Montana is made up of a predominantly white population. Yellowstone County is comprised of roughly 90% white and 10% other races, with Native Americans making up the majority of the minority population. These statistics may lead some to ask why the Billings Chamber of Commerce has identified Diversity and Inclusion as one of its strategic initiatives this year. And the bottom line is, there is important work to be done.

The Billings Chamber of Commerce recognizes the morality of having an equitable, inclusive, diverse community and workforce. Most people in our community will understand and agree that all people should be treated equally and fairly under the law regardless of their race, color, gender, sexual orientation, age, political party, religion or disability. However, there has not be a unified effort within the Chamber to address diversity issues across our community specifically in regards to identifying gaps and building inclusive plans for management. We have not had the tough conversations necessary to grow; nor do we recognize how we can use Diversity and Inclusion as a tool to keep and grow our workforce.


I had the pleasure of speaking with several members of the newly formed Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee with the Chamber. I proudly serve with this group of leaders, helping to ask tough questions and encourage respectful yet challenging dialogues. My fellow leaders shared their insights with me for this story.

Yolawnda Henry, HR Director for Alternatives, explains why the Chamber established this group and is dedicating time to Diversity and Inclusion. She states, “Given all of the systemic issues surrounding Diversity and Inclusion and Social Injustice happening in the country, the Chamber wants to take a proactive stance to ensure that they are prepared to face opportunities as they present themselves in the local community.”

The Billings Chamber also understands that Diversity and Inclusion gives our community a competitive advantage in regards to attracting and retaining talent. According to estimates from BillingsWorks, 30,000 people will retire in the next 10 years. It is vital that our community not only fills those shoes, but also grows its workforce to support the next generation of retirees. We need businesses to focus on innovation, creativity, sustainability and growth. We believe that Diversity and Inclusion is an essential part of this work.


Let me give you a little personal insight. In rural American healthcare, it is a challenge to find sub specialists. When every city in America is searching for pediatric neurologists, surgeons, GI specialists and more, it can become a real struggle. You often find doctors from different countries or backgrounds who try to move their families to start their American dream. The pay is good; the job is good; the place is affordable with good schools; and it seems like a decent place to raise a family. But, they end up leaving. Why? Because it doesn’t quite feel like the right match for their family. It doesn’t feel like home.

My dad was one of the top neurosurgeon medical students in the Philippines. He was born and raised in Metro Manila, Philippines (population ~ 13 million). He was invited to finish his fellowship at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. He brought his wife and baby with him, and they lived in a small apartment in New Jersey. Once he completed his training, he received an offer to go to Madisonville, KY (population 19,000) for a job as a neurosurgeon, and eventually Evansville, IN (pop 100,000) to join a private practice.

Growing up in rural Indiana in the 80s, I remember traveling 5-6 hours to Chicago to get Filipino foods that we ate at home. I remember being teased on the playground for looking different. We were clearly a minority, and I was often very hesitant to talk about our culture as all I wanted to do was fit in. Our family was thousands of miles away, across an ocean, and we lived in a predominantly white community where I was generally assumed to be Chinese.

How did we make it work? There were a few Filipino medical families that began to recognize the need to celebrate our culture as well as the need for essential jobs to be filled at the hospitals. They worked with the hospitals and private practices to put them in contact with their networks, and the Filipino population began to grow. What was once just a couple of families in the area, grew to dozens, and with that grew a rising population of other ethnicities. We celebrated holidays together, birthdays, and other momentous occasions. We joined activities at schools, contributed to the economy, cared for hundreds of patients, and gave back to the community that we called home. We found the perfect fit of both work/life balance in order to thrive.

As Johnny McClusky, Community Development Manager with First Interstate Bank, states, “If we don’t have inclusivity, how many clients are you losing? How many dollars are walking out the door? The more inviting we can be, the better our economy can be because we are attracting that much more business. We then encourage people to start their own business and be the small business owners that are the backbone of our economy.”

The Billings Chamber of Commerce is the perfect platform to launch such an initiative because it focuses on our economy and workforce. They understand that strong diversity and inclusion policies result in a higher bottom line, greater employee retention, and increased innovation and creativity. Utilizing best practices amongst other chambers across the nation, allows us to share effective strategies that can be implemented by our members. This allows new leaders to rise up and find their voices in the workplace as well as solidify their commitment to their occupation and community.

The Billings Chamber of Commerce is committed to starting conversations, identifying key areas and plans for improvement, highlighting and connecting minority groups, and fostering an inclusive environment where Billings can be home to anyone.

