Donate   |   Print Page   |   Sign In
Leading in Color - July 2020
July 2020
  • Message from Tiffany Hamel Johnson and Kip Kelley
  • A Case 4 Bold Action ... Communication and crisis
  • We CU: News from our members
  • Don't-Miss Chicago United  Programs 
Chicago United members and supporters:  Given the broad and urgent calls for greater diversity, equity and inclusion for people of color in Corporate America, Chicago United’s leadership published the following statement in Crain’s Chicago Business via a paid advertisement in the July 13 print edition. Please feel free to share this message, especially with those who are unfamiliar with our organization and our work. Please direct inquiries about a Chicago United membership to

A Fierce Demand

We, as a nation, find ourselves at an inflection point, the same indelible moment when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. That tragedy, and the ensuing protests and riots in Chicago, laid bare the economic chasm between Black Chicago and the rest of the city and gave birth to Chicago United. 

During these challenging times of broad and intense focus on racial inequities, many companies have contacted Chicago United for assistance in charting their path forward in the work of diversity, equity and inclusion. There is a reawakening and a fierce demand for companies to address the inequities that have festered for generations, not only with statements, but with actions.

Chicago United’s approach to eradicating racism in business is to help our members create their own blueprint for bold action and impactful results. No matter where they are in their journey towards a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion that earns the commitment of their employees and the loyalty of diverse customers, our member companies count on Chicago United for peer-to-peer best practices, thought leadership and our half century of experience bridging the gap between race and business. 

We can’t let this moment pass without accelerating access and opportunity for those who are underrepresented in Corporate America. And, while Chicago United will continue offering programs that help the business community seize that opportunity, we know that we also must elevate and enrich our offerings to help members address the challenges they are having in shaping their diversity, equity and inclusion platforms.  

There is no better place than Chicago United for those who are ready to do the soul-searching and heavy lifting that these times demand. This organization was built for the work at hand.

Tiffany Hamel Johnson
President and CEO
Chicago United 
Kip Kelley 
Chief Executive Officer- US Affinity
Aon Plc
Chairman of the Board, Chicago United 
A CASE 4... Bold Action

The art of candid communication in a crisis

Companies have been challenged to communicate with shareholders, clients and consumers, and employees with candor, sensitivity and resolve during this time of global crisis. 

Zain Raj, Chairman and CEO of Shapiro + Raj,  a large Minority Business Enterprise, said that the biggest impact on businesses like his came from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the events following the deaths of unarmed African Americans also had an effect on his workforce, a large percentage of whom are people of color. Raj reflects on four lessons the company learned to survive the tumultuous events and help their employees.

Keep employees informed on what the company is doing to address the crisis and how it affects them.

The company’s leaders clearly outlined the plan to minimize the impact to the business, shared regular progress reports, and it was candid about the decision to delay workforce reductions for at least eight to 12 weeks and institute salary cuts in a way that enabled employees to plan accordingly. 


If you don’t have all the answers, say so (and/or reach out to those who do)

In a candid moment, Raj told employees how he struggled to use the correct language for an internal message about social unrest. However, he turned to his college-age daughter who explained some nuances of the language around the movement that were “an eye-opener” to him. 

Equip employees to do their jobs, whatever the circumstances

To ensure employees were able to retain some semblance of their pre-pandemic work life, the company ensured that employees with outdated computers got new equipment and that wi-fi was upgraded. 


Manage your workforce’s emotional health

Shapiro + Raj employees received free subscriptions to a meditation and sleep app. And, in addition to encouraging employees to take their vacation days when needed, the company also designated companywide “no work” days when employees were free to take the day off.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: On July 14, Chicago United’s Five Forward Initiative™ presented a deeper dive into client and employee crisis communications with Zain Raj. The program, MBE Resilience in Times of Crisis, was aimed specifically at the MBE community. 


Chicago United continues our COVID-19 support to the community with a donation to the Greater Chicago Food DepositoryThe depository is part of a united community effort working to bring food and resources to Cook County residents by acting as a hub for a network of more than 700 food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and other programs. The organization also addresses the root causes of hunger and offers public benefits outreach and job training programs to help people overcome poverty.


Dee Robinson, founder and CEO of Robinson Hill, Inc., and a 2017 Business Leader of Color, has been appointed to the board of directors of Accel Entertainment, Inc.

Luis Sierra, 2007 Business Leader of Color, has been appointed President and CEO of NOVA Chemicals Corporation, effective Aug. 1. Sierra was previously with Chicago United member company BP America Inc.

Chicago United extends special thanks to the caring team at LSL Healthcare Inc. for donating personal protective equipment for the Chicago United staff to use for a safe return to our offices. 

If you’re driving northbound along the Kennedy Expressway at North Avenue this month you may see a familiar logo hovering high above traffic; we are grateful to Wintrust Financial Corporation for generously donating space on their electronic billboard to Chicago United for the month of July. 

Tell us more!

If you know of bold actions by Chicago United members to help others during this time of crisis, please let us know. We’d appreciate your content suggestions. Contact us. 

Here's Your Business Leaders of Color summer reading list 

Chicago United’s Business Leaders of Color (BLCs) have distinguished themselves in their careers, and many of them have become published authors.

Check out our full list of BLC authors and their books; you just might find the perfect summer read! If you’re a BLC published author who’s not included on this list, please let us know at

Also, be sure to watch your inbox for invitations to our 2020 Business Leaders of Color Author Series programs featuring Melody Spann Cooper, Shundrawn Thomas, and Andres Tapia and Dr. Robert Rodriquez. 

July Program Spotlight: 


Working directly with experts, Chicago United has developed a new virtual program that will focus on how companies can leverage Employees Resource Groups to support business goals around advancing multiracial leadership throughout the talent pipeline. 

Who should attend: Chief Diversity Officers;  ERG leaders/chairs;  ERG program managers; Executive sponsors of ERGs; and talent-management leaders

Date: Tuesday, July 28
Time: 9 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.

Hosted by:

  • Business Leaders of Color Author Series: July 22, Aug. 4, Oct. 2
  • CEO Roundtable Series (for C-Suite executives): Aug. 6, Sept. 22, Oct. 20 
CLICK HERE to give us your feedback on this
newsletter, or any of Chicago United's programs.
 300 East Randolph Street, Suite CL920, Chicago, IL 60601-5075
312-977-3060 •
If you wish to stop receiving email from us, you can simply remove yourself by visiting: @@unsubscribe_url@@
Membership Management Software Powered by YourMembership  ::  Legal