More and more fast-growing companies are adopting a strategy to cultivate a workplace that is supportive and inclusive to all types of people. In fact, in 2020, companies spent about $7.5 billion on DEI efforts, and that figure is expected to more than double by 2026. In OKC, leaders have emerged to push DEI efforts and conversations forward – and many of the best and brightest are featured here.
Methodology: The people selected are featured after being nominated by peers. Editors reviewed the nominations and made selections. Individuals submitted biography information and answered questions, which were used in the formation of the profiles shown. This is not a comprehensive list. It includes only those who were nominated and then selected after an editorial review. Nomination or submission does not guarantee coverage. To qualify, nominees must demonstrate leadership and excellence within their fi eld and the topic discussed.
Pivot Project co-founder and CEO
Dodson is “committed to joyous disruptions,” he said, in regards to the projects he and his team at Pivot Project undertake — such as the EastPoint development, the future Hamlin Hotel, Tower Theatre and Beer City Music Hall projects.
“(DEI issues are) important because it allows us to experience joy in a far more robust way than many of us have experienced,” he said. “When we open ourselves up to other people’s stories, passions, pains and perspectives, we become the beneficiary, not the other way around.
“I want people to know that it is a joyously selfish endeavor. With every tough conversation, every glimpse into someone’s life, our worldview gets a little bigger and our world more nuanced.”
Council on American-Islamic Relations, Oklahoma Chapter executive director
Soltani has served on the OKC Inclusion and Diversity Consortium and developed a workshop presented to the Greater OKC Chamber of Commerce, LOYAL Oklahoma, and many others entitled What Does Being An Effective Ally Look Like.
“The workforce in Oklahoma and across the country is diversifying at a rapid pace, far faster than ever before in our nation’s history,” he said. “Once we decide to embrace and actively propagate diversity, equity and inclusion, we take the first step toward making the lives of those around us better and, as a result, becoming better people ourselves.”
ACLU of Oklahoma policy director
Previously, Nguyen trained businesses and state agencies on equitable and inclusive policies. Now with the ACLU, she said she holds “elected officials accountable when they make decisions that actively harm marginalized communities in our state.”
“Businesses that value their employees simply perform better and retain talent,” she said. “Employees who see themselves reflected in the company are not only more likely to show up to work but to stay at the organization and recruit others. DEI is not about special treatment for anyone; it’s about just and fair representation that should have happened a long time ago.
“DEI is not something you can check off your list with one training. It is a continuous effort to check our own biases and provide the space for others to grow.”
Western Gateway Elementary head of school
As head of Western Gateway, a dual language school emphasizing language learning alongside global awareness and competency, Zacarias has hired bilingual educators who have language roots in Spanish-speaking countries.
“Oklahoma’s future depends on an emphasis on diversity and inclusion,” she said. “If we desire to create organizations that grow and thrive, shouldn’t they represent the voices of those they serve? The students in our schools will be leading the future of Oklahoma. When we tell a student that their voice matters and that what they possess inside of them is something that the future is waiting for, it’s imperative that they can see themselves in our business owners, our leaders and our educators.
Oklahoma City University School of Law dean, law professor and Phillips Murrah Law Firm director and attorney
Roth has spent more than 20 years, first as a county commissioner then later as a lawyer and OCU law dean, working with Oklahoma organizations that “advance the human condition,” he said.
“Simply put, all people perform their best (and are happiest) in all ways when they are truly themselves living an honest and authentic life in a supportive environment,” he said. “Oklahoma’s best days will only arrive once we include all people, from all walks of life, no matter how they live, look, love or pray,” he said. “So we need an Oklahoma full of people who live beyond themselves and actually care about their neighbors.”
Mayor David Holt
OKC mayor and Hall Capital managing director of communications
Mayor Holt, with the OKC city manager, created the first-ever DEI position for Oklahoma City, focused on DEI issues when appointing more than 500 people to various boards and commissions and began the Mayor’s CEO Roundtable for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which had its first meeting in July 2020 and still continues, among other DEI efforts during his five-year tenure as mayor.
“This is vitally important to our city’s future,” he said. “It is not sustainable to build a city where any major communities are left out of the decision-making process or our economic progress. Diversity, equity and inclusion is not just a moral imperative, it is a matter of basic survival for a community. We’re doing our part in OKC, and we certainly encourage everyone else to join us. But in any case, we’re not stopping in OKC. All people are welcome in OKC.”
City of Oklahoma City Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer
Jackson serves as Oklahoma City’s first chief inclusion and diversity officer.
“We are approaching DEI from the inside out,” she said. “As one of OKC’s largest employers, we understand the great impact our employees can make if they better understand their role in creating a more inclusive workplace and city.
“DEI is good for business because it is good for people. All people deserve psychological safety, recognition, advancement and to be true to themselves. All people deserve to be valued, respected, seen and heard. And when they are, businesses thrive. We often hear that DEI drives innovation, collaboration and retention, but we rarely discuss other benefits like engagement, loyalty, connections and even physical safety. All of these things positively impact our revenue, customer satisfaction and employee commitment.”
Bank of America Oklahoma City president
Shinn, with Bank of America and local partners, delivered a seminar titled The ROI of D&I, which served as a springboard to work with Mayor David Holt on the Mayor’s CEO Roundtable for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Bank of America also has supported the I&D Consortium and helped sponsor the Advancing Oklahoma initiative. Shinn also is a part of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber’s Inclusive Economics initiative.
“I have raised my hand and asked to have a seat at the table where courageous conversations are taking place around diversity and inclusion, and I think the private sector plays a critical role in this dialogue,” he said. “Throughout my adult life, I have seen firsthand how our community is strengthened by diverse viewpoints, and it makes us more resilient, responsive and adaptive.”
Arvest Bank Oklahoma City Chairman; EVP and Regional Manager for Arvest Banks in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma
Krieger meets every Friday for coffee over Zoom with a group to discuss DEI issues, and Arvest is the presenting sponsor for the I&D Consortium for the last six years. In addition, the bank has eight associate impact groups for a total of about 1,200 people looking at DEI issues.
“We want to represent the community, the makeup of the community,” he said. “And that only happens with understanding and dialogue and giving people an opportunity to express their views and not be unquestioned about those.It has got to be intentional. That’s first and foremost, it’s got to be sincere and natural. You have some uncomfortable conversations, but that may lead to a better understanding of where people are coming from.”