Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, November 19, 2021

Directions on the road to greater diversity

Hinton helps turn good intentions into reality

Attorney Wade Hinton is the founder of Hinton & Company, a professional services firm that helps businesses become more diverse and inclusive. - Photograph provided

In 2016, activist Verna Myers emphasized the difference between diversity and inclusion while speaking to the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association.

“Diversity is being invited to the party,” she said. “Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Fresh from his unsuccessful Chattanooga mayoral campaign earlier this year, attorney Wade Hinton is inviting local organizations to dance.

Hinton has launched the eponymous Hinton & Company, a professional services firm that helps businesses act on their vocal commitment to diversity and inclusion.

“An organization might be committed to diversity and inclusion but lack a strategy for moving forward, or it might not have the resources it needs to put its words into action,” Hinton says. “We work with them to create impact.”

Hinton is not using the royal “we” but instead is referring to the group of professionals he’s assembled to help him work with clients. This includes, for example, a marketing professor who talks with organizations about how they can communicate more inclusively.

“If a company wants to present a ‘chairman’ award, we might suggest they consider using ‘chairperson’ instead,” Hinton submits as a simple example. “Words and images matter.”

The makeup of his clients also matters, Hinton says, so his firm does not provide cookie cutter templates for cultivating diversity and inclusion. Instead, Hinton & Company partners with its clients for what he calls a journey of discovery and change.

“Before we do anything else, we learn where the organization is. We have conversions with its people and look at the data,” Hinton explains. “We then work with the client to develop a plan that’s unique to them.”

His firm’s goal, Hinton says, is to embed the tools it provides into the cultural DNA of its clients. Only then will those practices impact how the organizations and its people function, he adds.

“We want to help our clients reach the point where they’re not following a program or initiative, they’re doing business in a new way – where diversity and inclusion have become a natural part of how they operate.”

Even then, Hinton says, his firm provides metrics that hold the organization accountable for achieving its objectives.

“You have to be able to measure success,” he notes. “If you can’t measure something, then you can’t manage it.”

Since announcing his new endeavor after the mayoral election in August, Hinton has publicly revealed his firm is working with two local clients: U.S. Xpress Enterprises and CBL Properties.

He says the key to success at each company, as well as his other clients, is the commitment the leadership has made to diversity and inclusion.

“After the murder of George Floyd, there was a lot of conversation within different companies. When leaders are exposed to certain things, their perspective shifts, and that can spark a desire to move forward,” Hinton says. “I believe leaders can guide a conversation about diversity and inclusion and model it in a way that can get team members on board.”

Hinton says the leaders with which his firm is working at both U.S. Xpress and CBL want to effect change not only within their own walls but also within the broader Chattanooga community.

“Each client is a champion of making sure the entire city is impacted,” Hinton says. “Building something is hard. But if you have leadership that’s dedicated and employees who are passionate, then you can begin to see a difference in even a short period of time.”

The benefits that arrive in the wake of greater diversity and inclusion include not only a company attracting a larger pool of talent but also this talent being more engaged and developing new innovations, which in turn leads to improved performance and stronger business results, Hinton continues.

Essentially, Hinton & Company’s website (hintonandco.com) declares, diversity and inclusion can give a company a competitive edge.

Hinton is no stranger to the work his firm is doing. In addition to previously serving as Hamilton County’s Equal Employment Opportunity director and Unum’s vice president of diversity and inclusion, he’s either created or helped to create programs centered on diversity and inclusion.

These include Board Connector (which links people of color and other underrepresented groups to the boards of local organizations) and the Chattanooga Legal Diversity Consortium (a conglomerate of law firms, companies and government agencies in Chattanooga that are working to improve diversity in the city’s legal community).

Hinton left the practice of law and his role as city attorney in Chattanooga to work for Unum.

“I had a 2-year-old girl, and as I thought about her growing up in this community, I wondered what kind of place we could make it.”

Once Hinton was entrenched in Unum, he says he encountered good intentions but also questions about how the company could become more diverse and inclusive.

Hoping to tackle this challenge across the city, Hinton stepped into the political arena.

“I wanted to build an infrastructure that would address systemic issues,” he says. “It wasn’t enough to have a conversation; I wanted to tackle diversity and inclusion from a governmental perspective and bring more people to the table to address these issues.”

Losing the mayoral race did not deter Hinton from what is becoming his life’s work, as he says there’s still ground to be gained.

He uses the local bar example.

“There has been some evolution since I became an attorney. Firms have become more progressive in the acquisition of talent,” he says. “There are leaders within those firms who think diversity is important and the right thing to do and are moving it forward.”

However, Hinton says, the Chattanooga legal community still has work to do when it comes to inviting its diverse talent to dance.

“We need to focus on inclusion, too. Diversity is bringing your unique characteristics to the table, but inclusion is making sure you have a voice and that it’s heard and valued.

“You can create more diversity, but if you’re not also nurturing an inclusive space, then people are not going to stay with your firm because they don’t feel a sense of belonging.”

Firms that fully embrace diversity and inclusion will reap the competitive edge he believes those values provide, Hinton says.

“I spent most of my legal career talking with clients about how to mitigate risk. If you’re not thinking about this – if you’re not tackling it from a recruiting, retention or marketing perspective – then you’re putting yourself at risk in terms of being a sustainable organization.”