DEI Index

Recent studies from McKinsey & Co. and many others show that companies and organizations led by a diverse mix of people achieve the highest returns. In these days of the Great Resignation and a whole new crop of younger employees with differing expectations, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion principles clearly belong in every workplace. They open eyes and change minds. And they are critical to fostering an organization that seizes short-term opportunities while sustaining a long-term mission.

Earlier this year, your Columbus Urban League hosted our own DEI retreat. In a recent op-ed, I noted our staff left with a heightened sense of connection and trust and a greater willingness to collaborate and innovate. We’re now calling on others to join us in this effort (sign up at right) and see our initial adopters below.

Our collective DEI effort calls for an on-going series of thoughtful actions, conscious reflection and consistent reinforcement. As part of Black History Month, we’ll be welcoming social entrepreneur and thought leader Trabian Shorters, catalyst of the movement to “first define black people by their aspirations and contributions.” This is the framework for our asset-building approach to DEI.

Join us. Start wherever you can. Initiate a DEI assessment, conduct a review of your cultural competency or take a fresh look at your employee on-boarding process. Analyze how to increase minority representation among vendors and suppliers and add new voices to your board.

–Stephanie Hightower

Hear from our Initial DEI Index Committed Partners:

AARP Ohio:

As an effective employee engagement tool, AARP established Strategic Engagement Employee Resource Groups (SEERGs). SEERGs are a safe, fun, and diverse outlet for all staff to engage, participate, and contribute to their individual success and the success of AARP. SEERGs are individually and collectively catalyzing an effective organization where AARP staff are engaged, empowered, and optimizing our diversity and individuality towards AARP’s work, vision and social mission. Our SEERGs have a critical role to play in recruitment, retention, marketing and outreach, and customer and member relations. Just as important, they support AARP’s commitment to keeping its promise to its 50-plus members and society, being relevant to diverse communities, and sustaining effective and efficient organizational health. Participation in the SEERG groups is encouraged and welcomed. We currently have 11 SEERG groups making a difference in our organization and community, including Adelante (Hispanic/Latino), AsiAm (Asian-American), Black Caucus, Emerging Leaders, Millennial, PRiSM (LGBTQ), Women’s.


The Close the Gap Networking Program pairs employees of color with senior leaders across the business to engage in important and vulnerable conversations around both work and life. Over six months, the partners discuss lived experiences, personal and professional goals, and ways to bridge the opportunity gap via sponsorship and learning ways to navigate the written and unwritten rules of the organization. At the close of the program, partners align around expectations to continue a mutually beneficial relationship including connecting with others in their network, discussing opportunities for growth and development, and more. Through this program, employees and leaders gain experience with having challenging conversations related to identity as well as giving and receiving feedback and guidance.

In addition, to help create pathways to employment for students from HBCUs, the HBCU Consortium provides students with an opportunity to gain real-world professional experiences while maintaining a support system that promotes continued academic success. Student employees hired through this program are hired with the support of university faculty. Once onboard, these students receive one-on-one support from members of the African American & black Leadership Excellence (AABLE) ERG who have a similar discipline, career path, or degree program.

Cardinal Health:

Creating Publicly Shared Enterprise Goals on Representation: The journey that we have been on to get to a place where we can publicly share enterprise representation goals has been significant. Our work and focus over the last five years have laid the foundation for us to make this bold statement. Once we established our DE&I strategy and really thought about the opportunities that we had, identifying goals with this level of specificity was our next logical step. It takes a high level of comfort, to even share this level of data internally, not to mention any external variables that we now must deal with. There was a high level of collaboration with multiple functions to determine the goals as well as a comprehensive communication plan that we used to share this work. This was a significant move for us to show our focus and intentionality on achieving real measurable results in this area of DE&I.

Encova Insurance:

The Encova Foundation of Ohio uses an associate committee to consider applications made by non-profits for funding from the foundation. Most of the members of the foundation review committee are associate resource group leaders, to ensure alignment between our diversity and philanthropic efforts.

Encova currently has eight associate resource groups providing ample opportunities for associates to be engaged with opportunities that align with their interests. Encova associate resource groups collaborate extensively, which multiplies allyship and support across our various constituencies.

Fifth Third Bank:

By implementing the Empowering Black Futures Neighborhood Program on the Near East Side of Columbus, Fifth Third Bank made an intentional statement that Black lives can’t matter until Black neighborhoods do. This place-based investment and partnership represents our commitment to taking care of ALL of our customers and ALL of the communities in which we operate.

