By Deborah M. Todd

In 2018, when Vibrant Pittsburgh and the Allegheny Conference on Community Development reached out to businesses for the inaugural Vibrant Index Summary Report, the goal was to get a baseline assessment of diversity, equity and inclusion practices in the region and provide recommendations for improvements. 

For a first-year effort, an impressive number of employers stepped up for scrutiny — 50 organizations with a total of 139,915 employees. 

And then the racial reckoning of 2020 came, and the notion of addressing racial and social justice through company policy went from an organizational highlight to a necessity.  

When the call for submissions went out following the summer of global disruptions in 2020, the business community’s response matched the gravity of the moment. Seventy-eight organizations participated in the index and Vibrant Pittsburgh’s membership exploded, according to CEO Sabrina Saunders Mosby. 

Vibrant Pittsburgh CEO Sabrina Saunders Mosby. Photo courtesy of Vibrant Pittsburgh.

“When I was hired, we had less than half of the membership in the organization than we have today,” says Mosby, who joined the organization only a few months before the protests. “I have to be honest, there’s no way I would attribute the uptick in the interest in our work and the commitment to our work to anything other than the two pandemics of Covid-19 and social unrest that unraveled during that time.”

Allegheny Conference President and CEO Stefani Pashman noted that the organization engaged its member companies to encourage them to participate. 

“In order to truly achieve the regional vitality that we all seek, we must collaboratively fight institutional racism and work towards a region that is equitable for all, regardless of background or ZIP code,” Pashman says.  

As local firms created or overhauled diversity and inclusion strategies, Mosby was making adjustments to the index — including adding a 10th category designed to measure organizational response to social justice issues and the pandemic. 

So while the 2020 Vibrant Index doesn’t provide apples-to-apples comparisons to the previous year’s findings, it serves as a window into the priorities and shortcomings of the region’s firms during a volatile and chaotic time. 

In the immediate aftermath, employee mental health was a top concern, with 85 percent of respondents offering Employee Assistance Programs for counseling services. Ninety-four percent prioritized the development of inclusive cultures, and 73 of the 78 respondents had official non-discrimination policies written in their guidelines. Community College of Allegheny County, PNC Bank, The Pittsburgh Promise and UPMC all scored 95 points or above in their individual assessments, earning them the designation of 2020’s Vibrant Champions. 

However, there were notable declines when firms were asked if their policies explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation (68 out of 78) and gender identity (59 out of 78). And when it came to holding leadership accountable, only 31 percent of respondents included diversity, equity and inclusion components in performance evaluations for senior executives. 

Vibrant Index image courtesy of Vibrant Pittsburgh.

Today, as Vibrant Pittsburgh and the Allegheny Conference prepare for the next call for submissions and analysis of efforts made in 2021, Mosby hopes 2020’s participants heeded their advice and that pledges made in previous years are finally bearing fruit in local companies. 

“I hope they are finally realizing that changes in policy and practice outlive sentiment and promises,” she said.

The organizations will conduct assessments for the 2021 Vibrant Index from Jan. 24 until Feb. 28. 

Deborah M. Todd is an editor and a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh. Her work has been published in Reuters, Forbes and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.