PPL Foundation announces $185,000 in Powering Equity grants

The Lehigh Carbon Community College Foundation, the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center and the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley were just some of the recipients of $185,000 grants recently announced by the PPL Foundation. 

The Allentown-based foundation made a total of 24 grants to nonprofits in its coverage area, all aimed at building stronger communities. 

In all, the PPL Foundation said it expects to award nearly $1 million in grants this year to support its focus areas: education; diversity, equity and inclusion; and sustainable communities. 

Funds from the first round of grants will be used to facilitate community conversations on diversity and inclusion, improve equity in access to higher education, and support innovation and entrepreneurship among underrepresented residents in our communities. 

“Through its grants, the PPL Foundation invests in innovative approaches to address critical social challenges and help build stronger, more sustainable communities,” said Ryan Hill, president of the PPL Foundation. “We’re proud to support nonprofit organizations working to improve lives and promote greater equity and inclusion in the communities we serve.” 

The most recent round, Powering Equity grants were made in amounts ranging from $2,500 to $15,000. 

The Foundation’s next round of grants will be Empowering Communities grants and will be focused on enriching the vitality of the community through programs that support environmental stewardship and education, economic development and workforce development. 

Applications for Empowering Communities grants are being accepted through June 15. More information can be found at  www.pplcares.com. 

Fulton Bank launches Diverse Business Program

Stating a commitment to making banking and financing products more accessible to groups that historically have been underserved, Lancaster-based Fulton Bank has launched its new Diverse Business Banking Program. 

The program is designed to meet the needs of minority, women, veteran, and LGBTQ business owners. 

“This program advances our purpose to change lives for the better,” Fulton Financial Chairman, President and CEO Curtis J. Myers said in a statement. 

Myers said on the company’s website that Fulton Bank is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

The basis of the program is Fulton Bank’s Diverse Business Advocates, bankers who have earned a special certification and can provide individualized mentorship, educational resources, and custom solutions to meet the needs of diverse business owners. 

The program’s products and services include the following: 

  • Business banking product bundles. 
  • Flexible approval criteria for loans and lines of credit. 
  • Merchant services. 
  • Payroll and cash management services. 
  • SBA (Small Business Administration) products. 

“We’re building on the work Fulton Bank has long done as a trusted advisor for our customers,” said Joel Barnett, director of Commercial Affinity Banking. “In addition to serving diverse businesses, we want to strength relationships with community organizations so we can connect diverse businesses with the network and resources they need to succeed.” 

The company’s website also promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion among its team members. Chief Diversity Officer Quianna Agent-Phillips said Fulton Bank’s inclusion efforts help forge connections throughout its workforce and foster collaboration among team members. 

Fulton Bank, which has offices in the Lehigh Valley, is a subsidiary of the Fulton Financial Corporation.

DEI Summit helps attendees become JEDIs

CPBJ and LVB Contributing Editor, Sloane Brown, speaks with Tyrone Russell, Joy Houck and Lynette Chappel-Williams during a panel titled Building Inclusive Work Environments during the 2023 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Summit.

Keynote speaker Todd Snovel brought a “Star Wars” theme to his talk Wednesday at the third annual Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Summit, hosted online by Central Penn Business Journal and Lehigh Valley Business.

Snovel, chief leadership and engagement officer for the County Commissioners Association, focused on how participants can become trained JEDI – promoting Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion – in their workplaces.

He was followed by two panel discussions, “Building Inclusive Work Environments” and “Power, Privilege and Allyship,” with representatives from health care, engineering and other fields giving their tips and expertise on DEI (or JEDI).

When he went off to college, Snovel said, his worldview was very limited.

“I had been pretty much only exposed to people who looked like me, who sounded like me, who had similar beliefs and values as I. And it was only through those expanded opportunities in education that I started to realize, one, how big the world was, but two, really … understand how inequity (wasn’t just something in history books but was affecting people today) and not just other places, but in our own communities.”

DEI work is a challenge, Snovel said. “It can bring up some difficult conversations, and so there is sometimes a feeling of discomfort right around these JEDI ideas.”

