Diversity Equity & Inclusion
Southern Bancorp’s DEI Aspirational Goal
As detailed in this 2020 conversation between our board chairman and the president of our bank, Southern Bancorp’s aspirational goal is to be the leading financial institution in terms of diversity of our staff, management and vendors; inclusivity of ideas and people from various races, religions, abilities and sexual orientations; and the development of products and services specifically designed to address the inequities experienced by people of color, women and those who have not been traditionally served well by the financial services industry.
Defining Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Southern Bancorp
Words have power. Unfortunately, the words diversity, equity, and inclusion are often used in a generic context and have evolved to have different meanings for many people. This differentiation in meaning is often the source of the misunderstanding and mistrust that opponents of DEI seek to sow in their audiences and organizations. To eliminate confusion, foster a common understanding, and promote open dialogue, Southern Bancorp defines these terms as follows:
Promoting Diversity means paying attention to all the ways in which people and groups differ. These differences include but are not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, age, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, citizenship status, education, marital status, language, and physical appearance. In addition, we include diversity of experiences and perspectives. We also recognize that individuals often claim multiple identities. In short, our commitment to diversity means respecting all people because they are human beings, regardless of difference.
Promoting Equity means improving fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for everyone. History has shown us, or in some cases purposefully failed to show us, that some groups have not been treated fairly. To address this imbalance, we must recognize that everyone starts with different resources for success and that there are often barriers to success that are unevenly applied. Promoting equity requires attention toward advancing resources for individuals and families who have been mistreated, and also addressing policies and other systemic factors that have overt or disparate impacts on them.
Promoting Inclusion means creating an environment in which everyone is welcomed, respected, supported, and can fully participate. An inclusive community values the differences created by a focus on diversity but, importantly, also requires that all members of the community are welcomed and able to engage fully. Creating an inclusive environment requires ongoing recognition of the unconscious and implicit biases that all people exhibit.
Southern Bancorp’s Founding Purpose and our Future are Both Deeply Rooted in DEI
Southern Bancorp was modeled after South ShoreBank, an institution that purposefully set up operations on Chicago’s South side to battle racist practices like “redlining,” and increase access to capital for African American families and businesses. Southern’s founders believed we could take a similar approach in rural communities with significant populations of African Americans throughout the Arkansas Delta, which has long suffered from the lingering effects of slavery and Jim Crow. Their commitment to racial, economic, and social justice is woven into the history, culture, and DNA of today’s Southern Bancorp.
As an organization founded upon the underlying principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion, we have a unique responsibility to lead in this critically important, politically sensitive, and desperately needed area. It is upon this founding purpose that we recommit to the idea that our words must include meaningful actions if the constitutional promise of equality is to be realized for everyone. This begins with an intentional, persistent and company-wide effort to dismantle systemic racism and the vestiges thereof.
Additionally, we understand fully that our commitment to DEI will also advance the financial interests of Southern Bancorp. Research has demonstrated that organizations committed to DEI are more profitable, more innovative, and are better at attracting and retaining a highly qualified workforce. As a certified Community Financial Development Institution (“CDFI”), our target markets are predominantly comprised of low-wealth communities and to serve them effectively, we must have compassionate, remarkable people who develop equitable solutions that empower all. Further, we have demonstrated throughout our history that we can achieve financial success in markets that other banks are unwilling to serve – markets with high concentrations of poverty, people of color, and rural communities.
 SBI has received significant investments from The United States Department of Treasury’s Emergency Capital Investment Program, allowing Southern to provide loans, grants, and forbearance for small businesses, minority-owned businesses, and consumers, especially in low-income and underserved communities, that may be disproportionately impacted by the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. A priority for Southern Bancorp and the ECIP program is to provide financial products and services to minorities and low wealth people in our markets.