Eleodor Sotropa knows first-hand the challenges that talented immigrants face when trying to join the U.S. workforce. His journey from Romania to Procter & Gamble, where he serves as associate director of Global Business Services, traces a figurative road map that thousands of new Cincinnatians have followed.
“I studied computer science in Bucharest, which was very exotic at the time (in the early 1990s) in the European Eastern Bloc,” Sotropa says. “There were only 25 students in the entire country. The overthrow of communism happened during my third year as a student, and when I finally graduated I received a salary of $80 a month. I put money aside to take the GMAT, hoping to pursue an MBA somewhere.”
He did so at the Cyprus International Institute of Management, where he studied with professors from the U.S. and England. Sotropa says he decided to move to Canada after Romania elected “the wrong president,” and he worked for an advertising agency there before hiring on with P&G and eventually moving to Cincinnati. He became a U.S. citizen more than a decade ago.
Sotropa is helping make the career journey less arduous for fellow immigrants by serving with CinciGlobal, a workforce initiative promoting engagement, internships and co-op opportunities for international students in order to retain more of them in Cincinnati after they graduate.
It’s one of several successful programs introduced by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s Diverse by Design™ initiative to attract, develop and retain diverse, high-potential talent and move Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky toward full inclusion.
Mary Stagaman is the Chamber’s senior inclusion advisor who’s responsible for Diverse by Design and keeping an eye on the various programs and initiatives aimed at increasing and supporting the region’s diverse populations. Diverse by Design was based on evidence that diversity and inclusion are bottom-line imperatives embraced by successful businesses and regions. In other words, increasing diversity and growing inclusion isn’t just the right thing to do but the smart thing.
In an inaugural report on the region’s diversity in 2012, Stagaman and Bill Scheyer, president of Northern Kentucky’s Skyward (formerly Vision 2015), answered the question of “Why does inclusion matter?” Because, they wrote, “we should be moving where the country is going, not staying where it’s been.”
The report was informed by more than 1,600 people who participated in surveys or focus groups to gauge their perception. Strategies for action were developed from insights gleaned from the research.
(Read a full Q&A with Mary Stagaman in the right-hand column of this page.)
Diverse by Design has been supported by The Greater Cincinnati Foundation’s Collective Impact
approach, which addresses issues and concerns beyond the means of any one organization in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Numerous local organizations collaborate around a common vision and unify efforts through “backbone” entities that are championed and shaped with five years of funding from and helpful guidance by the Foundation. Participants adopt measurable goals and work to reinforce one another’s contributions.
In a series of special reports
has explored how Collective Impact initiatives support social sectors including workforce development, environmental sustainability and education. This final installment digs into one more set of issues at the heart of sustaining Cincinnati as a competitive urban area for economic success: diversity and inclusion.
The impact of Diverse by Design as a Collective Impact effort is increasingly apparent, and its success proves that sustained collaboration yields impressive results. The Center for New Cincinnatians will come to life online in November. CONNECT, an initiative bringing together affinity groups at area employers, is poised for rapid growth in 2017. CinciGlobal and other similar initiatives are also making an impact.
Welcoming New Cincinnatians
“New Cincinnatians” are immigrants and internationals who started life elsewhere, perhaps Europe, Africa, Asia or Central America. They currently constitute just 4 percent of our local population, but they contribute significantly to our regional economy with an annual spending power of $1.5 billion.
Immigrants made up 12 percent of Greater Cincinnati’s population growth between 2007 and 2012. They’re two to four times more likely than native-born citizens to start a business, and many are well educated, with 23 percent holding advanced degrees compared to 11 percent of people born locally.
In Greater Cincinnati, they already constitute 10 percent of STEM workers, prepared for employment in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. They’re a resource with tremendous potential for local growth: In the 2000 U.S. Census, about a quarter of all STEM workers in America were immigrants with college degrees or higher; about half of them held doctorate degrees.
Dayton's emphasis on attracting immigrants has yielded significant population growth. If the city of Cincinnati had attracted comparable numbers between 2007 and 2012, the population would have grown by nearly 10,000; instead Cincinnati shrank by nearly 4,500.
