Commentary: New Hampshire businesses support diversity education and the innovation it fosters

March 23, 2022 5:45 am

The New Hampshire State House and grounds on Tuesday morning, March 22. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

As New Hampshire business leaders focus on building a strong and inclusive economy, New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility (NHBSR) writes in opposition to House Bills 1313, 1255, 1015, and other legislative attempts to undermine diversity initiatives and whitewash American history in our state.

Last year, NHBSR and just under 300 New Hampshire workplaces ( voiced opposition to HB 544, an act relative to the propagation of “divisive concepts.” That bill set out to prevent public schools, state agencies, and private businesses that contract with the state from providing education about the unfortunate reality of systemic racism and sexism in America. An amended version passed along party lines as part of the budget trailer bill, HB 2. It is now subject to multiple lawsuits challenging its constitutionality, which are being defended at taxpayer expense.

Although the final “divisive concepts” language did not include the state contractor ban, it nonetheless dealt New Hampshire’s public and private sector a black eye by projecting an image of intolerance to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), which surveys show are highly valued by businesses and their workers. Not surprisingly, the state received a raft of negative media attention in connection with the ban.

Now, state representatives are pushing new legislation to extend the “divisive concepts” ban to universities under HB 1313 and to require that public school teachers refrain from teaching the full context of racism in our history under HB 1255, the so-called “teacher loyalty bill.” If passed, these bills and other restrictive measures like HB 1015 and HB 1632 would further harm New Hampshire’s economy at a time when businesses are desperately in need of attracting and retaining more workers in order to recover from the COVID-19 recession and maintain long-term growth.

U.S. census data show that fully half of New Hampshire’s small businesses are actively seeking new workers compared to around one-third of small businesses nationwide. A 2021 CNBC survey found 8 in 10 workers support DEI and “an employee’s perception of his or her company’s DEI efforts has an impact on their job satisfaction” – a crucial element in the current talent war.

Diverse and inclusive workplaces are not just important for recruiting and retaining workers in the 21st century – they are also critical to bottom-line business success in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. According to McKinsey & Company, businesses with at least 30 percent gender and racial diversity in leadership outperformed the less-diverse competition by 25 percent and 36 percent, respectively. That’s because diversity fosters innovative thinking and dynamic problem-solving that enable businesses like ours to gain a better understanding of our customers and communities, which in turn enables us to serve them better and grow.

Together with the nearly 300 New Hampshire businesses, educational institutions, and nonprofits that signed our letter, NHBSR members are fully committed to building strong workplace cultures where all people are respected and can reach their full potential while helping our businesses succeed. Bills like HB 1313 and HB 1255 send the wrong message about New Hampshire and discourage new workers from coming to, or remaining in, our state. They leave our students ill-prepared to succeed in a rapidly diversifying workforce. And they do a disservice to the nearly 150,000 Granite Staters who identify as people of color, many of whom continue to face inequities linked to systemic racism in our state.

New Hampshire is better, and braver, than these bills suggest. We care about truth and one another, including people from marginalized communities whose voices are not always heard in the corridors of power. It is this kind of honest, entrepreneurial, and inclusive climate from which leaders are empowered to build businesses in the state and it is what our workers expect us to foster every day. We ask our state leaders to let New Hampshire be New Hampshire and vote these bad bills down.

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Michelle Veasey
Michelle Veasey

Michelle Veasey is executive director of New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility.