Establishing a culture of diversity and commemorating Black History Month

By Rheaana Guess on February 28, 2022 in Corporate Social Responsibility

Mixed males and females laughing and clapping

As the first vice president and people and diversity officer at Delta Dental of Illinois, and a Black woman, shaping and driving our company’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) journey has been an incredible experience. At Delta Dental of Illinois, DE&I doesn’t just mean hiring, retaining, and promoting diverse talent, it also means creating an environment where all employees feel seen, heard, respected, understood, and motivated to contribute. We strive to be a safe place where constructive two-way communication and cross-cultural understanding empowers all employees to be authentic. This enables employees to better connect with and understand each other, our clients and those in the communities we serve.

DE&I is a critical component of our company culture, and it starts with each employee.  Our company is a group of dynamic individuals from different backgrounds and cultures with diverse personal experiences and beliefs. These differences can include age, ability, religion, gender, sexual orientation or expression, national origin, and race. We strive to be a model inclusive organization where we acknowledge, respect, and embrace each other’s differences to ultimately drive better outcomes for our members, clients, dentists, broker partners and communities.

Our commitment to DE&I is built upon our company values of respect, integrity, accountability, collaboration and corporate citizenship. While we have made great strides, we recognize we have more work to do, and our corporate diversity journey is just beginning. Acknowledging, learning from, and appreciating our differences is the foundation of an inclusive culture.

We help foster this inclusive culture by offering employees opportunities to learn about and celebrate different backgrounds, cultures and perspectives as well as share their own stories. One way we do this is by offering learning and engagement opportunities, including trainings, formal and informal discussions, and celebrations that often coincide with a theme or monthly commemoration. These opportunities frequently result in emotional, thought-provoking, educational, and insightful moments that help better appreciate and understand each other. For Black History Month, we hosted two lunch and learns for our employees with two extraordinary guests.

Our first lunch and learn took place earlier this month and featured special guest Shanta Nurullah, a musician (she plays sitar, bass and mbira), artist and storyteller. Showcasing her talents, Ms. Nurullah used instruments, song and spoken word to depict the journey of Black Americans in our nation. She told personal stories, including that of her great grandmother who was enslaved in this country, and encouraged us all to engage in courageous conversations with our families to learn our personal place in history.  While uncomfortable at times, Ms. Nurullah was unapologetic about our country’s history and current struggles with race; however, her optimism for our future is undeniable.  She summed it up perfectly, “It’s all about seeing each other as fellow human beings. Educate yourself, your children, your grandchildren to create a world that works for all of us.” More information about Nurullah and her work, including the schedule for her upcoming shows, can be found on her website.

Our second lunch and learn featured L. Anton Seals, Jr., organizer, educator, community connector, filmmaker, and entrepreneur. Seals has dedicated his work to service and active engagement using media arts and community organizing to empower those in underserved communities. He is the lead steward (executive director) of Grow Greater Englewood, a social enterprise focused on building an equitable and resilient local food system, developing vacant land, and implementing transformational social programming in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood.  Delta Dental of Illinois donated to Grow Greater Englewood during the lunch and learn in support of Seals and his work.

Seals, like Ms. Nurullah, emphasized the power of knowing your history and culture. Seals talked about Englewood, a historically thriving working-class neighborhood full of single-family homes and successful businesses. Following urban segregation and suburban flight, Englewood was left with the most vacant land of any neighborhood in Chicago. Grow Greater Englewood is working to turn this land into urban gardens, community buildings, and businesses to create opportunities and jobs within Englewood. This increased community investment will improve resident wellbeing and attract visitors! This brochure highlights Grow Greater Englewood’s powerful work, including the development of the Englewood Line, a 1.7-mile elevated rail line that will be converted into a multi-use trail, the Whole Foods Community Benefits Campaign, and the creation of a network of Englewood cooperative businesses. Seals’ energy and passion are contagious – from his love for Chicago and the South Side to the work he does every day to help provide opportunities for those in the city.

Through each lunch and learn, employee event, challenging training, corporate and employee donation drive, and community activity, we strengthen and reinforce DE&I’s integral place in the fabric our culture. I believe this work is critical to all of us as employees, individuals and humans and I look forward to the next chapter in Delta Dental of Illinois' diversity journey.