Recently, a well-known diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) strategist posed the question: “What am I lacking in knowledge, proximity or relationship that will be required in gaining buy-in, movement and results?” As I soaked up that question, especially as it relates to being a leader promoting DEIB at Gresham Smith, it began to stir something deep within me. I decided to dedicate my afternoon focus time to search for my answer.
As an engineer, I’m used to breaking down a problem into manageable chunks in order to better understand it. With my engineering hat on, metaphorically speaking, I began to analyze the question, one important piece at a time:
“What am I lacking in knowledge …?”
I started by researching the internet for scholarly articles on DEIB. Podcasts like Crazy and the King and the excellent book The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America gave me different perspectives into the question at hand. I also evaluated my work calendar and social life to see who I was interacting with and the topics associated with those interactions.
I fully expected the exercise to deliver a nice, clean list of bulleted items that showed what I was lacking in each category. But instead, it took a very different path. The question unearthed an “aha” moment that became a personal mission statement and a game-changer for me: Being a leader and making a difference in DEIB at Gresham Smith must include seeking—not just participating.
A Participation Trophy Is Not Enough
I always strive to be approachable. I want to rest comfortably in the knowledge that I’m doing my part to close the gap on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. My life experience, my friend base, and my personal board of directors—aka the small group of people I lean on for career advice and support—all have great diversity. Within Gresham Smith, I’m leading in many of the metrics on diversity in talent.
What I discovered in my search, however, was this: I had been counting on others in the firm to provide me with a venue or experience to gain knowledge, proximity and relationship as it relates to the recruitment of talent and growth in diversity.
Although I was a leader supporting DEIB, I had to ask myself: Am I really leading in this area? I realized that my answer would have to be “no” if I wasn’t actively seeking opportunities to learn and improve our outcomes and experiences. I wasn’t doing enough.
Being a leader supporting DEIB isn’t merely participating in Employee Resource Networks or attending Nashville Pride, or even mentoring young women. Leading in DEIB is seeking. Seeking more opportunities to gain knowledge, proximity and relationship, and driving accountability for others to do the same.
“Being a leader supporting DEIB isn’t merely participating…”
Self-awareness Can Be Powerful—Don’t Wait, Seek!
I became very self-aware of my participation versus seeking when our ownership was recently asked: “Who is actively participating in Historically Black College and University recruitment?” As I raised my hand, it occurred to me that I hadn’t heard from the university I’d recruited from the previous year. Then I realized—although I’d participated in HBCU recruitment, I wasn’t actively seeking additional HBCUs. I was waiting for HR to bring me that opportunity; I was waiting for the university to let me know when to participate again.
So, I stopped waiting to be “fed” by others and started seeking knowledge for myself. I may have missed out on the previous career-fair season, but I’m approaching the upcoming season with renewed energy and passion.
Keep Moving Forward
Once I started seeking, finding became so clear to me. It was like looking at that Magic Eye pop-art from the 90s where you had to see past the obvious to find the not-so-obvious. My eyes are now opening to so many topics I never truly “saw” until I began seeking—and all because of one powerful question: “What am I lacking in knowledge, proximity or relationship that will be required in gaining buy-in, movement and results?”
We need to keep in mind that we’re very much on a journey, and having the courage to take that first, big step counts for so much. We may stumble at times. We may have to course-correct. We may even have to reevaluate and then seek clarity. But the important thing is we keep moving forward, be self-aware of how we’re engaging with DEIB, and continue seeking after we’ve taken that first step. My hope is that my journey as a seeker inspires others to take that first step, too.
Are you seeking? If not, why? If you are, what have you found that could be shared with others?