Packaging Your Impact: How Con Edison Engage Its Employees through the ABC/NY’s Diversity in Arts Leadership Program

Posted by Emma Osore, May 19, 2016 0 comments

At first glance, the Arts and Business Council of New York’s (ABC/NY) Diversity in Arts Leadership (DIAL) internship program looks like your typical summer arts internship: undergraduates descend on the city and ABC/NY helps them get their foot in the door of one of NYCs coveted arts and culture sector organizations.

However, you might not guess that DIAL doubles as an arts-based platform to engage employees in the corporate sector. Huh? How?

Well, what the heck is DIAL anyway? (Formerly the Multicultural Arts Management) internship program was created by the Arts & Business Council of New York in 1988 to promote diversity in the arts management field. Arts organizations host interns and load them with substantive projects helping to build the capacity of the intern and of the arts organization. Additionally, interns are paired with private sector mentors to give them a corporate perspective and to guide their professional and personal development.

This is where Con Edison comes in: Con Edison, a 16-year partner of ABC/NY and funder of over $2.54 million annually in arts and culture funding, recognizes the value not only of strengthening their relationships with nonprofit partners to increase their awareness of community issues but also to foster a corporate culture of community involvement, and help employees develop new skills. So, not only do they financially subsidize Diversity in Arts Leadership intern stipends for the summer and provide in-kind event space, but also–here’s the added bonus–their employees have volunteered their personal time to fill two-thirds of DIALs business mentor roles.

Not only does Con Edison’s business mentor commitment strengthen the capacity of a young leader but it also strengthens their own business goals and engages their employees in a meaningful way. In the current workforce climate where the research tells us that that low employee engagement is a business crisis, that baby boomer leaders are looking for opportunities to pass along leadership, and that corporate philanthropy is one of the best ways to retain employees, Con Edison has been in the lead on addressing these workforce issues of our day.

Alton Murray, Strategic Partnerships Manager at Con Edison says, employees who are business mentors return year after year and look forward to the program because of the inter-generational exchange, the opportunity to participate in a variety of cultural offerings in the city, and because they can blend their own personal love of the arts into their business practice through the DIAL program that is focused specifically on the intersection of the two. Elizabeth Matias, Con Edison Project Specialist and DIAL mentor, reports that she can clearly see Con Edison’s commitment to the neighborhoods and communities they serve come full circle: “Con Edison has built an incredible platform to engage its employees and I take pride in the interdisciplinary partnership and the opportunity to bridge my skills in arts and business. As a former dancer, the Diversity in Arts Leadership program embodies my belief of how arts and business can go hand-in-hand.” She credits her participation as a mentor as a main contributor to her satisfaction as an employee of Con Edison and cited that a corporate volunteer program like Con Edison’s would be a top consideration for her if she ever moved to another company. 

The Diversity in Arts Leadership program is an incredible example of a fully integrated partnership between an arts organization and a corporation that not only invests in the arts community and develops leadership in arts and business interns of color but, in its own employees - which ultimately affect its bottom line. Companies wanting to create similar ecosystems that have long lasting benefits should consider the following tips from experts on how to select and promote initiatives like this one that fit a company’s culture, community, and budget:

Stay local. Focusing on worthy programs in the cities where a company operates will attract more attention from local talent and create authentic opportunities to talk about the company’s work in the community. –Steven Lindner, executive partner with The Workplace Group, a recruitment process outsourcing company based in Florham Park, New Jersey.

Don’t just write a check. Provide employees opportunities to volunteer their time and participate in the giving. “Employees value the opportunity to get involved, and they love to share those experiences on social media,” It is an organic way to get your CSR story out there and have a strong community presence. –Anna Turner, vice president of product management for PeopleMatter, a workforce management software provider in Charleston, South Carolina.

Let employees choose. When employees are involved in selecting CSR programs, they will be more engaged in the experience. “They become ambassadors for the program and your brand.” –Ryan McCarty, director of community and employee engagement at TCC, a Verizon Premium Wireless Retailer.

Don’t attach marketing to CSR. “People don’t like to be sold to, but if you just talk about what you believe in, like-minded people will gravitate your way.” –Steven Lindner, The Workplace Group

Check Out ABC/NYs Matching Portal to learn more about how your company can engage employees through the arts in NYC–surprising things come in unassuming packages.

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