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Eggs and Issues to talk ‘Belonging in Big Sky’

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Local DEI consultant sees opportunity to better understand and represent diverse communities, migrant workers

By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER 

A project to make Big Sky more inclusive to residents and workers with diverse backgrounds will take the stage on Wednesday, May 3 at the Wilson Hotel.

Before Resort Tax hosts the Madison-Gallatin Joint County Commission meeting on Wednesday morning, the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce will host its biannual awareness- and education-focused “Eggs and Issues” discussion. From 8:30 to 10:00 a.m., the session will address a local disconnect: the Big Sky community’s lack of awareness of diversity, and of the difficulties faced by those outside majority identities.  

“Belonging in Big Sky—An Inclusive Workforce Initiative Bridging the People of Big Sky, Bozeman, and Beyond,” is free and open to the public also held and recorded via Zoom. Eggs and other breakfast will be served at 8 a.m. 

“This topic, I’m hopeful, will reach a different group than normal,” said Anna Johnson, Director of Business Development at the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce. “This is a real issue facing the workforce and employers in the region… I would hope more people that are curious about this topic will come to learn more about what’s going on.” 

Johnson added that the meeting afterwards is a great opportunity to voice opinions and ask questions of county commissioners and resort tax board members. 

Eggs and Issues will focus on DEIB: Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging. Speakers include Bozeman City Community Development Coordinator Dani Hess, CoEquity Consulting owner Meshayla Cox, and Purpose & Performance Group NeuroLeadership and Sales Education Principal Hannah Bratterud. These experts will bring local, regional and national trends, and insights on building a healthy and inclusive workplace. 

Another presenter, Dylan Hale Thornton, said Wednesday’s main goal is “to start creating awareness around what diversity, equity and inclusion work is.”  

He recognizes that everyone has a different understanding, spanning from a decade of work to not knowing what “DEI” stands for. He looks forward to highlighting the “major value” of doing the work, and getting people involved with the work being done in Big Sky

“Eggs and Issues will help speak to everyone in the room, regardless of where they’re at. And give people a shared understanding,” Thornton told EBS.  

Owner of Hale Creative Consulting, an outdoor-industry focused culture consultancy, Thornton will provide local context to the discussion. Through years working in Big Sky and recent partnership with the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce, Thornton is leading the charge for belonging work in Big Sky.  

Thornton’s ancestry features a long line of civil rights pioneers who made impacts during the revolutionary and civil wars. At a young age, Dylan became educated on issues surrounding social justice, and after earning degrees in Literature and Anthropology at Montana State University in 2004, Thornton launched a career which often coincided with cultural study and social issues.  

While working construction in Big Sky, he “naturally fell into this interest for the large amount of Spanish-speaking migrant workers which the building industry absolutely relied on,” he said.  

Through conversations about the issues faced by some of those workers, he got to know that community very well. For over a year, he’s been gathering testimonials from that community to help identify Big Sky’s social and resource inequities.  

Thornton sees lack of awareness as the biggest obstacle.  

“The Big Sky community at large isn’t aware of how diverse the community actually is, and how absolutely reliant [Big Sky’s prosperity] is on the diverse communities that live and work in Big Sky.”  

People may not realize the difficulties faced by individuals and families in these diverse communities, he added. Between Big Sky and Bozeman, he’s seen rapid growth that outpaced the systems of support within both communities.  

“It was just [developing] as fast as possible, which required more people, but the more people that came, the more difficult conditions they faced,” he said.  

For 15 years, Thornton has been a ski instructor and guide at the Yellowstone Club, where he eventually became involved with the Yellowstone Club Community Foundation, as outreach manager. After two years with YCCF, he decided to go all-in and expand the DEI work he’d been doing on the side for years.  

Thornton believes that some of Big Sky’s leaders may not understand how to find solutions, because few people have dug in to discover what the problems are. To help bridge that gap, he sees a possibility for diverse community members to enter leadership roles.  

Gaining representation 

The first step, Thornton said, is for leaders and decision-making boardrooms to first understand Big Sky’s diversity, the challenges some people face.  

“It’s a major disconnect,” Thornton said.  

Another step is to help educate leaders on the implicit bias contained within their systems. This would help decision makers identify and fix blind spots, he explained. 

Assuming these steps are taken to lay a foundation for diverse leaders to gain seats at tables, Thornton said he has people in mind.  

“I want to make sure it’s positive and successful when those connections are actually made. I’m just trying to be really patient and mindful in the process,” he said.   

Belonging in Big Sky, an initiative by the Chamber of Commerce, prioritizes the funding of social services and programming, education and events.  

“Events are great because they bring people from all parts of the community together, in one place, and even sharing that space is a huge part of the trust-building process that needs to happen, that awareness and education,” Thornton said.  

Belonging in Big Sky will launch its new website at Wednesday’s discussion.  

‘It’s kind of a no-brainer, but…’ 

Thornton sees no downside to DEI work.   

“Regardless of where people stand in their belief system, the world is changing fast… Social justice and environmental justice are two of the most important issues our society faces today,” he said.  

He said communities should prioritize a common sense of feeling welcomed, valued, supported and safe.

“Ethically, everyone just deserves that. So regardless of where you stand politically, it’s safe to say that most people can agree on that,” Thornton said.

Beyond ethics, he continued, DEI aligns with another major value add

“Over 90% of Gen. Z engages with companies and products that are doing social justice work,” he said, adding that Gen. Z is the most diverse and largest American generation. “There’s a major value for businesses—hiring and retention rates can increase by 35% by doing DEI work. Increased revenue, major increase in creativity and innovation, ability to capture new markets.”  

Strengthening community and improving business is a win-win situation, Thornton said.  

“Regardless of how you feel about it politically. If you can just try to support people and do what’s right and fair for people, you’re gonna do what’s right for your community, and your business at the same time.  

Anna Johnson, who spearheaded the chamber’s belonging efforts in the past two years, said it’s in the best interest of Big Sky businesses to open up their recruiting pool and increase retention by prioritizing a healthy work environment for a diverse workforce.  

“HR departments and small business owners are typically the ones interacting with their employees directly,” she said. The chamber, its board, and various community leaders formed a committee on belonging after holding DEI-focused sessions, and that committee selected this topic for Eggs and Issues.  

“It’s kind of a no-brainer, but for a long time, people have just been doing nothing in this space,” Thornton said, adding that these efforts are important today because the status quo might not adapt well to a changing world.  

“We want to make sure that regardless of where you’re from, or how long you’re here, that people feel welcomed, safe, respected and celebrated,” Johnson said. “I think it’s a great opportunity to make Big Sky a leader.” 

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