Considering such potential, Mayor John Cranley convened a task force in 2014 to study how Cincinnati might become a more welcoming place for immigrants. A key recommendation from the task force late last year was to establish a Center for New Cincinnatians to facilitate the entry of immigrants, refugees and internationals into our region.
The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber was recruited to oversee the planning process, building partnerships with existing organizations serving immigrants and recruiting volunteers from multiple sectors who established priorities for the center. The process is another good example of Collective Impact at work.
Bryan Wright, manager of international student affairs at Cincinnati State
, was involved in the immigration task force, serving on a sub-team focused on education chaired by former University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono and immigration attorney Douglas Haupert. Wright was already involved in similar conversations with Diverse by Design since its early days.
“We came up with the concept of a center,” Wright says, “a kind of connecting entity, virtual and maybe physical, a kind of one-stop shop for immigrants, refugees, international students — anyone coming to the region. We wanted to work with existing social service organizations, not replace those already doing a good job, like Santa Maria and Su Casa.”
They invited the community to decide how the center should function.
“We convened more than 70 community partners and held seven listening sessions with targeted populations to get a sense of their experiences,” Wright explains. “How they came here, how they heard about the city, what their perceptions were. Some people had just arrived; some had been here 15 or 20 years. We talked about what the center should focus on — connecting to legal services, supporting cultural events, identifying key stakeholders. Our process was a bottom-up approach that included the voices and work of the community.”
The Center’s new online portal — the first “proof of concept” — will be introduced and celebrated in a Nov. 1 event at the Chamber. This virtual hub of resources for immigrants is the first step in an array of strategies that will make the region a magnet for talent from around the globe.
New Cincinnatians include international students, as many as 7,500 enrolled at area colleges and universities. They’re the focus of CinciGlobal, which has staged two International student career rairs, the most recent hosting 800 international students to interact with employers and international chambers of commerce. The next event is scheduled for March 2017.
CinciGlobal is seeking to build on its online hub
as a medium to connect university admissions officers, employers and international students and publicize events as well as volunteer and mentorship opportunities.
“Even if you have similar training to American students, as an international student you’re looked on very differently,” P&G’s Sotropa says. “Employers envision having more trouble getting you into the system.”
The confusing system for obtaining H1B visas doesn’t help.
In order for a foreign-born student to be hired legally in Cincinnati, the job must require at least a bachelor’s degree, be directly related to the degree or field of work that qualifies the student for the H1B visa program and offer a salary that meets or exceeds the visa program’s mandatory level. Not every company is eligible to hire people with these visas — employers must meet various immigration laws and regulations to be eligible.
Those could be hurdles that employers might feel they’d rather avoid, Sotropa says.
He and professionals from local universities coach students to better navigate this process and educate employers on how to engage these students meaningfully and legally in internship programs.
Robert Jones of GE Aviation (center) leads a CONNECT discussion convened by Diverse by Design.
CONNECTing Affinity Groups
Another Diverse by Design initiative, CONNECT, reaches out broadly to strengthen a culture of inclusion. It connects employee resource groups (generally called ERGs) that attract, grow and retain diverse talent at area companies and nonprofits.
Early ERGs were focused on supporting the advancement of women or employees of color, but today they’ve multiplied to support Hispanic/Latino, LGBT individuals, people with disabilities, veterans and others.
CONNECT has assisted such groups with three core objectives. As its name implies, it first links ERGs from various companies to one another, cross-pollinating inclusion, professional development, community service and social and cultural connections. Second, it helps organizations share best practices, develop initiatives fostering inclusion and capitalize on the power of diversity. Third, it supports communication, promoting Greater Cincinnati’s personal and professional opportunities and high quality of life while simultaneously sharing the importance of inclusion.
Nearly 60 companies participate in CONNECT, ranging from the region’s largest employers such as Procter & Gamble and Kroger to universities, healthcare, banks, law firms and nonprofits.
