This month, Charlotte celebrates the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of the city’s restaurants in May 1963. African-American civil rights leaders joined with the Charlotte Chamber and the business community to peacefully integrate local establishments. Charlotte had undergone tremendous change in the past fifty years, not only in terms of racial relations between whites and blacks, but also in terms of demographic shifts that have led to much more diverse population. Between 2000 and 2010, the white population of Charlotte-Mecklenburg grew by a modest 14% in comparison to black, Asian and Latino populations that expanded by 46%, 94% and 150%, respectively.
In an effort to reflect a changing cultural climate the Chamber has made a commitment to advocating for and promoting diversity and inclusion within the Chamber membership as well as the broader Charlotte economy. One of the most significant metrics for inclusion within and organization is leadership representation. In 2001, Ed Dolby of Bank of America, became the Chamber’s first African-American Chair. Today, the Chamber’s current chair (Brett Carter, Duke Energy) and past chair (Frank Emory, Hunton Williams) are African-American, along with four Chamber Chapter Chairs* who are currently serving.
Frank Emory has been a volunteer leader with the Chamber for almost seven years and has served as General Counsel and as a member of the Executive Committee, in addition to his role as Chair. Reflecting on the future of diversity and inclusion for the business community, Frank affirms a trend that that competition for talent is paramount. “The Chamber must help its members to mine the broadest and deepest [pipelines] of talent in order to help Charlotte businesses compete globally,” he says. Diversity and inclusion is “simply another way of stating the desire to identify and attract all of the best and all of the brightest.”
Lucia Zapata is another Executive Committee member and has been active in a variety of roles with the Chamber. Zapata says that the Chamber has more diversity in leadership and representation of small businesses and woman and minority enterprises at leadership levels, as well as increased diversity among Chamber staff. Originally from Peru, she is encouraged by the international growth potential of the airport and believes it will open up new opportunities for business with Latin America. There is “the potential not only to recruit Latin American companies to Charlotte, but also to encourage domestic companies doing business in Latin America to establish offices here.”
As a Canadian of Filipino descent, who is actively engaged with the Chamber, Ollie Chandhok represents an organization and a region that has become more inclusive over time. During his five years as a board member of the Charlotte Chamber Young Professionals, Chandhok (now serving as Chair) has experienced a chamber with abundant opportunities for leaders from diverse backgrounds to thrive. “In Charlotte, more than most cities, businesses look to the chamber for connections and leadership,” he explains. For that reason, Chandhok says the chamber has a unique opportunity to be a catalyst for promoting diversity and inclusion, not only for ethnicity, but also for gender, age and sexual orientation.
As we remember those who paved the way for the unprecedented levels of integration and inclusion that we currently experience in Charlotte’s business community we are mindful that there are still challenges that must be addressed. There is still a need for individuals with cultural and political differences to find common ground and solutions. We need to ensure that all students receive a quality education and that our economy continues to grow, so that everyone who is able and willing can find a good job. Let us be encouraged by our progress, but remain committed to the work ahead.
Chamber African-American Chapter Chairs
Ballantyne Chapter Chair: Wil Brooks, State Farm Insurance
East Chapter Chair: Ryan Marsh, H.F. Financial
NorthWest Chapter Chair: Nicole Singletary, Drury Inn & Suites
SouthWest Chapter Chair: Brian Carter, Truliant Federal Credit Union