Uncovering Diversity and Inclusion in the Boise Valley

There is a common perception of Idaho that is misconstrued. Looking solely at figures, the state’s population is overwhelmingly white. Less than 12 percent of the state’s population is Hispanic or Latino and less than one percent is African American. Yet, when you begin to deconstruct this uniform picture of Idaho with a quantitative and qualitative approach, you will uncover an evolving story of diversity and inclusion. That was the goal of “Diversity as a Business Driver,” a summit sponsored by Boise State’s College of Business and Economics’ Responsible Business Initiative (RBI), the City of Boise and Wells Fargo.

The half-day summit consisted of keynote speakers and two panels comprised of local business leaders from a variety of industries and backgrounds. Dialogue focused on Idaho’s needs to achieve a diverse workforce, creating an inclusive community and the significance diversity plays in driving the Boise Valley to become the most livable region in the nation.

For Lesley Slaton Brown, chief global diversity and inclusion officer at HP Inc., livability will start at company level. Brown works to ensure HP’s workforce reflects their customer base, something companies across the valley can be working towards. “When you have a diverse perspective in-house,” she explained, “you can alleviate [diversity] problems with your consumers.” In the tech world, this is easier said than done. “The tech industry has few women and minorities to begin with. Then add Idaho’s demographic on top of that,” noted Faisal Shah, founder of AppDetex. “We have to do something to change that. We are in the beginning phases of change by having these conversations.”

Andres Lazarte, a political and business consultant, considers three levels that every person, company and community needs to go through to reap the benefits of a diverse society- tolerance, acceptance and embracement.  He affirms, “Real change starts at embrace; by using those different backgrounds and perspectives to better our companies.” Deanna Eveland, global employee relations manager for Micron agreed, “Learn and appreciate the differences in your employees and make those a competitive advantage for your company,” which Micron implements through cultural awareness training.

Diversity goes further than bringing women and minorities onto your team. Being open to opportunities utilizing religious, generational and sexual orientation backgrounds is often overlooked. Shah’s heartening experience happened when registering domain names in 250 countries with little knowledge of the languages spoken in those realms. By turning to the Latter-day Saints' (LDS) community, who have gained varied language proficiency while traveling on mission trips, AppDetex was able to accomplish the project in just three months.

Clark Krause, Executive Director of the Boise Valley Economic Partnership (BVEP), shared that companies who are looking to expand to the region focus more on the people and communities than they have in the past.  A specific project BVEP worked on listed diversity as one of their major concerns in determining their next location.  After creating a program called "B Diverse" to showcase the many aspects of diversity in the Valley, the community started a conversation around embracing diversity as a region. Krause explained, “It takes diverse talents, ideas and perspectives to solve today’s challenges.”

While companies can absorb broader diversity in the hiring process, we have the opportunity to initiate change on an individual level.

“Change can happen. We just need to look in the mirror and say, ‘who are we?’ and then make noise about it,” suggests Dave Self, chief administrative officer at St. Luke’s Health Partners. “We continually need to show that there’s a place for everyone; a place to have your voice heard and a place to be successful.”

Nearly 100 different languages are spoken throughout the state. Roughly 10 percent of Idahoans speak a language other than English at home. Between 1990 and 2011, over 11,000 refugees from 20 countries settled in Idaho. One of the largest Basque populations outside of Spain resides in the Boise Valley. There are more than 24 language courses available through local universities and community education programs. Boise is home of Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel, the oldest synagogue west of the Mississippi River. There are numerous LGBT, women’s and men’s support groups. Across the valley, diversity is celebrated in a number of events including PRIDE week, the World Village Festival, MLK Living Legacy Celebration and much more.

With statistics looming and a plethora of community opportunities to broaden relationships, the challenge may be unknowing where to begin. A simple starting point: conversation. “There has to be a comfort level. If someone doesn’t look like you, you have to make them feel comfortable. That is the moment when people feel embraced. That is when change in thought happens,” explained Honorable Dayo O. Onanubosi, Third Judicial District Magistrate Judge.

The discussion about bringing diversity to the Boise Valley is more than the observable. When we bring together individuals from different culture, religion, generation, sexual orientation and gender, we have more than measurable statistics. We have the most important fragment of diversity- the diversity of thought. Without accepting and embracing differences, we hinder the growth of big ideas and the ability of our economy to prosper. Let’s continue the conversation, seek out dissimilarities, welcome challenges and foster diversity in our companies, our friendships and our Boise Valley home.