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November 20, 2023

DEI forum: Economic myths perpetuate racism

five people sitting on a stage Photo | Kris Prosser Panel participants at WBJ's 2023 DEI Forum (from left) Valerie Zolezzi-Wyndham of Promoting Good, Jess Lee of Waters Corp., Sheila King-Goodwin of Fidelity Bank, Hayley Haywood of Elevating Access, and Richard Van Nostrand of Mirick O’Connell

The myth that success is achieved solely through hard work and therefore poor people deserve their station in life because they don’t work hard enough is among the economic narratives sustaining racism throughout the economies of Central Massachusetts and the nation, according to the keynote speaker at WBJ’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Forum.

Business owners and executives met at Worcester’s DCU Center on Thursday to discuss their experiences in fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion at their companies and some of the persistent myths continuing to cause economic and racial inequality. These conversations were held as part of WBJ’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Forum, offering Central Massachusetts business owners a chance to develop a deeper understanding of the importance of DEI efforts and delivering meaningful cultural change.

The special keynote presentation was made by Jeff Fuhrer, a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. and a foundation fellow at Eastern Bank Foundation in Lynn. Fuhrer discussed his new book, “The Myth That Made Us,” which focuses on how false narratives have perpetuated economic and racial inequality. 

His presentation chronicled the impact myths about the working class and racial minorities have had on policy and perceptions, offering potential solutions to help facilitate a fairer society. 

Fuhrer’s presentation was followed by a panel discussion led by Valerie Zolezzi-Wyndham, founder and owner of Promoting Good in Upton. Participants in the panel were Hayley Haywood, founder and chief equity officer of Elevating Access in Worcester; Sheila King-Goodwin, senior vice president, chief community banking officer and chairperson of the inclusion and diversity advisory board and advisory council at Fidelity Bank in Leominster; Jess Lee, director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Waters Corp. in Milford; and Richard Van Nostrand, general counsel at Worcester Mirick O’Connell. 

During the discussion, panelists discussed their experience with DEI efforts and how their companies are continuing to work to build more inclusive workplaces and communities. One topic discussed was how DEI efforts can help drive overall innovation.

“When you’re thinking about innovation, one of our missions is to solve problems that matter. In order to do that, we need to have diverse groups of people in the room,” said Lee. “We need to make sure that we’re getting different perspectives and varied experiences because that’s going to push innovation.”

The next event held by WBJ will be the publication’s Central Mass. Champions of Health Care Awards and Forum, which is scheduled for Dec. 13 at the College of Holy Cross’ Hogan Campus Center. Register here

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