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Greenville Emphasizes Inclusion in All Parts of the Community

Diversity and inclusion are priorities among Greenville business owners and their allies.

By Brittany Anas on September 21, 2021

Sarah Cochran at Bar Margaret

Diversity, equity and inclusion aren’t just catchphrases in Greenville. Instead, the area prizes its diversity and backs its commitment to inclusivity with action, launching a number of initiatives that range from a Minority Business Accelerator to help create and grow businesses owned by ethnic minorities, women and veterans to an LGBT+ Chamber that’s charged with advocating for business owners and their allies.

The idea here? Greenville wants to become one of the most inclusive business communities in the world and recognizes that it can reach its full potential when diversity and inclusion are at the heart of its initiatives.

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Greenville: Where Diverse Businesses Thrive

More than 18% of Greenville’s population is Black, nearly 10% is Hispanic or Latino, and nearly 3% is Asian, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data.

Contributing to the community’s diversity is the presence of a number of international companies. Plus, the region is home to educational institutions, such as nearby Clemson University, that attract students and faculty from around the world. The Clemson University Council for Diversity and Inclusion has members from across the university. Commissions are set up to advise and make recommendations to the council on how to improve experiences for Black, Latino, LGBTQ, women and veteran campus community members, as well has how to improve accessibility on the campus.

In the business world, the Greenville Chamber has successfully launched several initiatives designed to promote economic inclusion, connect underserved populations and facilitate minority business growth and development.

Among these efforts is the Minority Business Accelerator, which prepares minority-owned businesses for growth and expansion in Upstate South Carolina. Advisers, coaches and financial experts serve in mentorship capacities. Since its inception, the program has realized more than 240 full-time employees and generated $26 million in revenue.

Also, the Hispanic Business Council assists Hispanic leaders in business development and boasts a business council with advisers from a variety of industries, ranging from architecture to insurance.

In addition, the Greenville Chamber hosts an annual Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Summit, where speakers encourage 600+ participants to incorporate what they learn in their workplaces.

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LGBT + Advocacy

A new Upstate SC LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce imagines a world where vibrant, successful LGBT+ businesses and professionals thrive. It works to empower local LGBT+ business entrepreneurs, individuals and allied partners to generate creative and economic value.

Caroline Caldwell, the chamber’s co-founder, says the organization advocates for safe spaces for businesses and helps foster their development. This chamber recognizes that LGBT+ business leaders haven’t historically had access to some resources and have experienced discrimination. Now, this organization allows business leaders to show up as their authentic selves, Caldwell says. The chamber is also open to ally members.

“Being an ally is not a noun; it’s a verb,” says Caldwell, who also serves as vice president of Upstate Pride SC.

The LGBT+ Chamber is in its startup phase and has 40 members that span from banks to locally owned shops to real estate firms, says Nathan Brown, who runs a data science company and is co-founder of the new chamber.

Knowing which businesses are LGBT+-run or an ally to the community helps community members feel at home. “It’s one of the things that my queer friends talk about,” he says. “When they show up in a space, they want to feel welcome.”

“Being an ally is not a noun; it’s a verb.”

Caroline Caldwell

Upstate SC LGBT+ Chamber

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A Commitment to a More Inclusive Community

Not only does Greenville have a number of programs to promote diversity, but the community is looking for ways to better the opportunities for and inclusion of its residents.

For example, in 2020, a cross-section of Greenville leaders came together to form the Racial Equity and Economic Mobility (REEM) Commission. The goal is to develop strategies and forge partnerships that eradicate race-based disparities and inequities that impact the Black community in Greenville County.

The commission has five focus areas. The income and wealth focus involves widening access points to jobs, wealth and investment services, and homeownership. As far as education, there’s an emphasis on increasing colleger eadiness. Other focus areas include improvements to the criminal justice system, health and wellness and community-wide learning.

Another program that’s experiencing success is The Riley Institute at Furman University, which offers a Diversity Leaders Initiative that’s made up of established leaders from a variety of sectors.

Through this interactive program, participants learn to understand their diversity and inclusion “blind spots” and how to suspend assumptions in the workplace and in civic leadership. The goal is to come away with a better understanding of how to effectively manage diverse workers, clients and constituents.

The alums of the program include CEOs, mayors, legislators, school leaders, religious leaders, nonprofit executives and chamber of commerce directors.

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