Chris Baker has been selected as the winner of the Outstanding Diversity Champion Category in Orlando Business Journal's Diversity in Business Awards 2023. You can read more about this in the weekly edition of OBJ for May 12-18 2023.
Baker is the battalion leader for the Seminole County Fire Department. He oversees multiple fire stations in order to ensure all personnel is properly trained.
Baker said that his biggest achievement in the last year was hosting a Juneteenth Luncheon in a Black owned restaurant, with members of his leadership team present. This was important because it raised awareness about Juneteenth. It brought to light a major historical event which led to discussions about how we can better understand each other.
Baker has more to say:
How can you explain your mission of diversity, equity, and inclusion to employees or others in your organization? I lead by examples. I have a lot of experience in helping underprivileged communities. I feed the homeless on holidays, volunteer as a youth soccer coach, change policies to reflect DEI, partner with other agencies as a mentor, and hold luncheons for historical events like Juneteenth.
When did you first notice a lack of diversity in your professional life? When I started in the fire service, it was 19 years ago. It was probably a small minority, but none were in leadership positions. In that climate, DEI wasn't a topic for discussion as there were none.
What influenced your decision to lead or create efforts for the Fire Department? It affected me, because I understood how life-changing and beneficial the fire service is. I opened minds over time to recognize that there was an issue, and Seminole County started a recruitment program. We can also target communities that are underprivileged and provide our youth with access to our department.
What effect has this had on your organization? It continues to raise public awareness about diversity, equity and inclusiveness. We were made aware that we need to reconsider how we define and approach the word "inclusion." We have since tried pilot diversity classes in our organization.
What kind of pushback, if any did you receive? Pushback can be unachievable because people still associate diversity with Black/White. DEI efforts were made to ensure that our leaders have an open-mindedness and are capable of making informed decisions about DEI.
What is the biggest obstacle to DEI in Florida? More advocates in leadership positions to champion DEI. If leaders in our community don't listen, understand and take progressive steps regarding DEI, it seems like a one-sided situation. We must be proactive, not reactive.