Making Diversity and Inclusion Practical and Tactical Part 1: Support Value-Aligned Events that Gather Hidden Figures

If I could get a dime every time someone tells me diversity is hard, I could stop blogging to you and make drinking piña coladas on a yacht in the Caribbean my full time occupation.

Diversity is only as hard as we make it. And inclusion really can be made tangible. My recent experience at Culture Shifting Weekend - Silicon Valley inspired me to give you an example of how to achieve both.

One of the largest ways in which companies can address diversity and inclusion is to put energy into supporting value-aligned events where company executives can build relationships with professionals of color who are often outside of their networks. When it comes to attracting and retaining diverse talent, networking within a community of such professionals is key.

The 4th Annual Culture Shifting Weekend provided such an opportunity. It spanned a number of Silicon Valley activities, including: A Millennial Tech Entrepreneurs Breakfast where founders of color with traction met corporate decision makers — led by Kwame Anku of the Black Angel Tech Fund; a Fireside Chat with Dr. Mae Jemison, pioneering astronaut, physician, engineer and entrepreneur, led by Russlynn Ali, CEO of QX Institute; a Think/Action Tank afternoon, focused on inclusive healthcare innovation led by Dr. Michael Penn, which was kicked off with a conversation between Caroline Clarke of Black Enterprise and Dr. Keith Black, head of neurosurgery at Cedars - Sinai Medical Center; and Sunday’s Culture Shifting Awards, held at The Rosewood, Sand Hill. Other event venues included SAP’s San Francisco office and LinkedIn’s Sunnyvale campus.

Culture Shifting Weekend founder Andrea Hoffman has dedicated herself to diversity and inclusion for several years and has a renowned Rolodex of black executives and founders. She describes Culture Shifting Weekend as a mission disguised as an event series with the goal of redesigning the corporate workplace to elevate talent and achieve true inclusion.

Companies should support value-aligned events such as Culture Shifting Weekend for three main benefits:

  1. It curated an audience of like-minded people who are dedicated to helping each other.

More than 300 C-Suite executives, financiers, and tech and health entrepreneurs of color came together for a weekend of collaborating, deal-making and celebrating actions that make the upper reaches of America’s boardrooms and tech company corner offices more diverse. But more than simply gathering accomplished people together, Culture Shifting Weekend cultivates a culture of generosity and genuine helpfulness.

2. It uncovered hidden figures i.e.- talented professionals of color not easily found using traditional recruiting methods and events.

Those who attended were able to take advantage of opportunities to establish and develop relationships with executives and entrepreneurs of color, high profile investors, and critical corporate partners who recognize the importance of diversity and inclusion as it relates to business goals and innovation. As Andrea Hoffman expressed, “People often say to me, ‘Where are the people of color who can lead America’s best companies?’ The answer is they’re right here — hiding in plain sight.”

3. It helped foster knowledge sharing for improving culture.

Like office hours for diversity and inclusion, in talking with high-level people who have considered strategy, you can learn and incorporate their strategies into your organization more thoughtfully because you can talk to people who’ve been there and done that. So it was useful to have the perspective of really wise people.

Overall, the event was inspirational and directional. It was inspirational in that it gave a way in which one could see the world. It was directional because it gave a lot of practical knowledge sharing and networking that could drive the change that we’re trying to create.

The perceived difficulty of achieving diversity and inclusion is a limiting belief that serves as an excuse for inaction. I named my company Talent Karma because “karma” is the Sanskrit word for action; to cultivate an inclusive environment where talent thrives, you have to take certain actions. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the sentiment but I think that we must seriously consider the frameworks in which we assess the issue and more importantly, we must become much more practical and tactical.