If Omaha wants to truly thrive, all of its residents must feel valued and appreciated. However, sometimes it takes some extra effort to make that happen.
This is the goal of a new collaboration between STEPS (Support and Training for the Evaluation of Programs) at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO), the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce and the Urban League of Nebraska.
After a 2015 Omaha Chamber of Commerce study found that black young professionals are less likely to recommend Omaha as a place to live than their peers, the Chamber reached out to STEPS to find ways to address the issue.
“Step one is understanding and challenging these issues so that they aren’t ignored,” said Sarah Moylan, senior director of talent and workforce at the Greater Omaha Chamber.
To try and understand the reasoning behind the Chamber’s survey, Craig Maher, a professor in UNO’s College of Public Affairs and Community Service, created a new survey that was distributed to young professionals of all races across the metro area. The results found a common theme.
“Omaha doesn’t have a problem attracting young professionals,” Maher said. “What we need to be better at is retaining those young professionals, especially those of color.”
Ultimately, Maher sought to find out why there was such a difference in opinion between black and white young professionals.
The results found that a high number of respondents, both black and white, said they would live somewhere other than Omaha if given the choice.
“There’s a huge difference between saying I would choose to leave versus I intend to leave, however,” Maher said. “Blacks more often intend to leave.”
Maher also found that black young professionals often cited racism and a lack of diversity as reasons for wanting to leave. Other common themes were that blacks felt less connected to the community.
People often say that Omaha is a “big small town.” It is also very family-oriented. If you do not know the right people, it can be hard to advance your career.
“(The goal) is that the Chamber can use this as a basis for conversation,” Maher said.
With Maher’s results in hand, the Urban League of Nebraska was soon identified as a community partner needed to assist with the project.
Michael Cich-Jones, director of marketing and development at the Urban League of Nebraska, believes this project affirms that people of color are wanted.
“(Having a diverse workplace) is vitally important to millennials and fortunately corporate Omaha understands that,” Cich-Jones said. “How do we challenge people in a healthy way?”
The Chamber is now facilitating conversations between two separate groups, one focusing on workplace and the other focusing on community, with the goal of increasing the retention of black young professionals in Omaha.
“Through our board of directors, we have representatives from all businesses,” Moylan said. “Everyone wants diverse talent.”
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