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‘Diverse teams drive better returns’: Somerset Business Partnership holds diversity summit

BRIDGEWATER – Diversity in the workplace leads to greater success.

That was one of the messages delivered at the Somerset County Business Partnership’s first Somerset County Diversity and Inclusion Summit held virtually on Sept. 24.

“Diverse teams drive better returns,” said Magda Yrizarry, chief diversity officer at Verizon. “When leaders speak of this, it resonates with shareholders. Our leadership is committed to activating the awareness of our employees.”

Yrizarry said the power of inclusion is important to employers, but there is no cookie-cutter approach to making progress on the issue. Yrizarry said business leaders must be conscious of the importance of diversity and care and inclusion in the workplace.

The summit was a continuation of the Business Partnership’s initiative to provide the business community with what it needs to know about Somerset County’s changing population and how to better understand and embrace the county’s growing diversity. 

In her keynote comments, Hester Agudosi, chief diversity officer at the New Jersey Office of Diversity & Inclusion, said that as the state’s first diversity and inclusion officer, her focus has been directed toward creating a model that others can follow with focus on leadership, commitment and action.

“It’s the penetration of inclusiveness and diversity that trickles down from a state level, to a county level, to a local level, when we are truly able to harness diversity and inclusion,” Agudosi said. “You’re putting your stake in the ground to say who you are that defines and sets the tone for the operation of the county, towns.”

Agudosi said diversity should be appreciated.

“We see it and we enjoy the beauty of it,” she said. “And the fact that we have differences does not mean that one competes against the other. They all add to the beauty and the value of what we enjoy.”

Promoting diversity also promotes business, she said, adding the ability to leverage and harness the best ideas, products and services help grow and promote the economy. 

Issues addressed at the summit included: “How to Practice Inclusive Leadership,” “Uncovering Unconscious Bias” and “Making the Business Case for Inclusion.”

Other presenters included Moderator Paula Gutierrez, director of diversity and inclusion at the Babs Siperstein PROUD Center; Linda Bowden, New Jersey regional president at PNC Bank; Mariano Gutierrez, head of global marketing operations at MetLife; Paul Grzella, director of the Greater Raritan Workforce Development Board and a member of the Somerset County Diversity Committee; and Montgomery Mayor Sadaf Jaffer.

Diversity, openness, inclusion and being proud of who yourself are important in business and life outside the workplace, Grzella said.

“If you can’t embrace who you are, how can you help embrace others?” Grzella said.

Gaining that awareness and knowledge is key, Gutierrez said.

“It’s OK if we don’t know something,” he said, “but it’s part of our journey to be more self-aware and get to the root cause of the gaps in our knowledge.”

Gutierrez also suggested that workplaces encourage space and opportunity to discuss

sensitive topics.

“By practicing inclusive leadership and activating conversations, real change can happen,” he said.

Jaffer emphasized the need for ideals and following up those ideals with real changes to engage and establish trust with both the community and employees.

Video of the summit is available at