Often, he’ll get asked if an employee should feel guilty belonging to a group that has discriminated.

“Am I supposed to feel bad about myself, especially if I hold some majority identities in the space, and I would tell you, please do not feel bad about yourselves, but let’s also be committed to a real understanding of knowledge because it is from that knowledge that we can then put that energy into action.”

Snovel explained the difference between equality and equity.

“It is when we do things that we then get to the ability to look beyond equality, to look beyond just let’s treat everybody the same way and give them all the same things. But to look to equity, which is, how are we equipping people to be successful, based on what they need?”

When thinking about launching a DEI initiative, companies should ask questions. And employee feedback is crucial.

Are they able to be fully themselves in the workplace? he queried. “So when I open that office door, do I believe that my full ideas and personalities and backgrounds and opinions are going to be welcomed and embraced? Or are there parts of me that I’m sort of shelving, checking, holding at bay because I’m just not sure how I’m going to be welcomed into that space?”

In the first panel, Lynette Chappell-Williams, vice president and diversity officer at Penn State Health, talked about changing circumstances.

“I would have said five years ago how we approach DEI … was radically different from where it is now. We’re dealing with severe … staffing shortages that reduce people’s ability to focus on anything that isn’t getting them through the day-to-day work that they need.”

“We’re dealing with financial challenges,” she said. “Organizations weren’t where they are … in terms of having a lot of additional funds … so you have to be far more strategic … .”

Tyrone J. Russell, CEO of Faces International Marketing and Development LLC, told summit attendees, “I always say this is really therapy. … I say, I’m a DEI therapist before I’m a practitioner, because I know that even if people pretend like it’s never ever personal that there’s deep-rooted stuff that they’re dealing with that’s not allowing them to understand what it is we’re trying to create.”

Productivity also comes into play, said Joy Houck, vice president of organizational development and chief learning officer at WellSpan Health. “… So if I don’t feel included on a team, if I don’t feel like I belong, my team may not be productive, and so if we’re not productive, we’re probably not meeting the business’ goals.”

In the second panel, George Fernandez, president and CEO of Color & Culture, spoke about the Latino population, health care and DEI.

“We understand that Hispanic demographic, and the Hispanic community are typically the No. 1s leading (where) we don’t want to be No. 1 in, whether it’s diabetes and obesity and cancer … . So I’m helping them connect to the resources that they ultimately need in order to allow them to live healthier, more active, engaged lives.”

Aaysha Noor, head of diversity, equity and inclusion at The Giant Co., is a Muslim immigrant to the U.S.

“I’m a strong believer that your personal experiences bring in a strong passion to what you do …  But when you actually lived those experiences, and when you work with those communities, when you are on the street, when you have marched with them, and you have shed tears with them …it’s a very different feeling, and it gives you that deeper empathy and compassion and drive to do that work, and it also helps you … to bring other people along to tell that story … .”

Masai Lawson, senior manager of talent acquisition and inclusion, Gannett Fleming, had her definition of equity, too.

“… It’s not about quotas. It’s not about compliance; frankly, defining equity in terms of quantifiable results is again, in my opinion, too narrow, and ultimately counterproductive because it encourages a focus around outcomes only rather than how equitable environments are really built and sustained … So … I think equity is more of a state, and it’s hard to strictly define what it looks like, since it’ll show up differently in every organization.”

The summit was presented by Giant, with presenting sponsor WellSpan Health. Supporting sponsors were First National Bank, Reading Hospital/Tower Health and UPMC and patron sponsors were Capital BlueCross, Highmark, Members First Federal Credit Union, Penn State Harrisburg and Penn State Health.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Six M&T Banks to offer ‘culturally fluent’ services

In an effort to expand services to communities with high concentrations of ethnic and racial diversity, M&T Bank announced that it’s designating six of its central and southeast Pennsylvania branches as multicultural banking centers.

The centers will offer banking and other financial services in languages customers prefer and employ bankers from the local neighborhoods.

The company’s mission is “to be culturally fluent for all communities, especially as the region becomes more diverse,” a release noted.

These branches are among the 118 multicultural banking centers the bank maintains throughout the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions.

