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#NowNotLater: The National Diversity & Leadership Conference

8 MINUTE READ | April 26, 2019

#NowNotLater: The National Diversity & Leadership Conference

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Cynthia De La Torre

Cynthia De La Torre has written this article. More details coming soon.

I’ve written about the importance of diversity and inclusion a few times before (here, here, and here). It’s something that I’m incredibly passionate about in my career and in my personal life (along with design, of course). So I was thrilled to attend the National Diversity Council’s National Diversity & Leadership Conference in Dallas April 10th – 12th. On behalf of PMG’s Diversity & Inclusion Group (DIG), I attended a conference full of knowledge, passion, acceptance, and most importantly, urgency. Urgency is the meaning behind the conference’s official hashtag, #NowNotLater. Now is the time to take action and improve diversity and inclusion; Now is the time to make an impact in whatever industry you are in. 

#NowNotLater. The official hashtag for the 2019 National Diversity & Leadership Conference.

For three whole days, I was surrounded by people just as passionate about diversity as I am, from the speakers to the attendees. I also attended insightful sessions and I took very intensive notes that I’m excited to share with not just our Diversity & Inclusion Group, but everyone at PMG. I hope the knowledge I’ve brought back to PMG will allow us to continue our diversity and inclusion journey and continue to cultivate a workplace where every employee can be their authentic selves. 

Below, I’ll highlight some of my favorite sessions and some key takeaways that made an impact. 

LGBTQIA+ Round Table

After the opening luncheon, the first session I attended was the LGBTQIA+ Round Table. The moderator’s first question revolved around best practices for LGBTQIA+ in the workplace.

As the panelists spoke on best practices within their companies, one thing that was mentioned multiple times is the importance of making sure both your company policies and medical benefits are as inclusive as possible. This is crucial in a state where members of the LGBTQIA+ community could be fired based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Companies need to make certain that they protect their most vulnerable, which includes transgender employees.

The Human Rights Campaign has an extensive amount of resources to assist employers and employees on implementing policies and benefits that account for the entire LGBTQIA+ community. While at PMG, we do not tolerate discrimination of any kind, we will continue to work to ensure that all of our policies and benefits are as inclusive as possible. 

Kellan Barfield, CEO and Founder of Source Explorer, shared her story about working in a hostile work environment. Towards the beginning of her career, she lived with a fear of losing her job if her employer found out she was gay. Ultimately, she became so frustrated having to hide who she was, she went to the Human Resources department to ask if she could come out. They advised her not to because her job would be in jeopardy. When she eventually got married, out of fear, she wore her wedding ring on her right hand instead of her left. When her coworkers started to notice her big shiny ring, she went so far as to redesign her wedding ring so it wouldn’t stand out. After years of suppressing her sexuality, she moved on to another job that was far more inclusive, eventually founding her own company. She ended her compelling story with “I don’t have the ring I wanted, but I have the wife I wanted.” 

America Ferrera Keynote

Actress and just all around incredible human being, America Ferrera, spoke over breakfast on the second day of the conference. Her talk revolved around being your authentic self. She discussed the importance of non-conforming and presenting and existing as your whole self. She had moments early on in her career where she had to play the stereotypical Latina, at one point being asked to “sound more Latina.” 

One portion of her talk spoke volumes to me. She mentioned that when she would run into barriers in her personal life and her career, she automatically blamed herself. As a child of immigrant parents who came to America, she was taught that you should be appreciative of where you are and that you could do anything you put your mind to. With that in mind her entire life, it lead her to believe her failures were all her own and did not blame them on a system that creates barriers for people of color. I am an immigrant myself, and I was always told by my parents that I could do and be anything I wanted to in America. As I grew up, I faced different obstacles in my life and when I failed, I would only blame myself. It leads to a lot of self-loathing and it wasn’t until I grew up that I realized that these walls placed in front of me have been there and continue to be there for many other minorities. 

America stressed that we need to change this system of oppression and improve diversity and inclusion wherever we can. Let’s make these changes so we can move on to bigger and better things than just “let us in the room.” 

Starting your D&I Initiative from Scratch

As we started DIG, one of the issues we faced was figuring out where to start. We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel and we wanted to ensure that we were focusing on the right things to start our diversity and inclusion journey. So I was really excited to hear from professionals who have worked most of their career on diversity and inclusion.

A major point of advice from the panelists was to ensure that your diversity and inclusion group isn’t focused on just initiative goals (ex: events and social media). D&I groups need to make sure to have a foundational structure that can continue to work year after year. A good way to ensure this is to divide up your goals into two categories: awareness-based goals and impact goals. Awareness goals are short-term goals and mostly involve initiatives. Impact goals are long-term and involve things like company-wide trainings, collecting diversity data, and changing policies. We will be implementing this framework for our own D&I group here at PMG.

Another call out is to remind those in your company that it isn’t just the members of your D&I group who are in charge of ensuring your workplace is diverse and inclusive. That responsibility falls into the hands of everyone at the agency. Everyone at PMG is responsible for creating a culture of inclusion where every employee feels welcome. An inclusive culture is based on every single employee, not just a few. 

There’s this common misconception that white men aren’t included when we speak about diversity and inclusion. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. I was looking forward to this session because I knew it was going to discuss this misconception. I was disappointed to see that there weren’t any white men on the panel. Luckily, there were plenty of white men in the audience to offer their viewpoint.

This session began with the conversation around acknowledging white privilege. It exists. White privilege doesn’t mean you didn’t struggle, it means that you didn’t have systematic oppression based on the color of your skin. In order to be a champion for diversity and inclusion, white men need to acknowledge the existence of white privilege and how they have had a different experience through life and their career compared to other minority groups.

The panelists stressed just how impactful a white male ally is. They are champions for diversity and inclusion and using their level of privilege, they can help take down the systems of oppression. Since they are normally in leadership positions, they could create spaces for their diverse peers. Many of the panelists spoke about how they each have a mentor that is a white male that has helped them in their career and has elevated them whenever possible.

Everyone in the room recognized how white men can be powerful supporters and an essential voice in every conversation. At one point during the discussion, a white man towards the front row stood up and asked just how he could make an impact. It was a powerful thing to see and led to even more white men standing up and sharing their viewpoints. 

The National Diversity & Leadership Conference was everything I hoped it would be. I could feel the passion from both the audience and the speakers in every session I attended. It was great to see the large number of people who were wanting to make a difference. I left the conference with newfound knowledge to share with those around me and a sense of urgency to have the conversation of diversity and inclusion now, not later. 

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Oh and also, I was in the same room as President Obama which is a once in a lifetime experience. So much so, I couldn’t fit that entire talk into this blog post. Luckily, my DIG peers and I wrote a separate blog post on our “A Conversation with Obama” experience.

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