority majority” in our country by 2045. We’re already living it. We must send a message to the world that Virginia is also the best state for inclusivity in the workforce. We must provide a wrap-around atmosphere where lifestyle, work opportunities, and training/education come together in an environment that will attract the best employees, no matter their race, gender, religion, physical ability, or sexual preference.
That’s what we’re working on as the Chamber’s DE&I Board of Advisors. We’re focused on those needs that will propel Northern Virginia’s business environment forward and keep us at the top. We’re helping the Chamber set the tone and send a message that our members can collaborate on inclusivity and better succeed with a diverse work community, not just for big businesses but for smaller businesses, as well. We want to create a business environment that holds people accountable for diversity, equity, and inclusion. We want people to be comfortable questioning and advocating for diversity within their workplaces, C-Suites, and Boards.
Our business community is at an advantage with its proximity to both the Federal and State seats of government. Our location has attracted businesses, but we need to go beyond that and send a message to the world that we are a welcoming and inclusive community that treats people from a human perspective. We need to encourage women and minority-owned businesses and help diversify C-Suites and Boards. We need to help these businesses succeed, be it through helping them secure the funding they need or through business opportunities. In turn, this will help our community as a whole by developing an entrepreneurial pipeline and resulting in regional economic growth.
Our DE&I work also includes addressing workforce issues like attainable housing which is something our region struggles with and has been tied to segregated education and housing discrimination. When our essential workers cannot find attainable housing within our community, it’s a major problem for businesses. A factor that compounds our housing issues is that current generations are not as economically prosperous as previous generations. We’re finding that not all families can afford to live within the same community.
The two areas for building wealth are education and home ownership. Education has always been a priority for me and having more and improved educational opportunities will only enhance our region’s workforce and economy. We must not get diverted and lose the positive progress we’ve made in education over the years by focusing on red herring issues. The facts of our shared history, the good, the bad and the ugly, are what they are. Race has been a driving factor in past governmental and private actions that resulted in discrimination. We are not pointing fingers or hoping to make people “feel bad”. Rather, we are trying to understand what steps need to be taken to eliminate the vestiges of that discrimination so that we are indeed judged on the content of our character and not the color of our skin, gender, religion, physical ability, or sexual preference.
I’d like to be remembered as someone who wasn’t afraid to take the unpopular stand because it was the right thing to do - that I pushed the envelope forward. Others before me paved the way for my success, and I must keep doors open for those coming behind me. I’ve been guided by the principal that if the thing is right then the time is right.
Paving the way forward can apply to our businesses as well. The time is right for Virginia. With all of us pulling together on diversity, equity, and inclusion, we will continue as not only the best state for business, but also as the most inclusive business environment that welcomes diversity and understands its importance in growing our economy."