Through volunteer programs, monetary support and engagement opportunities, Burns & McDonnell employees have built a meaningful relationship with United Way. Over its 137-year history, United Way has built a proven track record of administering and distributing funds to nonprofits to help families and individuals improve their health and educational outcomes, as well as their financial stability.
Companies and individuals providing monetary support can also feel good about United Way’s efforts to address diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I). Beyond a commitment to improve the lives of people domestically and globally, United Way is taking steps internally and externally to support DE&I initiatives.
While many nonprofit and private organizations started initiatives to address DE&I in 2020, United Way has been at the forefront of these efforts. United Way of Greater Kansas City organized an anti-racism committee to focus on issues related to hiring, promotions and volunteers in 2019. That committee also discussed how the organization should invest resources to better address systematic inequality within the Kansas City region.
“A lot of the efforts to support diversity, equity and inclusion were driven by positive change and guidance from the United Way’s headquarters,” says Todd Jordan, chief community engagement officer at the United Way of Greater Kansas City. “There are more than 1,000 United Way offices operating across the country and more than 1,800 globally. As part of our membership agreement that we complete every year, we must set community goals to address and reduce disparities. We also draft a public statement opposing racial and ethnic discrimination.”
Envisioning a More Equitable Future
In June 2021, Chris Rosson was hired as the new president and CEO of United Way of Greater Kansas City. Rosson has a vision of leadership and management that pays attention to internal culture as well as human resources practices.
“It’s important for staff to feel valued in the workplace,” Rosson says. “Goals are good, but it is also important to establish processes. Organizations can have an inclusive environment, but can still end up being homogenous, because they aren’t taking steps to diversify the workforce, listening to the needs of staff and creating pipelines for leadership opportunities.”
Ron Coker, senior vice president and general manager of the Water Group at Burns & McDonnell, serves as vice chair on the board of trustees for United Way of Greater Kansas City. Coker says, “We are so fortunate to have Chris serve in this capacity. His personal and professional history demonstrates how nonprofits like United Way can improve people’s lives and elevate communities.”
Rosson grew up in a low-income community in Kansas City, Missouri. Prior to his current role, Rosson served as a senior vice president of Teach for America. He also worked in international development. His multiracial background makes him acutely aware of biases and blind spots in conversations, whether he is talking about community need or supporting employees.
“One of the most important decisions an organization can make is to have diverse perspectives around the table,” Rosson says. “I’ve been in organizations where there is a pattern of groupthink because the backgrounds, identities, leadership pathways and the schools people attended were pretty much the same. In these situations, you often come up with good ideas, but you don’t get great ideas.”
Never Stop Growing
Rosson emphasized that when he was growing up, he wasn’t any different from the other children on his block. It was the opportunities that people gave him that made a difference.
“At United Way, we want to pave pathways of success for the next generation of children growing up in our community,” Rosson says. “Whether a child wants to be a doctor, teacher, engineer or wherever life might take them, we want to make life a little easier so they can have a bright future. That’s the core of what we do.”
United Way of Greater Kansas City doesn’t treat DE&I as a box to check. Whether the organization is addressing human resources practices or community engagement, it treats DE&I initiatives as an ongoing process, built into the organization’s strategy. Growth is an evolution.
“DE&I work is kind of like going to the doctor,” Rosson says. “If your cholesterol is too high, your doctor will recommend changing your diet and exercise. If you visit the doctor in a few months and learn that your cholesterol levels are getting better, you still need to keep eating healthy and exercising. At United Way, we want to support our staff and the community so people can keep growing, evolving and thriving.”
This post is part of Together By Design, a quarterly business diversity newsletter published by Burns & McDonnell to advance a community of inclusion. This newsletter features stories of great opportunity, leaders who bring out the best in others, innovative approaches, and diverse perspectives that shape the business community and world at large.