AgriBank’s Initiative On Diversity & Inclusion Has Energy And Purpose
There is a strong and growing commitment from the staff level up to the board.
At AgriBank, “Diversity & Inclusion” is more than an HR program. It is an ongoing initiative with energy and purpose, and involves everyone from new employees to the board of directors.
AgriBank established a nine person Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Council in July of 2008. Today, the Council numbers 15 people, all volunteers. ”We have a very committed group and they’re passionate about creating new opportunities,” said Mary Nelson, HR Manager and current chair of the D&I Council at AgriBank.
Mary Nelson, HR Manager
at AgriBank, FCB
The Council has a strategic plan and an action plan, which are updated annually. Committees and sub-committees meet monthly. “This isn’t something we do every once in a while. There’s a strong commitment by the Council here and it’s grown,” said Jim Jones, VP Chief Risk Officer at AgriBank, and former Council chair. “We set it up to have turnover, so that more and more people can get engaged with it.”
The D&I Council has divided its work into four distinct functions: engagement, outreach, communication and innovation.
The engagement component drives the inclusion aspect of D&I. “We have constant educational pieces going on for D&I, encouraging people to take classes and grow,” said Nelson. “We’ve had very good luck offering some of the classes available from Farm Credit at the national level. They’re all over the U.S. In June, we’re hosting one here in St Paul.
“We’ve also had national D&I people who have trained our employees in different modules. They were here in 2010 and we’re having them come back to provide intercultural training for 30 employees hired since then.”
The outreach component of D&I at AgriBank is multi-focused, with emphasis on reaching out to professional ethnic organizations. The National Society of Hispanic MBAs, (NSHMBA), for example, is a premier Hispanic business organization. Part of its mission is to enhance career management opportunities for Hispanic MBAs, from school to leadership positions, through job placement and world class professional development. “They have a very vibrant Twin Cities chapter,” said Jones. “We are a sponsor. Our emphasis is to get our name out to that community, so hopefully we can to attract top talent.”
Other organizations AgriBank is involved with include the National Black MBA Association, Inc. (NBMBAA), the Hmong American Partnership (HAP) based in St. Paul, and Quorum, the Twin Cities GLBT and Allied Business Community. “While we have our historic pipeline channels, we’re also trying to make sure we’re not missing any communities. We want to be engaged. We’re trying to attract the top talent within the Twin Cities irrespective of where they come from,” Jones said.
The third component of AgriBank’s initiative is communication, informing everyone at AgriBank about D&I efforts. “That includes training,” said Jones. “We try to connect with HR as to what’s going on there, and make sure we infuse some D&I into some of those training programs.” AgriBank’s internal web site includes articles on D&I, including profiles and contact information of the Council members, and opportunities to volunteer in the local community, or join the Council in the future. There’s also a program where employees simply go to lunch together, in order to meet and visit with other AgriBank employees.
Jim Jones, VP Chief Risk Officer
at AgriBank, FCB
The final component is innovation. There is not a separate committee for it. Instead, the Council tries to connect innovation with the other three sub-work groups. That includes reaching out to Associations within the AgriBank District, such as AgStar, which has a dynamic D&I council, to share best practices and see how we might be able to improve our efforts. “AgriBank is a resource, and we are looking for resources from our partners at the Associations as well,” said Jones.
An example of innovation within outreach is partnering with the Community Design Center (CDC), a St. Paul organization that is connecting inner city kids to agriculture. AgriBank provides some financial for their programs. CDC has seven organic, herb and flower gardens on St. Paul’s East Side. Youth ages 14 and 18 help plant and maintain the gardens, and participate in weekly summer classes and field trips on topics related to food, personal health and the environment. Urban farming is growing in many Twin Cities neighborhoods. The partnership helps AgriBank connect and learn more about this trend. “It’s about meeting the objectives of serving all of agriculture,” said Jones.
Mary Nelson, who also serves on the national FCS D&I council, says a key factor in D&I initiatives is being accountable, reporting results up to the executive committee. “It really is a journey. There are mileposts you go past, so it’s important to do those annual reports to see that you’re making progress.”
Jones agrees. “The results aren’t always tangible,” he said. “But gradually, 5 years from now, we’ll look back and say, yes, we’ve made significant progress. I was at an outreach committee meeting yesterday and was blown away at the commitment there and the energy of people reaching out to local groups. It really is purposeful.”