2020 DEI Conference Recap Blog

Guest Writer: Kristina Brunelle, Head of Global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at RTI International

Activating the Triangle. That was this year’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity Conference’s theme, and the Raleigh Chamber and Triangle DEI Alliance certainly delivered it. Nearly 900 attendees were able to leave after three days with tangible building blocks to move their DEI strategy from theory to practice. 

Diversity, equity, and inclusivity is no longer just an HR issue. It’s a business model and opportunity. This was the basis of Jason Mayden’s Day 1 opening keynote on “Why We Activate”. Jason made the point that “Activating diversity, equity, & inclusivity accelerates our collective successes and is the cornerstone of innovation. All of us are smarter than just one of us.” We should each be able to bring 100% of ourselves to whatever we are trying to achieve, whether that’s at work or at home. Additionally, Jason went on to say that being an Ally isn’t enough, we need to be Accomplices – “benevolent co-conspirators for change…who will go back to back with you…and use their gifts and talents to create forward momentum.” This was a great message to kick off the conference as we learned to activate ourselves and be that accomplice.

The panel on Emerging Talent in the Workforce also highlighted the importance of being able to bring our whole selves to work, particularly for those who identify as Millennials and Generation Z.  Our panelists shared their insights on what is important to them and what they are looking for in a company as they enter the workforce.

It’s important to work not just on diversifying the workforce but also viewing the other elements, equity and inclusion, as part of the cycle that allows us to retain great talent. How can a company do this?

  • Create safe spaces to have candid and courageous conversations where people feel they can have difficult/uncomfortable discussions.
  • In order to promote equity, organizational culture needs to be a priority. That looks like providing professional development, training, and resources that allow those who might not have the same level of experience on the playing field when they enter an organization.
  • Companies need to meet employees where they are and recognize social good and activism as an integral part of work. The 24/7 grind isn’t very attractive to these generations if it’s to the exclusion of being involved in communities and cultivating relationships with family & friends.
  • Avoid optical allyship – doing the bare minimum. Make a statement but then put action behind it. It’s not enough to celebrate Juneteenth once, let’s celebrate it in 2021, 2022, and for years to come. 
  • These generations want to do work that they feel is really meaningful and gives them purpose.

Our panelists challenged us to make these conversations a little bit tougher, to let them be complex, because the issues that we’re facing are complex. They’re not easy and they’re not solved overnight. These conversations need to continue. As DEI professionals, it’s our responsibility to sustain the momentum.

Although we are all in different stages of our DEI journey, there is so much to learn from each other. Collaborating and sharing strategies is important in helping us catapult our thinking and develop ideas that we may not have thought of before. This allows us to ensure growth for ourselves and others. Day 2 allowed us to do this by learning from each other through District C facilitated Activation Labs where attendees were able to choose a topic and share their own experiences relating to it. The main theme that we heard in each topic are listed below.

  • Facilitating a Courageous Conversation in the Workplace
    • When it comes to doing this work, shut up and listen.
    • If you take care of people, the work gets taken care of.
  • Creating an Accessible and Welcoming Workplace
    • Get a pulse on your employees before it’s too late to gauge how they’re feeling about their workplace.
  • Recruiting & Retaining the Most Diverse Workforce in the World
    • The Super Panel: the committee that is making hiring decisions. If we have homogenous hiring panels, the people we hire will look like them. Can we intentionally diversify that panel?
  • Building Effective Employee Resource Groups
    • Why are ERGs important? With silence comes no action. We need these spaces to talk and break this silence.
  • Measuring Impact of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusivity Strategies
    • Be intentional in terms of your process for measuring impact. You need to collect the data, and then intentionally focus on the parts with lower scores and take action against that.

Many rich conversations ensued, as well as many LinkedIn connections!

On Day 3, we enjoyed the gift of listening to a panel of local leaders share their thoughts on what it takes to lead well and build understanding during the watershed moments that COVID-19 and the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor have brought to our doorsteps.

They emphasized the importance of:

  • Communicating more than usual, and to go along with that, practicing deep listening
  • Supporting our teammates and working to understand what they’re feeling. Not letting fear get in the way of reaching out.
  • Creating safe spaces for our people to ask painful questions and receive authentic answers. And that when we don’t feel we have the answers, being authentic about that as well.
  • Acknowledging that it’s okay to not feel okay (whether someone is directly impacted by some of the systemic racism and diversity issues facing our communities or not)
  • Taking the time, effort, and energy to get educated, to move from “public statements” to internal reflection, strategy, and action

To put it all together, “This is the time to live our values on full display.”

And finally, ending the conference on a high, we had the privilege of listening to Candi Castleberry-Singleton from Twitter share what we can do as individuals when it comes to personal best practices to help people feel “connected, respected, and included.” Candi preaches treating others with dignity and respect and embodying the “Platinum Rule” – treating others as THEY want to be treated, because the way they define dignity and respect, may not be the way we define it. 

It takes all of us to make a difference. That’s why this conference is so important. We need to have these sometimes-difficult conversations. If we wait to become an expert, then we may miss our opportunity. And these conversations are not going to stop.

Despite the virtual aspect of this year’s conference, attendees were still able to gain value, build connections, and learn from our speakers and from each other. For those who were able to attend, I hope you found it as informational and inspirational as I did.  For those who didn’t, you missed a great party, we hope to see you all next year!

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a fabulous playlist to go listen to…

To learn more about the Triangle Diversity, Equity, & Inclusivity Alliance, you can visit their website here.



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