Journal Opinion: Chamber Diversifies Its Board

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The composition of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber Board of Directors reflects a welcome recognition of the need for greater representation from the broader community.

The chamber announced Feb. 8 the appointment of seven new board members, among them a Black woman, two Black men and two white women. With these additions, just over a third of the chamber board is composed of members who are women or people of color.

The diversity represents an intentional shift from the composition of chamber boards of the past – and, to be fair, most other boards in this community – which were mostly composed of white males who ran the Mahoning Valley’s largest companies.

Broadening representation on the chamber board is part of an “intentional effort” by its leadership, the president and CEO, Guy Coviello, says.

About a year ago, the chamber conducted “an analysis of where we were in terms of diversity,” he says. The analysis found that minority representation on the chamber board and the boards of its three foundations was just 0.08%.

“That made us realize that we are not reflective of our constituency. The number of minority-owned businesses in this community is much greater than that,” Coviello says.

And so the chamber embarked on “a conscientious effort” to become more reflective of the local business community.

“We feel we’ve been very successful in finding the right people who bring a lot of value to our board because of their professional and business accomplishments,” Coviello says.  

Bob Davis, president and CEO of Aqua Ohio, is one of the new board members who is Black. “Diversity of backgrounds leads to more points of view and, ultimately, better decisions for the chamber and the community,” he says.

Likewise, representation by women is important because a large percentage of small businesses are started by women, says Shelley Taylor, owner and president of Paige & Byrnes Insurance Agency, who also joined the chamber board.

Still, even with the diversification initiative, minority representation on the chamber boards now is just 1.6%. 

“Approaching 2% is still not where we need to be,” Coviello says.

Later this year, the chamber plans to launch an equity, diversity and inclusion program to help minority-owned, female-owned and veteran-owned businesses.

“We’re going to continue to make a conscientious effort on staff, makeup of the boards and membership,” Coviello says.

We applaud the chamber for recognizing where it needs to improve and for forging ahead with plans to address where it is falling short.

We hope the chamber will inspire other local organizations to follow suit.