Feedback: December 2017

by Mesha Davis, Akshai J. Patel, Frankie Jo Rios

Question: Diversity and inclusion efforts have become a focus in the workplace. What are some key measures you’ve found to be effective in promoting diversity and inclusion? 

Mesha Davis

Chief Executive Officer
Arizona Foundation for Women 
Sector: Nonprofit

Performance, productivity and profits (3 P’s) is what I remember. From the boardroom to management to the direct line, these words were key in the workplace. However, focusing primarily on the 3 P’s can be counterproductive. When comparing organizations (for-profit and not-for-profit), I found the most innovative, progressive and successful were those that focused on not only their employees but the diversity of their teams.

No matter the business, a host of diverse minds, experiences and cultures adds a certain spice or twist. One of my former CEOs said, “Employees are our No. 1 asset and a diverse team is the best team.” He implemented a diversity team and empowered them to ensure equity, diversity and inclusion.

He was genuine. His charismatic presence exuded a sense of inclusion toward each employee. Everyone worked hard (sometimes unknowingly), was committed to the mission, and their performance and productivity were stellar. New ideas formed and perspectives and cultural-differences were respected and embraced. The organization’s profits were at an all-time high. The formula as I see it: Empowered, appreciated and happy employees equals performance, productivity and profits.

Mesha Davis is the CEO of Arizona Foundation for Women. Her prior experience includes being chief development officer for Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS, where she led their $10.1 million capital and capacity campaign. 

Davis received a Master of Science in management from Cardinal Stritch University and a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. 

Akshai J. Patel

Co-Founder and CEO
Phoenix Collegiate Academy
Sector: Education

Diversity and inclusion has been an important focus area at PCA. In partnership with our management team, especially our talent director, we’ve taken several significant steps in the last three years to prioritize it.

Prioritizing recruitment of people of color in hiring led PCA to increase the percentage of team members who identify as people of color from 35 percent in 2014 to 55 percent in 2017. Embracing student empowerment as a core value forced us to look at every decision through the lens of student voice (overwhelmingly, they are Latino and African-American children of poverty). Adopting culturally responsive teaching, which PCA engaged in as a pilot last year, resulted in participating teachers concluding that others should embrace it as an instructional approach across the network. This year, every returning teacher attends professional development to implement CRT.

We’ve really pushed to go beyond words and into action on making equity a priority, so our students see success not only associated with one type of person.

Akshai J. Patel is co-founder and CEO of Phoenix Collegiate Academy charter schools, a pre-K-12 network in South Phoenix dedicated to preparing all students in the disadvantaged community to succeed in college and be leaders in the community. Patel attended Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University, and graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in economics and a B.S. in political science with concentration in Public Policy Advocacy. He earned an MBA at Columbia University and an M.Ed. in curriculum and instruction from ASU. 

Frankie Jo Rios

Executive Director
East Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
Sector: Business Advocacy Group

We have to remember that diversity and inclusion means different things to different people, and organizations will apply those definitions to their companies respectively. Companies should tailor their initiatives to address their specific industry and acknowledge their areas of weakness, setting specific goals based on their strategic objectives. Organizations should also consider if any policies or practices need to be eliminated or adjusted. It is imperative that we embrace diversity and inclusion, not only for ourselves but for the future generations to come.

Even though EVHCC is still in the developing stages and we have a small team, we pride ourselves on being an organization that encourages and respects diversity both internally and toward our members. As we represent the Hispanic business community, we make sure our staff is able to connect with our members in their native language and honors and respects their traditions as well. Internally, we welcome staff members based on their expertise and ability to contribute to the overall mission and vision of the Chamber. This is why we have a team tha t includes individuals of diverse age and gender and from diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise. We believe our individual differences and qualities are what makes us strong and efficient.

Frankie Jo Rios is president and CEO of the East Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. She retired from the State of Arizona after 25 years in the Criminal Division of the Attorney General’s office and five years as executive assistant with the Registrar of Contractors office. 

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