John Quiñones, host of ABC's "What Would You Do?" to speak at Diverse by Design in Cincinnati

CINCINNATI - When it comes to the demographic composition of the Greater Cincinnati region, it has the look and feel of many other Midwestern cities. So what does that mean for attracting new residents and businesses?

To get at the heart of that question, Agenda 360 and Vision 2015, in partnership with Fifth Third Bank, are presenting the Diverse by Design: 2013 Leadership Symposium on Nov. 13 at the Duke Energy Center.

The event focuses on innovative ideas to attract and keep diverse talent in the region. Among the highlights of the event will be a keynote address by ABC News correspondent John Quiñones, host of "What Would You Do?" 

“What better way to recognize a city’s identity then to realize it’s made up of a mosaic of society?” asked Quiñones. “We should not fear bringing in people who are different from us into our cities and into our corporations; we should embrace it because it will only make us stronger.”

Reason for change

A comprehensive report presented at last year’s symposium confirmed organizers' suspicions for the Greater Cincinnati area in terms of demographics, said Agenda 360 executive director Mary Stagaman. The study compared the region to 11 peer cities around the country. Cincinnati placed 11th, only ahead of Pittsburgh. (See the full report)

It was a call to action. Stagaman said that in order for Cincinnati to remain competitive, the city must mirror emerging markets in today’s global economy.

“What companies who are savvy know, is that if you’re going to market to a particular ethnic or racial group, or any one of a number of focus groups, you have to have to have people on your team who represent that population,” she said.

The strategy identified for change is three-fold, Stagaman explained:

  1. collecting data
  2. creating awareness
  3. forming Action Teams to create and implement ideas.

Earlier this year, an Action Team introduced a plan called the Talent Connection to create cross-company interest groups that allow people with shared experience, culture, ethnicity or lifestyle to network with others in region. Stagaman said company-sponsored groups like single parents, GBLT, veterans, persons with disabilities and ethnic groups can all participate.

“You can’t create a group for two people,” Stagaman said, “But say those two people in your company can connect with three people from another midsize company and 10 from another one and so on, and 50 from one of our big companies? Well, then all of the sudden you’ve got a network.”

The smart thing to do

Last year’s event resulted in more than 150 volunteers from 80 organizations, with 15 executive leaders from around the region leading Action Teams.

Stagaman credits Fifth Third Bank for being the inspiration behind the symposium. In 2012, she said, Fifth Third reached out to the Cincinnati Chamber’s regional action plan, Agenda 360, and its Northern Kentucky partner Vision 2015. The company wanted to expand its diversity event to include other businesses in the region. Like-minded business people, civic and community leaders from across the region have stepped up to co-chair Action Teams (see list on invite) to create and initiate change.

“Diversity and inclusion are not just the right thing to do, they’re the smart thing to do,” Stagaman said. “They're no longer things that you do solely because of altruism. There are solid business reasons for creating a more diversified workforce and creating a more inclusive community.”

According to Fifth Third Bank chief human resources officer Teresa Tanner, the company identified the need to nurture diversity and inclusion a number of years ago. She explained the dynamics of today’s workforce continue to evolve with ever-changing legislation and benefits. She said companies must be prepared to initiate change in order to meet the demands of today’s marketplace. She pointed out more than any other time in history, the current workforce comprises multiple generations: baby boomers, Generation X and millennials.

“There’s just a lot of different forces that are causing us to say that diversity and inclusion has always been an important issue for us,” Tanner said. “It continues to only accelerate in importance, which is why we have to be at the forefront driving the change instead of responding to some of these changes.”

In addition to raising awareness in the community as a whole, Tanner hopes this year’s event will bring a surfeit of new ideas and involvement into the fold. She said she sees the initiative as a community-wide effort and hopes individuals recognize the need to take ownership for cultural diversity and inclusion.

“We’d like to see more people joining the initiative and making a personal commitment to drive change,” she said.

Next page: Watch a "What Would You Do" clip; find event information

As a Mexican-American born into poverty, Quiñones said he knows all too well the challenges of being a minority. Growing up in the barrio of San Antonio, he worked as a migrant farm worker with his family, not learning English until the age of six. As a child, he dreamed of becoming a journalist and never let go of that dream. He said his own ethnicity actually proved as an asset when ABC hired him specifically to cover stories in Central and Latin America.

“When I was covering Nicaragua, El Salvador and Panama, I was able to go to places because of the way I looked and because I understand the language,” Quiñones said. “The fact that I am Hispanic and speak Spanish, having someone like me on staff for ABC News allowed them to get better stories.”

Quiñones said he tries to use the show “What Would You Do,” to hold a mirror on society, reflecting people's reactions to dilemmas he creates around diverse issues such as homelessness, gay bashing, racial discrimination, and stereotyping. He said he’s inspired by unsuspecting participants who intervene to help those ridiculed. During his keynote address in Cincinnati, Quiñones said he plans to talk about the significance of the show in regard to diversity, as well as tell his own rags to riches story.

WATCH: "What Would You Do?" Parents Disapprove of Interracial Couple (story continues)

“I like to share some of the things that helped me achieve my dream,” he said. “It’s always supposed to be inspiring, because all of us have obstacles to work out. So anyone I think can relate to my story and I only hope that people are inspired and motivated by my own success here at ABC News. It’s been a dream come true and I’ve had an incredible career.”

If you go:
  • Nov. 13: 7:30 to 11:30 a.m.
  • Duke Energy Convention Center.
  • The cost in $110 per person or $90 per person for a group of 3 or more. The general public is welcome to attend.
  • For more information: (513) 579-3111 & info@cincinnatichamber.com
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