The new multicultural banking centers are:

· Berks County: Shillington branch.

· York County: 21 East Market Street branch and West York branch.

· Dauphin County: Harrisburg Main branch.

· Schuylkill County: Shenandoah branch.

· Lehigh County: Broad Street branch.

The bank recently launched a Spanish-language website – mtb.com/es – as well and has updated its ATM network to provide services in Chinese and Korean. M&T offers phone assistance in 240 languages.

“Our community model has always enabled us to develop a deep local understanding of the people and places we serve,” Tom Koppmann, M&T’s regional president for southeast Pennsylvania, said in the release. “With our multicultural banking centers, we’re taking the natural next step – providing a distinctive M&T experience shaped by the preferences and perspectives of the diverse customers who rely on us.”

Survey: Company culture may have actually improved during COVID

CHG Healthcare, the nation’s largest privately-held healthcare staffing company, announced the results of a nationwide study of more than 800 U.S. workers, revealing attitudes and sentiments toward workplace culture, working from home, mental health, and diversity, equity and inclusion.

“In a year that has thrown curveball after curveball, it is more important than ever for companies to make sure they are taking care of their employees and that their company culture remains a priority,” said Kevin Ricklefs, chief culture officer at CHG Healthcare. “This survey offers valuable insights into the mind of the current workforce, including how they define culture, what is important to them and how the current pandemic has impacted it. The results can serve as a roadmap for companies at any stage along their culture building journey.”

The survey sought insights on what culture really means to employees, as well as key factors affecting culture such as COVID-19 and long-term remote work, mental health, and diversity and inclusion within a company.

Key findings from the study include:

Many have left a job due to bad company culture

With 84% of women and 75% of men (79% of employees overall) stating they have left a company due to bad company culture, companies need to evaluate what they are offering their employees, as well as who is maintaining the culture. Over half of employees (68%) said they would rather have a good work environment or fair treatment over tangible perks (.5%). Employees also expect managers to play the biggest role in enforcing a good company culture, and when it comes down to characteristics of a manager, employees would rather have a trustworthy leader and mentor than a friend.

Culture can still stay strong during a pandemic, but check in on your employees’ mental health

Nearly three quarters of respondents (74%) began working from home due to COVID-19, and despite the disruption that the pandemic has caused in their lives, 54% stated that their culture remained the same and 20% said that the culture actually improved. However, it is still important to check in on the mental health of employees, as nearly half (48%) said their work had a greater impact on their mental well-being during the pandemic

Companies need to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has emerged as one of the greatest challenges facing businesses today. Seventy percent of respondents said diversity is very or extremely important to them when it comes to a successful workplace culture, and over half of respondents (52%) indicated a company’s focus on DEI is important to them when looking for a prospective employer. However, only 50% said their company’s leadership is diverse and 82% felt diversity within leadership is key to having a greater impact on the company culture. This proves that companies still have work to do on the DEI front, and having a diverse workforce is beneficial for everyone within a company — from management all the way to the frontline workers.

Pennsylvania PUC to require diversity reporting from utilities

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission plans to require diversity reporting from all major electric gas, water, wastewater and telecommunications public utilities.

The commission voted 4-0 Thursday to begin the rulemaking process.

In February of this year, PUC Chair Gladys Brown Dutrieuille began an effort to reinvigorate the commission’s efforts to promote and implement effective diversity programs at utilities.

The rulemaking will build on the recommendations of the PUC’s recently revised policy statement on diversity.

It would look to require utilities under its jurisdiction to file an annual report using a standardized form to account for the number of diverse employees as well as the utility’s diversity recruitment efforts.

The new policy statement revises the definition of diversity to include minorities, women, veterans, LGBTQ and the disabled.

The commission said that the visibility given to the topic of diversity at utilities will serve to strengthen their community ties and expand utility workforce talent pools in a time of increased employee retirements.

The commission’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will be published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin and interested parties can submit comments within 45 days of that publication.  Comments should be filed through the PUC’s eFiling System.

Copies of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking are also being served on all major jurisdictional utilities in the Commonwealth, as well as the parties involved in earlier discussions about updates to the PUC’s policy statement on diversity.