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From an idea to a program: Amerant elevates DEI

Before 2021, Amerant formed a task force to explore diversity across different employee and community groups. An employee group, called the “diversity and inclusion ambassadors,” was tasked with creating activities to help foster the voice of the employee.

As they began thinking about DEI at an organizational level, new CEO Jerry Plush arrived and the program took shape. Amerant launched what became “I Belong,” a holistic transformation of the bank’s approach to DE&I. The I Belong program recognizes, celebrates and creates opportunities to propel the growth of all team members and the communities the bank serves.

Kristy Amaro, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer

As part of Amerant’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) efforts, the DE&I program today is evolving into a robust strategic initiative. The effort explores gaps in existing outreach and aligns initiatives with employee needs and the business imperative, said Kristy Amaro, a 15-year bank veteran who was appointed by Plush as Amerant’s first chief diversity and inclusion officer last August.

Through more diverse hiring, inclusive practices, community relations and organizational outreach, the bank is elevating its internal mission and role among the people its 630 employees serve in South Florida and Houston, Texas.

“Leadership believes diversity of thought drives engagement and innovation,” Amaro said. “It’s the way we add value across all the different layers — team members, customers, community and stakeholders. The goal for the program is to truly represent the communities we serve.”

Today, I Belong ambassadors represent all units, genders, ethnicity, age and tenure, and they promote a variety of efforts and activities. Education is helping share information with associates to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable speaking the language, learning about inclusive behaviors, biases and how to counter them,” Amaro said.

Amerant’s resulting ESG framework is built upon four pillars. Beyond workforce diversity and empowerment, they include promoting economic mobility in its communities, in part by offering over $1 billion in loans, charitable giving, financial literacy programs, even overdraft protection to these communities through 2025; and sustainability efforts that include free electric vehicle charging stations at its headquarters and other locations, and the purchase of certified wind renewable energy credits for six Amerant banking centers in Houston.

As part of preparation for its ESG report, the bank surveys its employees, customers, market participants and community members, among others. This way, it’s viewed across all facets of the operation, allowing leadership to establish and hone priorities and set measurable goals that make a real impact.

One look at the company’s latest ESG report filing shows diversity is part of its mission, vision and core values created to inspire its people, Amaro said.

The result is an effort that holds the company and its people accountable by setting tangible goals and KPIs that are trackable, Amaro said. Are people engaged and proud about the place they work? Are they comfortable raising their hands with improvement suggestions? Is Amerant an employer of choice? Is its reputation that of an engaged corporate citizen?

To Amaro, DEI is a journey, and not a sprint. Movements happen slowly, she said, especially when trying to drive systemic change.

To ensure ongoing success, they will continue to follow their path and best practices to improve their framework. They will survey and listen to team members and work the findings into future revisions.

Amaro sees one key competitive edge: Leadership from the CEO down champions the program. With that charge from the top, change can follow.

“DEI is not a check-list item. We are all working within our four walls to drive a cultural change,” she said. “With DEI, every move you make has to be intentional if you want to see the needle move. We 100% believe our DE&I efforts will create a stronger, more inclusive organization and drive tangible business results.”

This article was originally published in South Florida Business Journal: https://www.bizjournals.com/southflorida/news/2022/05/17/from-an-idea-to-a-program-amerant-elevates-dei.html

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