As a white, Jewish woman from South Africa, Natalie Lichtigfeld has been exposed to different cultures, people and religions all her life.
But attending a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) in the Workplace program at the University of South Florida was different.
One of the panelists, Valerie Alexander, said people need to remove the phrase “I don’t see color” from their vocabulary.
“Because with that you deny the lived experience of every person,” said Lichtigfeld, a work management specialist in the invoicing department at Duke Energy Florida. “I’ve heard many people use that phrase and it never quite felt right. And now I understand why. To say, ‘I don’t see XYZ’ takes away the identity, the culture, the heritage, the uniqueness and experience of each individual person.”
Lichtigfeld was one of almost 50 Duke Energy employees who received a DE&I certificate. She has been involved with diversity councils for almost 20 years at Duke Energy. From the first session, Lichtigfeld sensed that this program had the potential to educate and enlighten her even more than her life experiences.
The program was sponsored by the University of South Florida (USF) Muma College of Business, the CEO of the Tampa Bay Lightning National Hockey League team and the CEO of Jabil, a manufacturing company based in St. Petersburg, Fla.
More than 135,000 people registered for the free online course. Registrants from education, businesses and nonprofits from 50 states and 15 countries participated. Topics included emotional intelligence, stereotypes and biases, understanding your organization, future of your organization through diversity and inclusion, and sustainable business models.
“The most important factor was the desire to do more than simply talk about racism and discrimination,” said Dr. Moez Limayem, the Lynn Pippenger Dean of the USF Muma College of Business. “All members of the organizing teams understood that the goal was to provide actionable information that would motivate others to start this journey and to identify ways that they could address biases, inclusion and work toward creating a more equitable workforce.”
The sponsors worked with DE&I programs to create the curriculum and identify speakers. They made it a free course so as many people as possible could participate, especially given the social justice events that happened in 2020.
The DE&I certificate program offered by USF is the type of educational opportunity Duke Energy encourages employees to seek to help them gain greater awareness and understanding about diversity and inclusion topics. It’s a part of the company’s initiatives to strengthen a culture of inclusion.
“We are committed to build a more diverse workforce where employees are respected, valued and appreciated for their unique backgrounds and contributions,” said Ron Wages, Duke Energy director of diversity & inclusion.
“We are intentional and work hard to provide a culture and environment that ensures employees can bring the best version of themselves to work every day,” Wages said. “We know that an empowered, diverse workforce and inclusive workplace make us a stronger company. And it can provide a competitive advantage for connecting with the ever-changing needs of our customers and communities.”
Limayem said while participants were going through the program, the sponsors wanted students to learn how building a workforce that includes different races, religions, ages, sexual orientations, and people with disabilities can improve society and help companies develop business practices, increase revenue and improve performance.
Because of the success of the pilot program, the sponsors are planning to offer it in the fall. Access to the content will be free; a fee will be charged for the badge and certificate.
At the conclusion of the program, Lichtigfeld was glad she enrolled.
“The world around us is changing rapidly. We are changing rapidly,” she said. “We have to be able to recognize the strengths in our similarities and use them to bolster the weaknesses of our perceived differences.
“The next generation is relying on what we do today for their tomorrow.”