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For Brinker and Old National Bank, DEI is More Than Meeting

In today's rapidly evolving business landscape, diversity has emerged as an integral ingredient for success and innovation. However, since there is no blueprint to follow, some organizations may struggle to find strategies that make a lasting impact.

That's where companies can learn from the pioneering work of Brinker, a Detroit-based family of five companies that provide commercial construction services, and Old National Bank. Both organizations advocate diversity at their core and have implemented multiple levels of support, focusing on creating opportunities for classically overlooked and underfunded groups. Among the range of support they collectively provide are scholarships, mentorship, supplier diversity programs and more, as they extend their efforts beyond the traditional boundaries of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and establish a robust protocol for businesses moving forward.

Brinker prizes DEI because of the value it brings to employees, clients and the community as a whole. "It's vital to have different perspectives at the table to bring the best product to the communities you're serving," notes Larry Brinker Jr., CEO and President of Brinker.

As Chief Diversity Equity and Inclusion Officer for Old National Bank, Corliss Garner says that her function sits at the intersection of culture, accountability and community. "For us, diversity is the combination of both internal and external dedication. First, we focus on bolstering inclusion for our team members, and then we look outwards to the community, clients and other stakeholders."

Read on to learn more about how the initiatives of Brinker and Old National are leading to better outcomes for the companies and their communities.

Upward mobility begins at home

Brinker Jr. is a vocal proponent of championing development opportunities, a value instilled by his father, who started as a truck driver for a carpentry company. After proving himself to be a high-performing, dedicated worker, his employer helped pave the way by allowing him to climb the ladder from apprentice to journeyman to foreman. He eventually started his own business, which grew to the five businesses that today form the Brinker family of companies. That achievement has created an atmosphere where associates know they can reach for the top as they navigate career paths and life goals.

Old National Bank supports a similar ethos." Everyone has a place here, and we enthusiastically encourage participation in company growth through succession and training opportunities for our diverse team members," says CEO Jim Ryan.

Turning their focus outward

\Brinker also feels a significant responsibility to boost minority companies, partnering with the city of Detroit to identify appropriate minority-owned companies to mentor on the job and in real-time while working side by side in the field. "Rather than just carving out one part of a project, as is typical, we prioritize giving them a meaningful role and sharing our knowledge in areas like project management and risk mitigation, providing expertise they can apply to their next project," Brinker Jr. says.

The company also aims to bring much-needed diversity to the construction industry by helping expose more people to the field through scholarships and workforce development programs, such as one spearheaded in conjunction with its role in a joint venture as construction manager for the Michigan Central Station project.

"Ford and our multi-partnered team invited community residents to apply for on-the-job training with the various trades and provided the wraparound services they needed, like guidance throughout the qualification process, transportation to job sites, and post-program job placement opportunities with the companies who helped train them on the job. Taking a holistic view is imperative to give people a real shot at longevity and sustainability in building their businesses and careers," Brinker Jr. explains. "There was an opportunity for them at the end of that rainbow."

Old National also has a number of related initiatives, including its Small Business Empowerment Program, which launched in March 2023 and vibrant philanthropic efforts that include market sponsorships and donations from its foundation, with 90% or more of the grants directed to low- to moderate- income communities, and 77% of the grants and support designated for underrepresented groups, particularly racial minorities and people with disabilities. Team members also participate in hands-on projects through their Better Together Days and devote their time to board service and other activities that allow them to listen and engage. "We are really excited about the holistic view we bring to philanthropy and how it can enact real change and hope throughout our community," Garner says.  

A symbiotic alignment

With complementary approaches to DEI and a commitment to serving diverse communities—with a dedication that begins at the top of both organizations—Old National Bank and Brinker provide compelling success metrics for the advantages of a robust DEI program.

From fostering creativity and problem-solving to enhancing decision-making and driving market growth, the benefits of creating opportunities for diverse groups are far-reaching and have been fundamental in propelling both organizations forward.

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