Chamber Celebrates Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the KC Business Community at POWER of Diversity Event

Despite a reduced capacity crowd, it was a powerful and inspirational morning at the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s POWER of Diversity Breakfast, Wednesday, July 28, 2021.  

The Chamber honored the 2021 Ace Award winners and the Champions of Diversity and welcomed keynote speaker and Kansas City business and civic leader Karen Daniel as keynote. 

Cerner took home the Champion of Diversity award. Dr. Andrea Hendricks, Cerner’s Senior Executive and Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer accepted the award on the company’s behalf. As the largest employer in the Metro, the Chamber’s Diverse Business Committee selected Cerner for its attention to growing their associate business resource groups, their community involvement, and the commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion that comes from the leadership team. “This work is ongoing, and we have more work ahead of us,” Dr. Hendricks told the crowd. 

For the first time ever, the Chamber added a non-profit category to the event. Troost Market Collective took home the inaugural Nonprofit Champion of Diversity award. Troost Market Collective is a non-profit organization hosting artists, makers, and innovators. Their vision is to create an equitable maker space at 31st and Troost, to house creative entrepreneurs and provide vital resources to the maker community. Co-founder Katie Mabry Van Dieren and Board Member and Artist Michael Toombs accepted the award. “Art is a bridge to each other and our future,” said Toombs. “Creative placemaking is important to our community and to us all.”  

The 2021 Ace Award winners are Astra Garner, Vice President of Culture and Inclusion at ReDiscover; Subashini Nadarajah, Executive Global Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at VMLY&R; and Darla Wilkerson, Executive Director of Disability Inclusion of Greater Kansas City.  

Garner said she’s inspired by her two young daughters every single day and wants to make a better world for them. She also said one of her biggest tools when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion was empathy. “I can’t have every single experience, but with empathy I can at least try to put myself in someone else’s position to better understand them.”  

Wilkerson said she was glad to see businesses placing disability awareness under their DEI umbrellas in 2020. “I think the pandemic has probably opened our eyes even more to the need for access, especially around mental health services,” she said. “A lot of employers reached out to our organization during 2020 because many employees were experiencing mental health issues they’ve never had before.”  

The third Ace winner, Subashini Nadarajah, said while she's experiencing her own transformative moments lately. After moving to the U.S. more than 30 years ago and adjusting her name from Subashini to “Suba” because people had trouble pronouncing her full name, she decided her name is too important to compromise on. “It took me 30 years to realize the importance of my real name, the name that my parents gave me to be connected to my roots and my heritage. This year I took a personal pledge to go back to my given name that I was baptized with in a Hindu temple -  Subashini. It means a lot. In Sanskrit it means ‘one who speaks the truth’ so I’m back again with Subashini Nadarajah.” 

Keynote speaker Karen Daniel talked about her own experiences as a leader in Kansas City’s business and civic community. From her time with the Women’s Employment Network, to her retirement as Black & Veatch Executive Director, Chief Financial Officer and President of the Global Finance & Technology Solutions Division, and now to her chapter as part of the Kansas City Royals Ownership, she talked about the role education played in her life, and the value education provides to all. “It opened doors for me, and it continues to open doors,” she said. “I cannot overstate how important education is.” Daniel also talked about setting large goals when it comes to hiring and promoting people of color and minorities in leadership positions. She mentioned a colleague who told her they couldn’t find any Black men or women for a Chief Human Resources role. “I told them ‘Well then you are looking in the wrong place.’ It might sound hard to do, but you must do it until it’s just commonplace,” she said. Hear hear.  

Click here to view the entire program and learn more about the award recipients.