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Instilling a DEI Lens at Simantel

Building a strong organizational culture is paramount to success in the workplace — especially in work that requires close collaboration. Respect for the unique needs and perspectives of all team members is essential to gaining deeper trust and stronger engagement. And that is a competitive advantage with a demonstrable impact on business results.

It’s true: companies that strive for diversity, equity and inclusion simply perform better. In today’s world, it’s a necessity. The formation of Simantel’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) committee has provided a platform for employees to create the culture they wish to see. It’s a framework we can build on. And it’s already paying dividends.


Getting to Know Simantel’s DEI Committee

The creative industries have long recognized the myriad benefits of diversity. In Simantel’s 40-ish years as an agency, our experience has been no different. But to be truly effective, diversity cannot stand alone. Diversity (the ways people differ) must be paired with equity (fair access and opportunity) as well as inclusion (a sense of belonging).

In addition to increasing the diversity of our own workforce, Simantel’s employee-led DEI committee was designed to build a more inclusive workplace culture — one in which everyone feels welcome, valued, and free to be their full and authentic selves. The response has been impassioned and widespread.

Employees from every department at Simantel jumped at the chance to get involved. Their mission? To uncover and eliminate company biases related to race, color and ethnicity, as well as those related to sex, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, genetics, disability, age, class, neurodiversity, veteran status and more. To learn. And to do the hard work.

In its early stages, the DEI committee brainstormed ideas. Lots and lots of ideas. Committee members then pitched those ideas to company leadership — a tsunami of thoughts and proposals in various stages of ideation. The enthusiasm was palpable. But where to begin?

Knowing that good intentions mean very little without execution, leadership turned to an external consultant for advice. Alongside his work as executive director of the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, Joshua Gunn is an experienced facilitator in the DEI space. Simantel engaged him to help us work through our principles and priorities, assist with training and resources, and help us determine the best way to move the needle forward.

We understood that real, sustainable change would take time. More than anything, we wanted to do this right.


Charting the Course Forward

Following a series of workshops and other activities with Mr. Gunn, company leadership was well positioned to chart a course forward. Among our immediate next steps, we:

  • Launched a company-wide equity audit to assess our current state and establish a baseline for our work
  • Began developing a DEI education and training effort for all employees
  • Examined HR policies and procedures to determine how we could expand diversity and instill equity into our recruiting efforts
  • Recognized Juneteenth and Martin Luther King Jr. Day as official company holidays
  • Implemented a series of “quick wins” identified by the committee, including gender-neutral bathrooms, paycheck deductions for DEI scholarships, Pride Week celebration, making DEI-related books accessible to employees, and adding pronouns to our email signatures.

As the DEI committee began meeting regularly, we formed a number of subcommittees to focus on the work. The Communications subcommittee, chaired by Emma Knaup, created a vision statement to guide our efforts at Simantel:

“To facilitate an environment that recognizes each person’s inherent value as a human, champions fairness and equity in all dimensions of work and life and encourages inclusive conversations that bridge our differences.”

This vision has been integrated into foundational documents related to Simantel’s values and core pillars as a company. It is also helping to guide our HR and recruitment efforts. “In order to create inclusivity for all, we are re-evaluating our processes, policies, resources and more,” explains Nick Knuffman-Brewer, associate human resources manager. “We are looking at the verbiage of our job postings, job requirements, where we advertise jobs, researching non-bias assessments, and so much more. We realize it’s a marathon, not a sprint, as we build up our education while becoming stronger together.”

Meanwhile, Liza Decoteau took the lead on spearheading internal education efforts. Among other initiatives, her subcommittee developed a lunch-and-learn series for employees focused on DEI issues. “The ‘Dine with DEI’ sessions give us a way to not only collectively learn more about diversity,” she notes, “but also create a safe space to share experiences, concerns and work towards celebrating our differences.”

Another subcommittee worked to pivot Simantel’s long-running “Just Cause” initiative — through which we assist a local nonprofit with their marketing and fundraising efforts — to focus more specifically on diversity, equity and inclusion. “This year’s Just Cause event will focus on 40-ish acts of service in our community,” says subcommittee chair Kendra Sipes. “We are excited that it will create opportunities for all employees who want to participate — both those in the Peoria area as well as our remote employees.”

While much of this work is internal, the fruits of our efforts are being seen outside the company as well. In collaboration with Illinois Central College (ICC), Simantel launched the Diverse Minds Scholarship to provide opportunities for African-American students to explore career opportunities in the marketing field. In addition to financial support, recipients receive job shadow opportunities as well as mentorship from our own creative professionals.

Learn more about our first scholarship winner, Henry Bolden, a rising sophomore at ICC.


The Work is Never Done

The workplace benefits of diversity, equity and inclusion are clear and well documented. More importantly, it’s simply the right thing to do.

We recognize this work can be difficult. And it is never finished.

As Simantel’s DEI committee looks to the future, we are listening, learning and becoming better. We are educating ourselves and others throughout the company. More importantly, we tell you all this not to just spotlight our own DEI committee, but to be a steward and inspire others to do the same in their organizations.

We are continuing to reach out to our community. And there is much more to come. We look forward to keeping you informed on our efforts. And we hope you will join us as we strive to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace, city, country and world.

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