Over 100 guests attended the second Diversity in Business event hosted by the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce at the Lucy F. Simms Center, according to Chris Jones, a city councilman and member of the chamber’s diversity council.
“The more we understand diversity in the workplace and diversity in business, the more it will help to fulfill the employment needs of a diverse workforce and help to fulfill the employment gaps in business,” Jones said. “We need people of all ages. We need people of varying abilities. We need our veterans. We need women in leadership positions.”
Topics of conversation at Wednesday’s four-hour event included discrimination based on age, and the hurdles and solutions that women and veterans face in the job market.
Kevin Coffman, a veteran employment representative with the Virginia Employment Commission, spoke about linking veterans to jobs.
“A lot of people are actually willing to hire veterans, but they don’t know how to get to ‘em,” he said.
Coffman spoke about the improving exposure for the Jobs For Veterans State Grant, a program that uses federal funding to connect veterans to local jobs matching their skills.
Veterans “can excel at anything,” he said. “We’re a very cross-trained group of people and we tend to be successful whatever we do.”
A panel with women from various education, business and government institutions discussed workplace issues.
One of the panel’s speakers was Tisha McCoy-Ntiamoah, a Bridgewater entrepreneur who founded PrePOPsterous Popcorn in 2015. The company sources its kernels from local farmers, according to its website.
She said some women often unnecessarily count themselves out for higher positions in their career.
“Sometimes a lot of the self-doubt that we go through of ‘I don’t check every box that the position is looking for, so therefore I’m not qualified enough to apply,’” McCoy-Ntiamoah said.
“When the truth is many times you are, and sometimes our male counterparts will fall into that same category, not being able to check all the boxes but they’ll apply and end up into the role,” she said.
Other issues the panel discussed included the wage gap between men and women, best methods to negotiate a salary and how to address the pitfalls of resume gaps, which could be caused by taking care of children or elderly parents.
She said women are more “visible” in the workplace than past decades, but the question remains about the number of women in leadership roles.
“Certainly, we’ve made improvements, but I think there’s a ways to go,” she said.
The first local Diversity in Business event was held in June to focus on workforce opportunities.
In 2019, the national unemployment rates for workers with and without disabilities hit notable lows, at 3.6% and 7.3%, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
This labor shortage forces employers to look harder and wider at the pool of candidates to bridge their labor gap and increases the competition between employers for workers.