Franklin County Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion:

The Franklin County Board of Commissioners declared racism as a public health crisis on May 12, 2020, which outlines 10 goals to ensure racism is the foundation of our initiatives. On November 17, 2020, racial equity was added as a core principle which includes 4 goals to ensure decisions are made through a racial equity lens at the Board of Commissioner (BOC) agencies. The Racial Equity Council was created in 2020 that included representation of all 14 county agencies and charged with developing DEI recommendations. Those 11 recommendations were adopted by the BOC on December 14, 2021. The Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (ODEI) was created in Fall of 2021 and the Chief Economic Equity and Inclusion Officer was hired in May 2021. ODEI is charged with the development and implementation of the DEI strategies and is working with DEI consultant Raising the Bar Performance Group to partner in these efforts. In 2022 ODEI is working with the second Racial Equity Council to implement 3 of the 11 recommendations. We have incorporated DEI training for all staff, completed a Culture Climate Audit, developing policy, incorporated County Futures program in our hiring practices, and continue to support small and emerging businesses.

Grange Insurance:

Based on the offering of Associate Resource Groups, DEI training, DEI Advisory Council efforts, CEO Coffee Talks and implementation of a Culture Playbook that is used by leaders, we received the highest favorability score for DEI on our engagement survey in 2022.

Due to an increase in our Community Relations budget and a specific focus on social justice and racism, we’ve been able to enhance our reputation as a committed corporate citizen by making substantial donations to Central State University, Columbus Urban League, YWCA, Center for Healthy Families and Alvis.


Our Colleague Resource Group, BEE@Greif (Black Employees Engaging @ Greif), was created in January 2021 to provide a support system to foster awareness, respect, and inclusion of Black employees at Greif. Since its creation, we have continuously educated colleagues on the diversity and history of Black employees by highlighting their stories, backgrounds, experiences, etc. and hosting educational and informative webinars with guest speakers. BEE@Greif also partners with other Colleague Resource Groups with a shared goal of creating a more inclusive workplace.


In recognition of the increasingly strategic importance that the role of the Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) plays within and external to Nationwide and in alignment with our company’s long-standing commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and the vital role DEI plays to our business success, the CDO has been elevated to a matrix reporting to the CEO and CHRO.

Recognizing the importance of alignment between Talent Acquisition and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the two organizations have been merged and we now have one leader, Chief Diversity and Talent Acquisition Officer, that leads the combined organization. This business operating model is a Best Practice that provides greater synergy, alignment and decision velocity, among other effectiveness and efficiency gains, for all things, Talent Acquisition and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.


OhioHealth formally launched ‘Inclusion’ as our 5th value in 2017. It was the first change to our values blueprint in more than two decades. Then, in 2018, OhioHealth took a deep dive into our workforce and patient data to establish a baseline for where we were on a number of DEI measures. Next, our board and leadership set three-year goals across 5 drivers of our business—People, Providers, Patients, Places, and Partners—to align every level of our organization around our Inclusion journey. Our “People” and “Providers” goals recognized that our workforce is comprised of both clinical and administrative associates. For our clinical associates, we focused on improving the representation of physicians and medical residents from populations that are historically underrepresented in medicine (URM). Our administrative associate focus was improving the representation of associates of color at the leadership-levels in our organization. We developed strategies to strengthen our talent pipeline, onboarding, and leadership development for both groups of associates and used a Balanced Score Care to hold ourselves accountable for progress.

United Way of Central Ohio:

Staff developed a DEI Dashboard that includes metrics to influence and ensure equity exists throughout our key function areas of the organization; President/CEO and Board of Trustees, Operations (Finance, HR, etc.), Community Impact and Resource Development. The dashboard and plan have been approved and supported at all levels of the organization from the board to staff.

In our most recent funding cycle, our community impact department focused its efforts on the number organizations we fund that are led by people of color and the dollar amount invested.  This resulted in 23 of our 38 new funded partners being organizations led by people of color. In total, we invested in 38 organizations led by POC. We also had our most diverse volunteer base reviewing RFP’s: 47% non-white, 12% LGBTQ+ and 63% women. Lastly, all funded partners were required to submit a board diversity plan that strategizes on how they will increase (or maintain) board diversity to reflect the demographics of Franklin County by 2025.

Other Partners in our DEI work:

American Electric Power (AEP):

One of our outcomes is to increase DEI engagement through programming, mentoring and development. As a result, we just held our inaugural I.D.E.A. (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility) Summit. Several of our 3,000+ enterprise leaders attended in-person or virtually. We also recorded it so any AEP employee can watch it at their convenience. This year, we invited in Dr. Robert Livingston, author of The Conversation, to jump-start dialogue on racism and bias and to transform well-intentioned statements on diversity into concrete actions. Our ERG’s also held a showcase to spread awareness on their initiatives and recruit new members.

We’re committed to working with the communities we serve to advance equity for our employees, customers and neighbors of color. Our Delivering on the Dream Grants ($5 million over 5 years) help dismantle systemic racism and prejudice, while prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion by funding organizations with programs dedicated to advancing social and racial justice in the communities we serve.

