by Allison Walsh | Contributor
Nika White is nearing the end of her third year as vice president of diversity and inclusion for the Greenville Chamber of Commerce. She describes accepting the newly created position as a huge leap of faith, but one she will be forever glad she took.
Her list of accomplishments since joining the Chamber is long, but highlights include conceiving and managing the Minority Business Accelerator, one of five of its kind in the country, and establishing a Hispanic Business Committee.
What are you currently working on that you are most excited about?
I am the most excited right now about the Minority Business Accelerator the Greenville Chamber is doing. We’re one of five in the country that’s offering such a program. It’s where we take high-potential minority-owned firms and we put them through an ecosystem where they’re receiving targeted training, technical assistance, coaching and executive leadership opportunities, and it’s all for those organizations to be able to grow and thrive and contribute successfully to the marketplace. We’ve seen some great results so far, and I’m really excited about the MBEs that are a part of the program.
What is the biggest topic of concern in your industry right now?
Trying to find innovative ways to make sure we’re creating economic vitality, to make sure we are leveraging all of the great resources we have in our community to make Greenville a destination that people want to seek out to live and grow and thrive, and that companies want to seek out for their headquarters.
Is there anything that keeps you awake at night?
To be honest, what keeps me awake at night are things I’m passionate about. I wake up excited for the next day because I really enjoy what I’m doing. I enjoy the fact that I am part of, in a small way, helping to shape Greenville into the great city that it is becoming and that it already is.
What has been a game-changing moment in your career?
Undoubtedly transitioning from my background in marketing and communications to working full-time in the space of diversity and inclusion. I have a 15-plus-year history of working in that field and I absolutely love the field of marketing and communications. I loved the culture of the agency I was working for, I loved the environment, I loved the clients; it was really exciting for me to go to work every day. I thought I was going to be in that career path long-term. The latter part of my tenure I started to also work in the space of diversity and inclusion, and that is what led me to this particular opportunity.
Where do you see yourself in five or 10 years?
I am currently in my last year as a doctoral student, pursuing a doctorate in management and organizational leadership. I am finding through my studies that I feel in my element when I am able to contribute to organizations in a significant leadership role. I find that for the work of inclusion to really be effective and sustainable, you have to also consider all other elements of business operations.
I would love to consult, I would love to be on the speaking circuit. I love being able to challenge individuals and to empower and equip individuals for growth and opportunities. I see myself doing something that encompasses all of that – whatever that may be.
What do you have yet to learn about your business?
It’s so plentiful, and honestly hard to narrow it down to one particular thing, and the reason I say that is because I work in a discipline where there is not a right or wrong, necessarily. How diversity and inclusion is executed is very contingent upon the culture of the organization. So I learn every day; I am constantly learning. I really do hope I never get to the point where I stop learning or stop being exposed to new information and knowledge that can make me better and more effective for the impact I want to have on the community.
Who do you rely on as a mentor?
I am really big on mentorships. In fact, I believe people should have multiple mentors. I don’t have just one mentor in my life. I have a mentor for my doctorate degree I’m pursuing, I have a mentor for the discipline of diversity and inclusion – several of them, in fact. I have a spiritual mentor. I believe mentorships are incredibly important and I rely on all of them, probably equally.
How do you motivate others?
I like to motivate others by inspiring them, allowing them to see the full potential within and helping to equip that. Sometimes being someone’s biggest cheerleader can be great, but where you really are able to see a difference being made is when you’re willing to walk with them, to help to show them the way and to keep them encouraged.
What has been your best career decision?
My best career decision by far has been transitioning to the role I’m in now, and I say that because it took a lot of risk. On paper my role was for three years, and I left a very stable career and a job that I absolutely loved. But I was led through the potential to have greater community impact. Taking that risk was difficult, but it certainly allowed me the ability to find my space. I truly feel in my element; I feel that the role I serve in is allowing me to be a part of something greater. I love Greenville, I love the community, and I really feel at home in this role.
Who is the person outside your professional circle who most greatly influences you?
Undoubtedly, my husband. I always tell people that when you’re on the journey to create success for yourself and others around you, you have to be cognizant about your partner in life. I was fortunate to marry well, in the sense that my husband is extremely supportive. We really are equally yoked in the sense that we share a lot of the same interests, we have a lot of the same drive and ambition. He stimulates me mentally, which helps me to propel myself to the next level and go after challenges that I may feel are unattainable. He is a trusted advisor in my inner circle.
Do you have a routine or anything specific you make sure you do every day?
I’m a woman of great faith. I believe that’s what keeps me grounded. So certainly spending time to reflect on the grace and the mercy of God and how that helps to strengthen my faith. Being really deeply rooted in spiritual faith is the most important asset that I have in my life.
If you weren’t in the career path you’re in now, what would you be doing?
I think I would want to be a college professor. I enjoy public speaking; I enjoy impacting others. I enjoy equipping people with knowledge and taking some type of nebulous concept and seeing the light bulb come on and seeing people apply that type of knowledge. It’s probably why I enjoy facilitating workshops, corporate training and public speaking.
What are some common misconceptions people have about your field?
I think one big misconception about the discipline of diversity and inclusion is that it’s always fueled by race, and I always try to educate people that is not the case at all. There are so many different layers of diversity – diversity of thought, experience, geographic backgrounds. It goes a lot deeper than race. I want people to start thinking more sophisticatedly about diversity and inclusion, and also see it as more of an action type of initiative instead of something that is just the right thing to do. That it’s politically correct. There is a great notion that the business case behind diversity and inclusion is what really makes the difference, and that should always lead.
What is the difference between the future you saw for yourself five or 10 years ago and the life you’re living and work you’re doing now?
I’m always reminded that people need to hear things are possible for them, and not just for a select group of individuals. Even for myself, that gives me great liberty to be encouraged to go after any and everything. There are certain things in my future that I wish to attain that I know I probably wouldn’t have considered if I weren’t so fixated on encouraging others to go after their dreams. I think the sky’s the limit for all of us – for women, for minority individuals – and we just have to be very intentional to govern ourselves accordingly to be sure we are charting the pathway for ourselves toward success.
What do you see as the Upstate’s most underutilized asset?
Definitely the human capital that exists within our community. Every day I encounter someone who is incredibly talented, that has a great wealth of experience and expertise that really can help us to elevate Greenville to the next level. I think we’re on the verge of that; we just have to keep fostering and cultivating the people who are raising their hands and are willing to make Greenville the best it can be. We deserve that as a community, and I think we’ll get there.