There was plenty of good food, conversation and fun — the walk-up song for one winner almost appeared to be the beginning of a karaoke night.
But, that was expected: A great atmosphere always is part of events put on by the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey.
And, so is this: A serious conversation on where the state’s business community — one that repeatedly acknowledges the incredibly diverse nature of New Jersey’s population and workforce — truly stands on providing opportunity for all.
The second annual DEI Trailblazer Awards reception, co-hosted by the African American chamber and the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce on Monday night at the Old Mill Inn in Basking Ridge, was about honoring companies who challenge the status quo.
John Harmon, the founder and head of the African American Chamber, said the event was about business and opportunity.
“This is not just another social gathering, and, if you see it as such, you’re in the wrong place — and I mean that wholeheartedly,” he said.
He called it an opportunity to advance New Jersey in an unprecedented way.
“We’re inspired by the dedication of these organizations to diversity, equity & inclusion,” he said. “They are setting a strong example for all of us.”
Indeed. Whether it’s awarding millions in grants to improve health care access, providing access to millions of dollars of capital to small businesses, creating a supplier pipeline or board that features diversity or simply ensuring your workforce — or student population — matches the makeup of the state, the winners are setting an example for others.
“We are honoring the companies that are walking the walk,” state chamber CEO Tom Bracken said. “We are recognizing and celebrating the DE&I champions who are meeting the challenge and challenging the status quo.”
The event honored six winners — but it was held to celebrate all 20 finalists, each of which is setting an example of true corporate social responsibility.
The nominees included:
- Bank of America
- Bridge Builders Newark LLC
- The Ceceilyn Miller Institute for Leadership & Diversity
- Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi P.C.
- Cole Schotz
- Delta Dental of New Jersey
- Gibbons P.C.
- Hackensack Meridian Health
- Johnson & Johnson
- Lockerbie & Co.
- New Jersey Institute of Technology
- Phillips 66 – Bayway Refinery
- Public Service Enterprise Group
- Santander U.S.
- Somerset County Business Partnership
- Tené Nícole Creative Agency
- UnitedHealth Group
- We Are Jersey
Here are the category leaders:
Johnson & Johnson: Between matching employee donations and cash grants, Johnson & Johnson gave more than $12 million in each of the last three years to organizations in New Jersey — with $4.1 million in 2022 going to nonprofit organizations that address DE&I.
Access to Capital
Santander U.S.: The bank offers a free executive leadership training program designed to help small- and medium-sized business owners in underresourced communities. With a focus on minority-, women-, veteran- and immigrant-owned businesses, the program helps small business entrepreneurs gain access to executive education, networking opportunities and debt and equity capital. From 2005 through 2019, the program’s 3,836 alumni companies have averaged 126% growth in revenue, created 22,707 jobs and raised $2.3 billion in capital.
Hackensack Meridian Health: The health system created an Executive Diversity Council co-chaired by the CEO and the chief diversity officer, who reports directly to the CEO. And it established a supplier diversity-driven goal tied to executive compensation. The result? It increased its annual supplier diversity spend by 32% in 2023 — to $69.3 million. HMH has also created a supplier diversity showcase to ensure small and diverse businesses have equal access to opportunities. As a result of these and many other efforts, HMH was recently ranked first by Diversity Inc. magazine in its 2023 Top Hospitals and Health Care Systems list.
Modivcare: The social services company’s board of directors boasts a diverse composition of 10 members, including an African American member, an Asian Indian member, two female members and one director whose gender is nonidentified. The awardee’s DE&I success is striking in another way. Its executive leadership team includes an African American male, who serves as the president of mobility; a white female who serves as chief compliance officer; and a female who is president of its personal care services division.
Phillips 66 – Bayway: In 2022, 36% of Phillips 66 – Bayway’s global hires were women, and 42% of its U.S. hires were from underrepresented groups. Additionally, the company supports academic training grants and education opportunities for young women and minorities working in the fields of STEM — science, technology, engineering and math. Its work has paid off. For two consecutive years, it has earned a perfect score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index based on nondiscrimination policies, equitable benefits for LGBTQ+ employees and their families, supporting an inclusive culture and corporate social policy.
Emerging DE&I Influencer
New Jersey Institute of Technology: A year ago, NJIT hired its inaugural chief diversity officer, David Jones. Under Jones’ leadership, the school launched the Office of Inclusive Excellence. In the fall of 2023, Jones was recognized as a 2023 Champion of Diversity by DiversityGlobal Magazine. This fall, in NJIT’s first-year class, underrepresented minorities made up a record 50% of the class, and the enrollment of women — at 30% — was at an all-time high. The number of first-year students identifying as Black has nearly tripled since 2013 — and Hispanic first-year enrollment has reached over 30% for the second year in a row.
The winners, in other words, are getting it done, Harmon said.
“You can’t talk about it, you have to be about it,” he told the crowd. “In New Jersey, we do more talking than anything, and we’re trying to change that.”
“In 2024, we’re coming in,” Harmon said. “We’re going to hold people accountable. A lot of folks have just gotten elected; now, it’s time for them to deliver on their promises.”