The concept for CONNECT was developed by volunteers following the 2012 release of the Diverse by Design research report. CONNECT is co-chaired by Randall Stokes of GE Aviation and Lauren LaCerda Merten of Social Venture Partners.
The organization’s recent events included an ERG Leaders Forum and an “All-ERG” members event. CONNECT also offered a successful “mentorship cafe,” an informal gathering for people to come and ask questions of others with more experience in building successful ERGs.
A CONNECT event at GE Aviation brings together corporate leaders to discuss improving workplace inclusion.
Reuben Shaffer, Kroger’s chief diversity officer, says, “We recently added our Disabilities Associate Resource Group through our partnership with CONNECT and insights from local industry leaders. CONNECT has been a valuable resource to help improve and grow not only our own Associate Resource Groups but companies across the Cincinnati region.”
This month CONNECT released a powerful new toolkit for building strong ERGs, developed by professionals from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Duke Energy, Fifth Third Bank, Fidelity, Nielsen, Macy’s, GE Aviation and Kroger, replete with information about best practices from across the region.
Michael Moore, co-leader of Nielsen’s Pride, an LGBT ERG, says, “I’ve met Employee Resource Group leads from across the Greater Cincinnati area that I might not have otherwise. Leaders from healthcare, energy, colleges, retail, consumer package goods and volunteer organizations all come together to discuss ways to attract and retain talent.
“Cincinnati has great people and great neighborhoods and great pockets of diverse communities. But for someone new to the city it can be hard to find your fit if you don’t know where to look. CONNECT is connecting those groups, those communities and giving employers a way to help their new hires connect with the city and put down roots.”
This collaborative activity praised by Moore and Shaffer underscores the results possible with Collective Impact. The common agenda driven by Diverse by Design’s role is being advanced by an army of organizations that have agreed on shared measurements and mutually reinforcing activities, succeeding thanks to effective communication and mutual support.
So Much More
Additional programs supported by Diverse by Design include:
: A learning program focused on building cultural competence in leaders to impact the entire community.
Insights in Inclusion
: Presents periodic programs on specific topics such as a recent presentation featuring NPR correspondent Shankar Vedantam on unconscious bias. Another program focused on integrating people with disabilities in the workplace.
Table of Eight
: A networking opportunity for new and returning multicultural business professionals to connect and share insights and resources with events such as “newcomers’ dinners.”
: A hiring initiative involving more than 25 local companies strategically hiring U.S. veterans.
Getting Down to Business:
A pilot program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, to help small business integrate people with disabilities into their workforce.
Fifth Third Bank’s Diversity Leadership Symposium
Learn More About Diversity and Collective Impact
Download New Americans in Cincinnati: A Snapshot of the Demographic and Economic Contributions of the Foreign-Born to the Cincinnati Metropolitan Area and the City of Cincinnati
“Meeting the Talent Challenge in a Global Economy
” and several Diverse by Design annual reports
“Immigration and Employer Transitions for STEM Workers” by Sari Pekkala Kerr and William R. Kerr
Learn more about Center for New Cincinnatians
Learn more about Collective Impact at the Greater Cincinnati Foundation website’s Collective Impact area. See how big, complex problems require a collective approach with a shared vision and goals and all hands on deck rowing in the same direction.
: An annual program presenting inspirational business leaders and entrepreneurs who represent the best in intentional inclusion. The 2016 Diversity Leadership Symposium is Nov. 15 at the Hyatt Regency Cincinnati, and the keynote speaker will be New York Times
columnist and author Anand Giridharadas on “The Future of Leading.” Register here
Diverse by Design has a second statement as part of its identity: Inclusive by Intention.
“What’s different now is that our embrace of inclusion is now intentional,” Stagaman says. “Without intention you won’t get where you want to go.”
That’s another theme rooted in The Greater Cincinnati Foundation’s Collective Impact initiatives.
This is Part 5 of a Soapbox series of reports exploring how Collective Impact is changing and improving Greater Cincinnati. Support for this series is provided by The Greater Cincinnati Foundation.
Infographic by Steph Landry Design. CONNECT meeting photos by Scott Beseler.