President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed the profound economic challenges facing America in 1932 with his New Deal, a package of programs that helped the country recover from the Great Depression and helped usher in a period of stability and economic growth that lasted for generations.
Today, we again find ourselves challenged, with the convergence of an aging population, interdependent global markets and climate changes that require another set of transformational solutions: a revised “New DEEL.”
This DEEL, which stands for diversity, equality, equity and lasting impact, will require innovative policies, programs, products and perspectives to unlock the potential of an emerging population and create another lasting impact for generations to come.
In 2003, I wrote the strategic plan for what was then the Midwest Minority Supplier Development Council (now the NCMSDC), a certifying body that connects multinational corporations with local minority business enterprises (MBEs). The context of diversity at that time was centered on increasing spending with MBEs and—based on data showing MBEs hire more people of color than white-owned firms—increasing living-wage jobs for people of color. Some 13 years later, we are still trying to achieve sustained success in these traditional diversity programs, while also broadening the definition of diversity to include additional protected classes (e.g., LGBT and veterans).
In this context, I’ve come to understand diversity to mean “embracing differences through the integration of new means and methods.” Unfortunately, this well-intended concept typically doesn’t work because it goes against the predisposition of most people.
Most of us seek out people we feel are like us, because it induces trust and comfort, which are the building blocks of relationships. People easily default to race, gender, sexual orientation and religion in their relationships because of this tendency toward homogeneity. As a result, the concept of “embracing differences” can often induce fear, anxiety and marginalization. Diversity, therefore, only works when it is set within a context of commonality.
This is why the first step in the New DEEL is to make diversity initiatives work by identifying common foundational values and taking the time to have honest dialogue about the preference and priority of those values.
The next step is to improve equality, which in this context pertains to universal access to places, relationships and economic opportunities. As a planner, developer, designer and builder at THOR, my primary focus is to create safe and secure places that provide services, and that people think are cool and can have fun using. Enhancing universal access to these places is critical to achieving equality.
More important, though, is improving universal access to relationships. While I am not old, I am “old-school,” and like relationships that are in-person, genuine and based on mutual respect. However, as a father of a 19-, 13- and 6-year-old, I am also very aware of the millennial and younger individuals whose expectations are to have universal access to relationships through less in-person, more electronic/social media that is faster, more flexible and scalable (most often through digital devices). We must leverage these new tools to continue to provide even more universal access to “new-school” relationships.
And perhaps most important, we must improve the universal access to economic opportunity in the form of jobs and business opportunities. Far too often, access to economic opportunity is limited to “who you know,” or even more “who knows you.” These safe and familiar networks have to be broadened and open to new and innovative entrants.
To effectively improve equality in this New DEEL, business and civic leaders need to develop a regional platform, a Minnesota Exchange, that connects all of the opportunities in the market to a network of people and businesses, a virtual platform that comprises the best attributes of Uber, Facebook and LinkedIn.
At a recent YMCA keynote speech, I was asked “What is the difference between equality and equity?” My response: While equality creates universal access to opportunity, equity ensures meritocratic use.
In my debut column last month (“A New Narrative”) I discussed a need for improved assessments that accurately reflect the value of people as assets by integrating the individual’s starting point and the challenges he or she has overcome. These improved assessments can help identify the best candidates for investment and ideally lead to actual investments, hiring and promotion, and mentorship to ensure equity.
This third step is to ensure improved equity by developing a transparent rating system of all participants in the Minnesota Exchange. This rating system should be easy to comprehend, visually stimulating and inclusive of all stakeholder perspectives.
My grandmother used to tell me that I need to have “pep in my step” to activate my energy and the people around me. For lasting impact, we need to measure the PEP in our collective step. This acronym denotes the three key areas of measurable impact: people, entities and planet.
For people, we must define and measure hope, effort and wealth. For entities it is revenue, margin and retained earnings. For our planet it is safety, abundance and sustainability.
The final step in our New DEEL is to have individuals, households, neighborhoods and communities develop their own lasting impact dashboard that captures the PEP in their steps, and for them to be willing to share that information with the regional community.
It definitely is time for a New DEEL—I look forward to putting in the work with all of you. Take care of yourself and each other.
Ravi Norman (RNorman@ThorCon.net) is the CEO of THOR Companies, a holding company for THOR’s development, design, construction and consulting businesses. He holds degrees in economics, business management and finance from the University of Minnesota.