Do you ever wonder what Fort Wayne would look like if it reached its full potential? If we grabbed this momentum with both hands and started being a champion instead of a contender? Imagine the buildings and amenities. Now imagine the people.
People are what make a community successful. And a community that celebrates its diversity will help eliminate our biggest economic issue: attracting talent. Our new buildings might get the attention of young talent, but to really draw them here? We will need to demonstrate that we can build a table big enough for everyone to feel welcome here.
"Fort Wayne is broken, and it does it to itself…Watching people feign inclusion while they create exclusivity hurts the community at-large," writes local blogger and comedian Hayley Johnson.
Right now, there is always someone left without a chair – a Mexican immigrant, a Muslim, an African American resident of Fort Wayne’s southeast neighborhood, a member of the LGBTQ community … and the list goes on.
Yet, research shows that diversity is what spurs economic development, attracts high-tech companies and – the holy grail – attracts college graduates.
Specifically, Richard Florida’s research found high correlations between communities where college graduates choose to move and communities that support artists, diversity and, in particular, the LGBTQ community. How would you rate Fort Wayne on those variables? How would you rate a city (growing at three times the rate as ours) like Austin, Texas?
As a college graduate myself, I felt my lack of chair acutely on International Women’s Day when I read that Indiana ranks 44th out of 50 for gender equality in the country.
And I’m definitely not the only one paying attention. The talent that we want to attract comes in all shapes, sizes and colors, and they are a discerning group. They see that we have one of the highest gender wage gaps in the country. They see our interest in taking away rights from the LGBTQ community. They see that Fort Wayne is ranked fifth out of the top 100 U.S. metros for spatial disparity.
While some may tolerate diversity in our community, that’s not enough. Tolerance is how you feel about your drunk uncle on Thanksgiving. We need acceptance and inclusion. Diversity itself is simply a fact. Inclusion is an action. Are we actively seeking out people from diverse walks of life to participate in moving our community forward?
"(That) feeling of unity isn’t here on a day-in and day-out basis yet … We can mostly get by on our own here, in small circles of friends and families, and as someone who craves community, that’s so discomforting to me," writes local blogger Kara Hackett.
Inclusion is not donating time or money to help siloed groups of people. This mentality of us vs. them hurts our community and our businesses because workforce diversity is a key driver of innovation and business growth. How will we ever reach our full potential if we leave a key driver like that on the boardroom floor?
In a national survey conducted last year about Fort Wayne, top reasons why people would not consider moving here were our lack of culture and our inability to be inclusive. They did say, however, that they would move here for job opportunities. So now imagine you have two job opportunities: A) an open community full of culture that celebrates the arts and diversity, or B) a community that offers a large pay gap for women and minorities and actively discriminates against certain demographics. Which would you choose?
To compete, we must move beyond buildings. We have to learn to build a bigger table.
Courtney Tritch is founder of Courtney Tritch Consulting and Progressive Social Hour. She wrote this for The Journal Gazette.