“I believe the Chamber has the potential to create a ripple,” shared Kody Christensen- Linton, Resource Outreach Counselor with Downtown Billings. “I believe the Chamber can connect with our community which has not seen the discrimination or did not know how to address it. I believe the Chamber can help educate people on how to approach a situation as a business and as a human. I believe the Chamber can shed light on the discrimination that happens every day in Billings, by sharing stories of those that have been discriminated against and teaching the community how to stand up and say it’s wrong to force your personal beliefs on someone.”


We also know companies are actively looking for Diversity and Inclusive tools to help their business, workforce and revenue goals. State demographic data shows that while women in Montana are slightly more educated than men, there are only about 57.8% of them in the labor market compared to 67.5% of men, and women only earn 68.35% of what men earn. Sibanye- Stillwater Mines, an industrial employer of over 1,800 employees, is looking for diversity and inclusion strategic work. They have established a “Women in Mining Initiative” to encourage participation and leadership in their organization.

“The world is demanding the business community to value all views of stakeholders,” explains Heather McDowell, VP of Legal, Environmental and Government Affairs for Sibanye Stillwater, in regards to the timing of this initiative. “We understand that Sibanye-Stillwater Mines needs to meet the needs of not only shareholders but the stakeholders as well. It makes sense to work with the Chamber because they have access to the networks, tools, and best practices that will guide us in the right direction.”

“It is rewarding to work with the Chamber who I feel can make a real impact on the Business Community,” McDowell concluded.

The Diversity and Inclusion team is made up of dynamic voices. When members were asked why committee members chose to get involved, Christensen-Linton explains, “I chose to get involved because I saw where Billings needed to improve—from a personal level. I want to bring light to the subject of equity in Billings. Not many people in this town can say that they have had to fight for their rights. Not many people in this town can say they have had to sit through opinionated and degrading hearings and testimony as the LGBTQ+ community. I chose to join this committee to be a voice for those in my community who have been silenced for too long.”

“It was a simple choice to get involved,” Henry continued. “Our community needs leaders that do the actual work and this work is integral to moving our community forward.”

We believe this initiative will help build relationships, grow our workforce, establish new, fresh leaders with diverse insight, and unify Billings in a way that we all prosper, communicate, and thrive in our home community.


Our Commitment to a more diverse and inclusive community for a stronger economic future.

The Billings Chamber of Commerce believes in Diversity and Inclusion. We believe that our community and the businesses that serve it will be at their best when the talent of each and every citizen is developed, actively sought and fully utilized in our economy/community. We strongly assert that only when all members of our community have equal access and opportunity to participate in all that our society has to offer will Billings realize its potential. These ideals hold true and need to be practiced within each workplace and in the business community as a whole. With this in mind, we want to clearly state:

▶ We believe that every individual has a right to live and work in an environment free of inequality, injustice, intolerance, prejudice, or systemic restrictions of their constitutional rights.

▶ We reject ALL forms of prejudice, discrimination, and systemic restrictions based on age, color, disability, gender, gender expression, gender identity, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, family status, veteran status, or any other corporate or individual restriction prohibited by law.

▶ We firmly believe that diversity and inclusion are not just the right of every individual, but actively championing these paradigms will result in a more prosperous, innovative, and thriving business environment where talent stays and great leaders are regularly produced. Each person shall be judged solely on the content of their character and abilities.

▶ We believe we have a responsibility as a business and community leader to lead by example to create the diverse and inclusive community that will truly result in every persons’ unfettered ability to achieve the American Dream in peace.


We will continuously work to identify and dismantle conscious and non-conscious systemic bias and discriminatory actions in our workplaces and within our community through education, training, advocacy, mentorship, having difficult conversations, and regularly facilitating diverse and inclusive interactions as a convener within the city’s business community.


What is the competitive advantage for diversity and inclusion?


Businesses with a diverse workforce benefit from different backgrounds, ways of thinking, and life experiences.


People, especially the younger generation, want to find a workplace that will welcome those of different backgrounds, embrace equality, seek new ideas, and grow leadership.


People who are part of a diverse workplace engage more not only in work, but in the organization itself. They are empowered because the business made a commitment to its workforce about being open to diverse perspectives.


An empowered workforce that thrives on innovation and commitment to employees yields higher sales and revenue.

In upcoming issues and other Chamber communications we’ll bring a variety of topics and tough conversations. We’ll cover stories on:




Learn more about the committee and more at