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Series confronts equity issues in West Michigan businesses

Four-part series offers 14 suggestions for increasing equity in Grand Rapids.
Adriane Johnson, Owner of Rebellious Creatives Web Design

Adriane Johnson, Owner of Rebellious Creatives Web Design /Eric Zuniga

At a roundtable discussion recently facilitated by MiBiz, small business owners raised their concerns about equity issues in West Michigan. As Grand Rapidians head into 2017, how is systemic bias perpetuated, even as our awareness of barriers grows?

Since the topic of diversity was important enough to headline the article, Amy Carpenter-Leugs decided to continue the conversation and talk to the people involved. She talked to the editor at MiBiz, a roundtable participant, and readers who responded to the article. She then formed some ideas and opinions based on those conversations.


1. Equity issues: Concern for West Michigan businesses

"In this first part of the series, I reflect that traditional business coverage tries to achieve diversity but often omits covering systemic bias. This is part of how that bias perpetuates itself. Grand Rapids is 64.6 percent white within city limits -- that percentage is 83.1 percent in the metro area.

West Michigan has historically had a difficult time attracting diverse entrepreneurs and professionals, and there's a much higher rate of poverty among people of color in the area than for whites. Given this context, traditional business news may not offer information that truly works for everyone."

This article offers four suggestions business news can "help marginalized readers make, save, and find money to grow businesses."

2. Equity issues: West Michigan businesses should measure progress

"Without metrics, it's too easy to fall back into comfortable ways of interacting and avoid difficult conversations about what barriers one's own employees or clients of color are facing. Because equity is a process that doesn't happen all at once, establishing signposts along the way is essential. The ideas here are adapted from the online Community Tool Box for creating culturally competent organizations which are more welcoming to diverse employees and clients. They are meant as a starting point for any business who might want to move forward on equity issues."

This article offers six specific suggestions for developing tools towards measuring equity.

3. Equity issues: The role of mentoring

"For women and people of color, this oversight is part of a system in which they have fewer opportunities to network, be hired, get a business loan, develop income, and create wealth. This in turn affects the health care they can access, the quality of neighborhoods they live in, the level of policing they experience, the infant mortality rate, and several other factors that affect quality of life, longevity, and safety. Because of the extreme disparity, affinity bias and other systemic biases are life changing and even life threatening."

This article offers four ideas for "optimizing mentoring strategies for women of color."

4. Equity issues: Entrepreneur Adrianne Johnson speaks out

"Johnson's initial response to the roundtable coverage was that it was a good start, but lacking. 'I think [this is] one of the most important things missed when it comes to highlighting local businesses: those of a diverse nature have small businesses as well. They are impacted by [these same concerns]. Why aren't they invited to these conversations in order to weigh in a better perspective? How are things for them as a business owner? Is there a lack of knowledge when it comes to recognizing small businesses of diversified backgrounds? Or are we only highlighting the most popular people and their businesses to avoid the harsh truth about racism?'"

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