DE&I progress ‘challenging the status quo’ is exemplified by 6 lauded N.J. companies

African American Chamber of N.J. and N.J. Chamber of Commerce Trailblazer Awards honors firms that lead the way with equity and inclusion goals 

Six New Jersey companies that are leading the way in demonstrating tangible and measurable progress in diversity, equity & inclusion were honored as outstanding corporate citizens at the first-ever DE&I Trailblazer Awards reception earlier this month, hosted by the African American Chamber Commerce of New Jersey and the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce.

“These are the companies that don’t just support diversity, equity & inclusion, they are setting measurable equity and inclusion goals and meeting them,” John Harmon Sr., founder, CEO & president of the AACCNJ, stated. “They are making a difference, but this event is just the beginning. We applaud these trailblazers, and we encourage their mainstream counterparts to work towards similar measurable goals.”

“We are honoring the companies that are walking the walk,” added Tom Bracken, CEO and president of the state chamber. “We are recognizing and celebrating the champions who are meeting the challenge and challenging the status quo.”

The DE&I Trailblazer reception, at the Olde Mill Inn in Basking Ridge, revealed award recipients that have excelled in key areas: access to capital; board diversity; corporate citizenship; supplier diversity; and workforce diversity. Also presented was an Emerging DE&I Influencer award that recognizes a business that is in the beginning phases of implementing a promising DE&I program.

The awardees

  • The DE&I Trailblazer Award in the Corporate Citizenship category went to the law firm Gibbons P.C. Gibbons created a trio of pro bono programs that assist small, minority-owned businesses.
  • The DE&I Trailblazer Award in the Access to Capital category went to the Union County Economic Development Corp. It made 62% of its loans in 2021 to minority-owned businesses, and 42% were to women-owned businesses. In total, its $4.8 million in loans directly created more than 600 jobs. In addition, UCEDC established two programs that serve diverse business owners — one is an incubator program for new and growing businesses and the other is its “Entrepreneurship as a Second Chance” program.
  • The DE&I Trailblazer Award in the Supplier Diversity category went to Burns & McDonnell, the engineering, architecture and construction firm. Burns & McDonnell has worked with more than 2,700 small and diverse suppliers spanning the 50 states, Canada, Mexico, India and the U.K. The firm has devoted 25% of its overall spending on small and diverse businesses. And it has created a series of information and networking events to ensure small and diverse businesses have equal access to opportunities.
  • The DE&I Trailblazer Award in the Board Diversity category went to Columbia Bank. Its board is now comprised of 30% women and 20% minorities — just as is its employee body. Its executive leadership team is also now 30% women and 20% minorities, and its senior executives are comprised of 34% women and 10% minorities.
  • The DE&I Trailblazer Award in the Workforce Diversity category went to Hackensack Meridian Health. It established benchmarks for diversity in workforce recruitment, talent management and leadership accountability, including tying executive compensation to increasing diversity in leadership positions. It also created employee education and communication programs.
  • The DE&I Trailblazer Award in the Emerging DE&I Influencer category — created to recognize a business that is in the beginning phases of implementing a promising DE&I program — went to Provident Bank. Provident Bank conducts informational courses for employees on unconscious bias, microbehaviors, microaggressions and cross-cultural communications. The bank also has revamped its supplier diversity program and established a monitoring program that tracks its spending on minority-, women-, LGBTQ- and veteran-owned businesses. Further, the bank created a diversity council, which advises its human resources department and its executive leadership team to ensure its diversity strategy aligns with the company’s overall business strategies.


For the past two months, the two chambers have accrued an impressive list of nominees that represent a wide range of business sizes and industries. All of them have inspiring and uplifting stories to demonstrate how they moved diversity, equity & inclusion to the forefront of their business strategies.

The nominees considered were:

  • Abitronix LLC
  • American Water Works
  • Back Thru the Future
  • Bestwork Industries for the Blind Inc.
  • Burns & McDonnell
  • Columbia Bank
  • Curio Wellness/Far & Dotter
  • Gibbons P.C.
  • Hackensack Meridian Health
  • HelloFresh
  • Joseph Jingoli & Son Inc.
  • Lyft
  • Mental Health Association in New Jersey
  • Phillips 66 — Bayway Refinery
  • PMO Solution Pro LLC
  • Princeton Area Community Foundation
  • Provident Bank
  • Quality Dental School of Technology Inc.
  • Somerset County Business Partnership
  • Target International Shipping Inc.
  • Truist Bank
  • Union County Economic Development Corp.
  • Valley Bank

“All of the companies nominated for one of our DE&I Awards were worthy in their own right,” Bracken said. “Each nominated company presented a strong and compelling case.”

“As more and more businesses realize the benefits of diversity in terms of a strong work force and supplier chain that enhances their bottom line, you will hear more and more about DE&I,” Harmon added. “I predict we will have even more companies and more awards to issue next year.”