• Chelsea Diana

From conversation to action: Albany business leaders form new diversity, equity and inclusion group

A group of Albany region business leaders and executives is coming together to create a new nonprofit focused on moving conversations around how to build a more diverse, inclusive and equitable workplace from talk to action.

The BRIDGE Network came together through a grassroots effort following conversations that Miriam Dushane, managing partner of Alaant Workforce Solutions, had with Walter Thorne, the Albany Business Review's advertising director, after the death of George Floyd in June at the hands of Minneapolis police, which sparked a wave of protests around the nation against racism and police brutality.

The group and its conversations grew from there to include business people from different companies and organizations around the region. They plan to get their free platform online in January with resources for businesses to improve their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts and host panel discussions on different topics every few months. The first panel on Jan. 19 includes two groups of business professionals: one with Black professionals discussing their workforce experiences and the other with white professionals discussing their initiatives to support diversity.

"There's so much that needs to be done. There's not one person, one organization or one small group of people that are going to accomplish it," Dushane said. "My hope for this is that this is just the beginning of something that becomes part of our fabric, at least for the Capital Region to start, that this is something that we all become aware of and all want to make change and all want to do the right thing."

Walter Thorne, advertising director at the Albany Business Review.

How the group was formed "After the death of George Floyd, as I was sitting around and watching what's going on in our local business community, I wanted to reach across what I considered to be the aisle of business owners that were white, that did not look like me," Thorne said. "I wanted to align myself with, and be able to have a conversation with, and how we could bring Black business owners or Black people in business together with people that were white. And so I reached out to Miriam."

Dushane said it sparked further and wider conversations that have continued throughout the year around providing more education and awareness to the racism and structural inequities happening in our backyard. "We've talked about expanding it to be an organization that is bringing education and awareness to our local area," Dushane said. "But also trying to build a network of resources and organizations and businesspeople and whatever it might be to help us move forward and actually move the needle and make some actual change instead of a lot of conversations. And while the conversations that we're having are really good in the region, we felt that we should do more."

Miriam Dushane, managing partner of Alaant Workforce Solutions.

Why more needs to be done Dushane sees the group as an opportunity for people to understand better what the issues are and what the barriers are in the Capital Region. Part of it was inspired by a conversation she had recently with one of Alaant's larger clients.

"They asked, 'What are you doing to try to recruit and find better talent, more diverse talent for our organization?'" Dushane said. "We're not the only vendor for this very large company. And they told us that, by far, we were the only company that even had this on their radar and was making progress and change to try to recruit a larger, diverse talent pool. They also realized based on conversations we were having with them and resources that we were sharing with them that some of their own employment practices, while completely unintentional, related to education requirements and other things, were discriminating and basically counterproductive to their goal of a larger, diverse culture and a larger diverse population for their organization."

Jonathan Jones, commissioner of recreation, youth and workforce services for the city of Albany.

Building a better future Jonathan Jones, commissioner of recreation, youth and workforce for the city of Albany, said the effort is an opportunity to create a more equitable society for young people, many of whom don't see race the way other generations did. Jones will be a panelist on the first event for The BRIDGE Network.

"We're at a moment of opportunity and not a moment to just seize the moment for PR, a moment to actually change the generations. And I think it's going to help the Capital Region. I think all of us are going to be better off for it," Jones said. "That is the only reason why I think we can all come together and have these serious conversations that some people may take offense to. Some people may not like we're going to ruffle some feathers, but at the end of the day, I think at the end of it, we'll be able to fly a little higher."

Founding members and advisors for the group include:

  • Miriam Dushane, managing partner, Alaant Workforce Solutions

  • Walter Thorne, advertising director, Albany Business Review

  • Joanmarie Dowling, managing member, Dowling Law

  • Fannie Glover, director of equity and inclusion, Early Care and Learning Council in New York

  • Lauren Groff, CEO, Groff Networks

  • Daquetta Jones, deputy commissioner for administration, New York State Civil Service Department

  • Jonathan Jones, commissioner of recreation, youth and workforce, city of Albany (panelist for first event)

  • Nick Maciariello, director of sales, Alaant Workforce Solutions

  • Frederick Miller, CEO and lead strategist, The Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group (panelist for first event)

  • Paul Miller, CEO and principal, Green Tech High Charter School (panelist for first event)

  • Starletta Smith, executive director, YWCA of the Greater Capital Region

  • Jeannine Trimboli, owner, Real [FIT] Life (panelist for first event)

  • Susan Ungerman, owner and president, Ungerman Electric (panelist for first event)

  • Miranda VonFricken, life and career coach

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