Inaugural Diversity and Inclusion Summit highlights pathways to better leadership

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Attendees discuss the barriers that prevent them from being their most authentic selves.

By Megan Campbell, communications coordinator, Greenville Chamber 

Viewing diversity and inclusion as a leadership function is vital for professional and personal development. Recognizing this, the Greenville Chamber hosted the inaugural Diversity and Inclusion Summit on Oct. 17.

Over 450 professionals from across the Southeast and beyond attended the full-day summit. The event consisted of multiple workshops, a LEVERAGE. LAUNCH. LEAD. networking reception, and two keynote addresses.

The Art of Unmasking

We all, at one time or another, present different versions of ourselves based on our environment. Dr. Atira Charles calls these multiple identities our “masks.” According to Dr. Charles, CEO of Think Actuality LLC, “There’s no way you can empower the people you lead without you feeling like you’re bringing all of you to the table in a way that gives you peace.” It’s less about removing the masks completely and more about having control over the way we present ourselves. To help people become more authentic leaders, Dr. Charles developed the “UNMASK Framework.”

U – Use your voice.

N – Never ignore your thoughts and emotions.

M – Manage expectations.

A – Acknowledge your vulnerabilities and insecurities.

S – Stretch yourself to be more resilient.

K – Know your social support system.

Dr. Charles led the audience in a powerful “unmasking” exercise where attendees were given a paper mask and asked to be vulnerable with a partner by sharing barriers that hinder them at times from being their authentic selves. Dr. Charles uses this practice to improve individuals’ leadership ability and potential, saying, “We can’t lead others effectively if we aren’t clear on who we are as individuals. … Acknowledging the difference allows you to leverage the difference.”

Recognizing our different masks and the barriers that prevent us from being our most authentic selves can leave us feeling exposed and vulnerable, but this awareness helps us create a more inclusive, connected space.

The Role of White Men in Equity and Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion have largely focused on historically underrepresented and marginalized groups, often leaving straight white men feeling left out of change efforts. Bill Proudman, CEO and founder of White Men as Full Diversity Partners, is one of the few white male diversity and inclusion practitioners in the nation. For Proudman, the opportunity to increase his cultural competency is exciting. “Confusion drives curiosity. It is a privilege to move to the things I’m anxious about,” he says.

As to that privilege, Proudman laments that it has a negative connotation. “Privilege is not good or bad. It just is. It doesn’t mean you haven’t toiled or worked hard,” he says. “Learn to notice your privilege and use it honorably.”

Proudman shared the following tips:

  1. Seek to understand your and others’ personal self-interest.
  2. Validate others’ perspectives as well as your own.
  3. Seek out and acknowledge others’ stories.
  4. Learn to see both sameness and difference simultaneously.
  5. Practice “it is not your fault and you are responsible.”

Putting these tips into action requires practice and perseverance, but will ultimately help us become full diversity partners, Proudman says.

Pulse Check

Assess yourself and your organization. Are you at peace with the masks you wear? Can you bring others to the table? Are you engaging as a full diversity partner?

We’re all on a journey to cultural competence, a world where we each value and embrace human difference. “It’s not about managing the policy. It’s about managing humanity,” Dr. Charles says.

Let’s continue the important discussions started at the Diversity & Inclusion Summit. It is up to all of us to influence change. Videos of the full presentations can be found on the Greenville Chamber’s YouTube channel.

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