Big Lots:

This year we have leaned on our Sr. Executives to be out front speaking and attending our DEI events. By having a committed executive leadership team, all the way up to our CEO, the Mid-level leaders are understanding that inclusive leadership is a business imperative and expectation. We are coaching leaders to lean into differences as strengths and creating safe spaces for them to express their concerns or lack of tools and then providing the tools needed to do this work well. DEI cannot simply be owned by HR. We are moving accountability for inclusiveness and belonging into our business. This is our first year trying, and thought early, this approach but the response from our associates have been all positive.

By leveraging data, our team now has disaggregated our talent data to better understand if we need to address any equity opportunities within our ecosystem. This data, paired with our annual surveys allows the company to address concerns with very strategic tactics. Rather than broad strokes across the company, in the coming year our leaders will be empowered to work faster against building a more inclusive company with the help of their HR partners.


As a shared value organization, we are always concerned with where the community, our business and the passions of our employees intersect. Providing opportunities that infuse growth in our community guides our philanthropic efforts. This includes supporting organizations that provide opportunities for underrepresented groups in our community. We’re proud to align ourselves with organizations that cultivate safe spaces, provide workforce readiness and promote inclusivity. In doing this, we can continue to celebrate and advance our culturally rich community.

As an organization, we work diligently to create a culture of belonging for our people. One of the ways we do this is through the promotion of our core values and the support of our employee resource groups (ERGs). These voluntary employee-led groups are critical to our success in cultivating a diverse and inclusive culture. Our ERGs help us create shared experiences for our people resulting in an environment where our employees feel they can be themselves. While our journey is continuous, we have made significant strides in our employees feeling that our teams create an environment where diverse thoughts and perspectives are valued.

The Kroger Co:

In 2020, Kroger launched our Framework for Action in response to the surge of racial injustice across the country and in the communities we serve. To create our Framework, we listened to our associate, to understand the systemic issues that exist within our company and our communities. Over the past two years, we have worked to address these issues and are proud to report the progress we have made.

Some examples include: Create More Inclusive Culture (launched a variety of diversity trainings for our associates); Develop Diverse Talent (increased our strategic partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic Serving Institutions from six to seventeen); Advance Diverse Partnerships (created and shared our Small Business Resource Guide, a free downloadable resource); and Advance Equitable Communities (The Kroger Co. Foundation collectively awarded $3 million in grants to four diverse innovative organizations in order to build more equitable, inclusive communities).

The Wendy’s Company:

Earlier this year Wendy’s created its Own Your Opportunity initiative, focused on increasing franchise ownership among women and people of color, to create pathways for everyone who wants to grow with the Wendy’s® System. OYO has unlocked major changes to our Franchise requirements in an effort to attract a more diverse and inclusive franchise candidate pool.  Essentially we have made several enhancements to make “becoming a Wendy’s Franchisee a Reality”, and viable to a much broader group of people. The most significant change was to make our Franchisee financial requirements much more affordable, roughly a 75% reduction from our prior financial requirements.

We also leveraged our relationship(s) with 3 national lenders to provide bank financing, partnered with the first all-female owned bank (First Women’s Bank, out of Chicago) and allocated significant Wendy’s funding towards a Build to Suit option, allowing franchisees to further reduce their capital outlay.

YWCA Columbus:

YWCA Columbus’ Justice, Equity, & Belonging (JEB) training services work to increase the community’s racial literacy, grow into anti-racism, and develop strategies to address systemic inequities. From understanding the foundations and current manifestations of structural racism, to how racism is embedded into our institutions and culture, we offer opportunities to analyze and shift power and develop restorative strategies for preventing and repairing harm.

Another impactful component of YWCA Columbus’ Justice, Equity & Belonging training services is our Community Training Fund, established to ensure trainings are accessible to nonprofits, small businesses, and other community groups who otherwise would find the cost of trainings prohibitive. This fund has empowered YWCA Columbus to discount trainings to nonprofit organizations and community partners and has been particularly helpful in ensuring direct service professionals are culturally competent and are equipped with restorative strategies to prevent and repair harm.

Columbus Partnership:

DEI Minute: Launched in January 2022, the purpose of the DEI minute is for DEI to stay top-of-mind for our staff and serve as a brief educational opportunity. To become more effective allies and inclusive leaders, staff are encouraged to explore these and other resources to deepen understanding, create allyship, and to facilitate conversation and action. The staff DEI committee kicked off the DEI minute by sharing a DEI-related resource (e.g., article, book, podcast, docuseries, post, video clip, etc.) at each all-staff meeting. Then, all staff members were individually integrated into the schedule.

DEI Labs: To address implementing and scaling the practices required to hire, retain and advance Black and minority talent, DEI Labs were launched in October 2022 with high-level decision makers of Partnership member companies. This initial launch of DEI Labs will provide committed participants with the time and resources to work collaboratively with their peers on technical challenges of their choosing. The Partnership hopes to inspire the broader business community to change practices by sharing examples of individual company changes that are a result of the labs.

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