When Disney's Broadway production of Aladdin was getting ready to play in Schenectady, one of the show's executives asked the staff at Proctors Theatre if they or anyone in Schenectady had a list of LGBTQ and MWBE-owned businesses they could share with the cast & crew. Realizing that they did not, Discover Schenectady embarked on a journey to develop a DEI strategy and kick-start their diversity, equality and inclusion initiatives.
From Small Steps to Giant Strides
Discover Schenectady’s DEAI initiative involved many stages. "We developed a questionnaire for business owners and sent it out, and launched a dedicated page on our website that speaks to our DEI initiatives and aligns our mission statement with our DEI strategy," said Todd Garofano, Executive Director at Discover Schenectady. "In addition to our mission statement, we also reviewed our employee handbook and clauses on hiring practices, equal opportunity employment, our boilerplate for press releases, and other public-facing statements/documents we issue to follow suit."
Working with Simpleview, they now have the ability to identify businesses on their website that are; Black Owned or Led, MWBE Owned or Led, LGBTQ Owned or Led, Indigenous Owned or Led, Person with Disabilities Owned or Led, and Veteran Owned or Led.
For this summer, they are in the works of producing a series of short videos featuring several of Schenectady’s annual events; including the Caribbean & Guayana Day Festival, Cricket, Italian Festival, Greek Festival & Pride Day, and some of Schenectady’s signature events. They also partnered with SchenEquity and co-hosted a community breakfast that brought together Schenectady residents, businesses & community leaders for a “speed dating” discussion on diversity and cultural discussions.
"Research tells us that visitors, and locals alike, want authentic experiences," said Todd. "We hope that by highlighting our Caribbean & Guyanese populations, for example, by focusing on neighborhoods, food, festivals and the sport of cricket, we'll help to educate and bring to light one aspect of what makes Schenectady unique and, in turn, bring a sense of pride and inclusion to this population. We intend to repeat this effort with other groups throughout Schenectady County.”
Results & Future Impact
Discover Schenectady has joined Travel Unity and is in the process of completing its review of their DEI Plan. They are also launching their Destination Ambassador Training series that will train their frontline hospitality workforce and will experience this training from a DEI lens both from a visitor as well as a local perspective.
And although they are still early in the process, the Caribbean & Guayana Festival's float in Schenectady's Holiday Parade was the Overall Winner in the float competition!
"By forming our DEAI Working Group and partnering with organizations like SchenEquity, Metroplex Development Authority, Proctors Theater, Schenectady City Mission, and others, we are well on our way but there remains a lot of work to do," said Todd. "This initiative is a journey, that we hope and fully expect to continue to evolve and grow."