Valerie Patton – Senior Vice President-Inclusion and Talent Attraction and Executive Director, St. Louis Business Diversity Initiative //
How can other cities develop a more diverse, inclusive and equitable workforce?
The question today is really more about inclusion and equity. We really have to be intentional about who we are hiring, who we are in community with, and who is being provided services. The discussion becomes then, do you have all people represented (or a sub set of people) at the table? Then, you need to think about the equity piece. For example, if one part of the city is getting one service and the other part of the city is getting the same service at a lower level, there is a problem. Equity goes from the boardroom to the playground. What kind of environment do you really want to create at the end of the day? By having diversity, inclusion and equity, you’re having different thoughts, time, talent, treasures, and people, which all gets integrated together for a richer more prosperous experience for all. As CEOs for Cities [Clusters] look at communities, we have to figure out how we make these communities better places to live or play in. If you don’t see yourself or an experience within that, then things will always be the same and things won’t change. If you are open to change, you must be open to the possibilities.
What inspires you the most?
I have 2 daily mantras I like to use:
- Everyday I want to lead, serve and make a difference
- Everyday I want to help people have a better life through transformation and change
Everyone influences and inspires me, especially the community where I serve, the community where I work, and the community where I play. As I look in community, every community has disparities, but how do we work together to produce solutions? I want to be the difference. I come from helpers and activism; I have always wanted to see things become better. It is also all of those who have gone before me who inspire me to be my best and do my best everyday. It was my grandparents and parents and the larger community that inspired me; I am my brothers’ and my sisters’ keeper.
In your opinion, what are the top 3 opportunities facing your city today?
- The fist opportunity is in the area of inclusion and talent attraction. There is an opportunity to showcase this in St. Louis. There is an opportunity to engage, not just retain students, but engage and attract talent back to the area. We have an opportunity to bring people back and keep the talent we are training in colleges and universities. About 4 years ago when Ferguson put us in the national spotlight, it was not in a positive light. We are taking the opportunity to take a negative and move it to a positive. But, but once people get here they see past that, they can see there is an opportunity here.
- Secondly, we have an opportunity within education. Our Chamber wants to be a top 10 city by 2025 and education is a very large piece to accomplish this. Education is bigger than just a college degree; we need to provided opportunities for people to get educated and become employed. Whatever form education takes to do this, we have an opportunity to train and provide apprenticeships, to formal classroom training. Education is key and knowledge is power. What you have in your mind is yours and no one can take it away from you.
- We also have opportunity for business growth in the start up arena and middle business sector. We want people to think of St. Louis as a start up community and this will spur innovation around new product development.
What are one or two projects you are currently working on that you are most excited about?
I love my work and I am excited about all of it!
The first thing I am really excited about is the work we are doing around our regional college festival, which will introduce students to St. Louis before they make post-graduation decisions. Last year we did a college festival, but now we are partnering with LouFest (Snoop Dogg will be performing this year!). We will host the college fair and then the next two days will be all about music and a time to showcase companies and businesses, other entertainment and the food of St. Louis. We have a great partnership and we are looking forward to the event!
The second thing I am very excited about is our fellows program, which is a year long, multicultural leadership development program for mid-career professionals. We focus on relationship building (or community building), professional development, and civic engagement and service. We are in our 12th year and have over 600 alumni. From our 600 alumni, 92% live and work in the region, 26% have their own boards and 70% have been promoted or have had an increase in responsibility within 2 years of graduating from the program. I am so proud of this work because of THEIR accomplishments and so many have already made an impact.
I am also working on an initiative called the Global Leadership Forum. The goal is to create a space that connects multicultural STEM organizations. We want the best and brightest in the field, but we also want to support them, promote them and engage with them. We have also created a specialize curriculum for an integrated high school, where 100% of students are going to college or have job opportunities.
What is your advice for the next generation of city change makers?
Be true to you. Truth is power and be the best you can be. Find something you have abundant passion for and pursue it with all your might. You don’t have to do everything. But whatever you do decide to do, do it well.
Could you tell us something about yourself that most of your colleagues don’t know about you?
I am an off chart introvert and I work like an extrovert. (Everyone is always surprised by this!) I like people, but people can also be draining. My passion calls me to be “forward in my thoughts and actions” and I have to be out, meaning if you want to see the change, you have to create change, the change you want to see. Also, I like to refer to my family as the “United Nations” because there is a little bit of everyone represented. I have cousins who have married people from Ghana, Cambodia, Mexico… it’s a great mix because we are all family and all get along but we also learn so much about culture!