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After the police killing of George Floyd in 2020, corporations, governments and educational institutions across the country pledged commitments to increase their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. In the years that followed, however, some organizations either scaled down or discontinued altogether their DEI strategy.

The number of women in leadership in Minnesota lags national averages, stalling at public companies, while growth in gender and racial diversity at the top has slowed.

Colette Campbell has been on a mission since 2017 to keep DEI efforts a priority at St. Paul-based Bremer Bank, the fourth-largest bank in Minnesota, which has played a part in an industry that historically created economic barriers for people of color.

Bremer recently promoted Campbell to chief people and culture officer, an expanded role that includes oversight of the banks' human resources teams.

Progress on DEI initiatives have stalled for a few reasons, she said. There might an unwillingness among leadership groups to support or participate. Expectations may not have been realistic. People who hired DEI experts failed to incorporate those new positions into their company's structure.

And then there's the big one.

"It's also become highly, I would say, politicized," Campbell said. "If you look at DEI for what it is, if you talk about inclusion and the premise of it, there's nothing wrong with that.

"I've heard people use the comparison of pie, where there's eight pieces and if you have two, I only have six. This is not just one kind of thing. It's way more than that. They've changed the narrative and made the story something that is kind of definitive and small instead of expansive, and if we're not thinking more on the expansive piece, we're going to lose out."

By lose out, Campbell means talent, especially among younger demographics.

"We all know that the job of today and tomorrow continues to be more complex," she said. "We also know that the people who are going to be going into those jobs are going to be more Black and brown.

"I don't understand how organizations have pulled back because all you're doing is lessening your competitive advantage. ... I think organizations that have stopped or that are not thinking about this, it's really shortsighted."

In an interview that has been edited for length and clarity, Campbell spoke to the Star Tribune about Bremer's ongoing DEI strategy.

Q. Why is it important a financial institution ensure its employees reflect the community it serves?

A: There are certain professions that seem to be in the service industry, either food service or health services, and many (workers) are Black and brown or low-income folks. That's who's represented sometimes in those industries, and they make under $30,000. Then you look at professional services and finance, more white-collar, which make $30,000 and up, and the representation of people of color in those industries is significantly less. Financial services is an institution and a way of living and working that is higher than a lot of other industries. People who are in finance, they might be in it because they like math and they like money, but they're also in it because it's lucrative. That's why we want to increase diversity in financial services. We want more women and we want more people of color because we know it is an institution that does well. The industry is ripe for people who want to be in a prospering industry because money is important. Everybody needs it.

Q: How did you approach repairing relationships with historically underserved communities in Minnesota?

A: In our Bremer equity action plan, we spoke specifically to two things. We said we're going to look internally at what we're going to do in terms of our employee base. The other was [looking at] what are we doing externally? We know there were a lot of practices that disproportionately impacted communities of color. As a bank, we were a part of that. I don't know if very many banks talked about their own ownership in that, but we did.

To your point of having representation, (that meant) hiring people who were representative of the community that people could trust and we started partnering. Bremer has a couple of values, and one of them is collaboration. We didn't need to reinvent everything, but we started to partner with places and other initiatives within the area to help improve people's credit so they could buy a house because we don't want to put people in homes that aren't ready.

The other really big thing is relationship management, and it's about being in the community. One thing I get to do in my role is I'm out all the time in communities, talking about the bank and relationships because there is a distrust and it's about repairing that trust and helping people feel confident in relationships so they can understand our services. That includes opening new branches. The Midway area in St. Paul and Lake Street, we rebuilt in that community. That's important because our presence is important.

Q: How has Bremer maintained their DEI initiatives?

A: Our CEO Jeanne Crain pushes me more than you know, which is good. I've got certain people that are not only leaders in the organization but champions with me. We've put it in our KPI's (key performance indicators). It's in our measures that we report internally, and sometimes we actually share externally. I think those are the things that are helpful to kind of keep the work going. If you don't have collaboration and ownership from others, it's not going to work.

Q: Does bringing people together come naturally to you?

A: I love expanding possibilities for people. That is part of my DNA. I'm in a chief people and culture role, which I have not done before, but I've always worked in the people area. When I came to Bremer, I was the first person in that role. The last time I had a role like this, I was also the first person. I love to build structure. I love thinking about the future.