Efforts and achievements in DEI recognized with annual Champions awards

The St. Louis Business Journal recently presented the 2023 Championships of Diversity and Inclusion awards to individuals, businesses and nonprofit organizations in the St. Louis region doing the good work of making DEI part of the local culture.

There’s still a long way to go, but efforts to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion — and belonging — in the St. Louis region are in good hands, judging by the recipients of the St. Louis Business Journal’s 2023 Championships of Diversity and Inclusion awards. The awards were presented at a September 14 luncheon at the Union Station Hilton Hotel, and recognized individuals, businesses and nonprofit organizations doing the good work of making DEI part of the local culture. 

In welcoming attendees, publisher Robert Bobroff thanked honorees for “doing what they can do to make St. Louis more diverse, inclusive and equitable at their companies and in their communities.” He also recognized presenting sponsor Greater St. Louis, Inc.; sponsor Schnuck’s; and table sponsors Enterprise Bank, Washington University, Husch Blackwell and Panera Bread.

In introducing the honorees, Valerie Patton, chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer and president of the Greater St. Louis Foundation at Greater St. Louis, Inc., added “belonging” to the vital qualities of DEI. Promoting and creating DEI is “hard work,” she said, and “we aren’t often thanked for what we do,” making this event extra special. “Our work is guided by our 2030 plan for everyone in our region [to have] has the opportunity to thrive.”

Patton recognized her foundation’s Diversity Fellows, a program with more than 1,200 participants since it began and its largest cohort to date — 120 — this year. 

Of DEI efforts and programs, “it’s important to listen to the voices that haven’t been heard,” Patton said.

Calling it an honor to recognize the “remarkable people over the years” who have been Champions, Erik Siemers, editor of the St. Louis Business Journal, said, “There has never been a time when we need champions (of DEI) more than now.”

Siemers noted that there were more than 100 nominations this year, which he called “encouraging” and said “speaks a lot to the depth of talent in our community.”

2023 individual Champions

This year’s honorees cover a wide range of industries and professions, and a fascinating variety of projects and approaches to improving DEI. 

• Todd Alan, Pride St. Louis board member and a dedicated volunteer with several organizations involved with LBGTQ issues

• Peter Aranda, executive director and CEO, Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, which brings together “the best business schools, corporations and MBA talent to change the face of education and leadership in America.” He mentioned that openings are available for the program at Washington University and encouraged attendees to look into that opportunity. 

• Kevin Buchek, president, Roanoke Construction, who said, “In the St. Louis region, we have a very long way to go” to overcome racism of the past that continues to affect the present. “It will take a whole lot more people who look like me (i.e., are white and male) to advance DEI.”

• Antionette Carroll,  owner, Creative Reaction Lab, whose comments included, “All (societal) are by design. How can we not design an equitable society?” It is not enough to create DEI, she said; the effort must include keeping it going: “If it is not maintained, (our society) will deteriorate. It is not just a check-off.”

• Tiffany Lacy Clark, president and CEO, Behavioral Health Response, which handles mental health calls for 911, who said of the Champions and those who work with and support them, “We are the people who will change the world. The closer we stand together, the less likely anyone will be lost.”

• Jennifer Engeling, principal, diversity, equity and inclusion, Edward Jones, who equated Champions’ efforts with “laying bricks” as a foundation for a more equitable society.

• Trish Gomez, associate director, Office of Institutional Equity, and manager, Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and Community Building events, Washington University, whose responsibilities include DEI strategy. 

• Kesha Kent, diversity talent strategist, Husch Blackwell law firm and owner, MrsKeshSpeaks consulting firm.

• Riz Khan, CEO, Little Angels Foundation, a volunteer-run organization that fights food insecurity. “I wanted an organization where people of all faiths come together to serve food,” Khan said. “I believe food is a basic human right.” 

• Michael Maclin, PhD, director of equity, Special School District in St. Louis, who focuses on providing “equitable opportunity … for over 23,000 students daily.”

• Vivian Martain, DEI compliance officer, Millstone Weber, who tells colleagues that “in the business world, it will never harm you to be inclusive.” Working in DEI, Martain said, “is my life’s work. There is nothing that would keep me from this work.”

• Rick Moeckel, executive vice president and shareholder, Institutional Business Unit, Clayco, who said that DEI is “a great area for us to be in.”

• Jessica Schoenfelder, associate security consultant, World Wide Technology, who has found the company to have a “very inclusive culture.” “DEI is such important work,” she said. “There’s been a lot of learning.”

• Tayesha Schuldt, vice president, retail development and associate engagement, and lead instructor, Gateway to a Banking Career program, Enterprise Bank & Trust

2023 organizational Champions

• Nonprofit: Affinia Healthcare, which has a current focus on serving immigrants. “Diversity and inclusion are part of our culture … and differences are appreciated,” said CEO Kendra Holmes, RPh, PharmD, the first woman, and the first Black person, to be selected as the organization’s president and CEO in its 117-year history.

• For-profit: CannonDesign, which is “recruiting differently,” creating partnerships, and finding new sources of talent and materials, according to Amy Phillips, St. Louis office practice leader. “It is our responsibility to create spaces and place that represent the communities where we live,” she said. “We can’t design with (only) one voice.”


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