Guest Commentator: Russ Starke, Chief Executive Officer, Think Company @thinkcompany

Why is it beneficial for c-suite executives to cross-pollinate across industries and peer networks? How does this help our region achieve a more inclusive business mindset?

Staying in our own little circles is a little too easy. We tend to gravitate toward networking within traditional, comfortable industry and peer circles. But staying in our own little circles isn’t going to move the Philadelphia region toward the inclusive growth it needs.

Inclusive growth means that more people have an opportunity to benefit from economic growth, and it also means that more people have an opportunity to contribute to economic growth. It’s a pillar of the Chamber’s PHL Neighborhood Growth Project.

There are many ways to support inclusive growth, but expanding our little circles is definitely one of them. In practice, that means networking that’s diverse and inclusive. Those of us in C-level positions can and should play a key role in inclusive networking. Of course, it can be hard to make time and mental space to do that. So where to start?

The CEO Access Network created by the Chamber is an essential model and resource. It makes inclusive networking easy by offering ready-made programs, thoughtfully curated by those with their fingers most firmly on the pulse of the city. You don’t have to wrestle with logistics, but instead simply commit to showing up, being present, and focusing on how you can learn from and empower a wider group of people.

What happens is deceptively simple: folks just getting to know each other.

And it’s not just meeting people you can mentor. It’s meeting new peers. In my experience with the program, I felt even luckier—I made a new good friend. I was partnered with Matt Tinney from Windows Management Experts (got tech needs? look them up—they’re the real deal), who is also a great advocate for the LGBTQ community. We quickly became friends, and now we both have an extended network and a sounding board that we didn’t have before. It’s been fantastic. Our circles are both a little bigger.

Many other Philly organizations—including The Economy League, LEADERSHIP Philadelphia, and of course the Chamber—are doing great work to create more meaningful, beneficial, and lasting relationships among the connectors of our great city.

The business case for supporting inclusive growth is clear. As Chamber member Marc Coleman has written previously, “All you have to do is look at the data.”

But I also think it’s bigger than that; I think it’s making good on the promise of Philly being the city of brotherly love and sisterly affection. We can say we want inclusive growth, or we can put some muscle into it—actively connecting with people who are ready, willing, and able to contribute all they can to our community and economy, and connecting them with opportunities to do so. We can keep each other accountable, and we can show other regions how inclusive growth can happen. We are Philly, after all—let’s show ‘em how it’s done!

Russ Starke is a participant in this year’s CEO Access Network, a Diversity & Inclusion Program of the Chamber. Applications are now open for the 2019 – 2020 cohort. Applicants must belong to an underrepresented group (disability, LGBTQ, minority, veteran, and/or women) to qualify.