At Diversity MBA’s Gala and Awards Conference, I was standing in the buffet line at the Welcome Reception and passed the time by making chitchat with the brother behind me. He was such a pleasant fellow that, when we finally had our food, we decided to continue the conversation by sitting at the same table.
It turned out he was in charge of mergers and acquisitions for a Fortune 500 company.
At breakfast the next morning, a gentleman came to our table, asked if a seat were free and, when assured it was, joined us. When he told us which company he was with, we had a conversation about bacteria and pollution and it was (believe it or not) lively and interesting.
Later, when I attended a panel discussion, there that gentleman was, up on the dais. He didn’t mention his position with his company at breakfast; turns out he’s the CEO.
These are the kind of experiences you have at DMBA’s annual conference. This year, it was held at the Lisle Sheraton in Lisle, IL, and I enjoyed it every bit as much as the first three that I attended.
Rubbing shoulders (or sharing a meal) with movers and shakers is only one of the things I get out of the conference; it’s just the appetizer, as it were. Seeing what those movers and shakers are doing to make the C-suites look more like America and learning how they are doing it (and how we can do more for diversity in our own workplaces) is the entrée.
That CEO I had breakfast with – John Williams of In-Pipe Technologies – provided a moment of clarity in the panel discussion when the moderator (Mike Milligan, retired global president of Verizon Technologies) asked him what CEOs could do to ensure that diversity and inclusion are a top priority in their companies. Williams explained that an appreciation for diversity was ingrained in him as a child, based on the religious beliefs that his family instilled in him.
Diversity is a “core value” at his company, Williams said. “If people aren’t aligned with my core values, I fire them.”
So it’s that simple – if diversity starts at the top, it ain’t hard to do.
It’s not simple in every situation, though. Adis Vila, who was on that same panel, explained that you don’t have as much leeway to hire and fire at a government agency, even when you’re the top gal. As the head of the Department of Administration for the state of Florida, she answered to legislators – not all of whom considered diversity a top priority for the state, she said.
“You have to be creative,” she said, telling the audience about several clever solutions she came up with – as simple as changing a job description.
In other sessions, I was inspired, challenged and enlightened. And I ate a lot of good food.
My batteries are recharged. Now it’s back to work fighting for diversity and inclusion.