[Video] Diversity Leaders Discuss Equity and Inclusion on Webster Speaks
December 14, 2020
The workplace should reflect the community at large, and while gains have been made since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and subsequent equal opportunity laws, the road ahead is long. Vincent C. Flewellen, Webster's chief diversity officer, brought together four of his counterparts to discuss these changes and challenges on the Dec. 2 edition of Webster Speaks: Dialogues on RACE, EQUITY and INCLUSION.
Panelists on the episode “Experts Who Are Leading Workplace Diversity” inclded Angela Cody, CDE, director at Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals and leader of the St. Louis Diversity & Inclusion Consortium; Desiree S. Coleman, MPA, diversity and inclusion executive at a Fortune 50 company and founder of Queen Within; Clinton Normore, MBA, vice president of diversity and inclusion at A.T. Still University in Mesa, Arizona; and Valerie Patton, MA, MSW, senior vice president of inclusion and workforce development strategies and executive director of the St. Louis Business Diversity Initiative.
The panelists shared deeply personal stories of how they were drawn to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work and why they find it fulfilling.
Watch the entire episode and hear what books these diversity leaders recommend on the YouTube recording of Webster Speaks.
“I probably came out of the womb doing this work,” said Patton, who came from generations of civil rights advocates. She recounted how startled she was as a member of the second integrated class in her high school. “That’s when I really began to see systemic racism at its worst.”
“If I can’t show up fully as myself, how can I then advocate for others?”
The discrimination Normore and his twin brother faced as young athletes served as a catalyst to create equity and inclusion. Normore credits mentors who recognized and nurtured his innate leadership abilities. Now, he is paying it forward. “The reward is seeing all these young people succeed and, moreover, see them take on the values of lifting as they climb and continuing to create opportunity access,” he said.
Coleman also knew she was born to help others. She calls DEI leadership “a macro opportunity to make conditions better for diverse folks of all backgrounds and to really level the playing field,” said Coleman. “It gives me passion to do this work every day.”
Cody shared the difficulties of being a closeted lesbian in the military and the private sector. When she chose to present herself authentically, she was rewarded with a leadership position in her company’s diversity and inclusion effort. “This is my opportunity to make change and influence an organization of this size and magnitude and make things just a little bit better for the next person,” she said.
Flewellen shared a similar story of coming out and the rewards it has reaped. As a Black gay man, he feels he can serve as a role model for young people to live authentically. “If I can’t show up fully as myself, how can I then advocate for others?” he said. “We go into these fields because we want to fix or correct the experiences we had that didn’t fit right or feel right, and to ensure others also don’t have to experience that.”
The panelists said the idea of a diverse workforce – by the numbers – is still important, but equity and inclusion are the linchpin to change. “If we don’t have folks who differ from us around the table, then our outcomes are not going to be as rich as they could be,” said Normore.
Coleman described the current phase of DEI work as striving toward psychological safety. “It’s important not only to have a diverse collection of people and not only invite them to the meeting, but give voice to the things they’re saying,” she said.
Aside from access and allyship, educational opportunities are key to driving DEI long-term. Patton, for example, expressed the need for greater opportunities in STEM careers and in C-suites for Black and brown people. “There’s still not enough equity around decisions that are being made but there are more of us in those roles that can still influence change.”
That means the role of diversity, equity and inclusion leader is needed more than ever, the panelists agreed. “We as organizations, we as educators, we as CDOs have a significant role to play at this time to be able to identify what our role is and root out the systems that were put in place,” said Cody. “None of us put those systems into place but it’s our responsibility to break those systems down and to take that piece and own it.”
Both Chancellor Elizabeth (Beth) Stroble and President Julian Z. Schuster gave reflections at the end of the episode. “One of the challenges of leadership is that you have to want things to get better. You have to be in a position where you can make things better,” said Stroble. “It can cause you to focus on yourself but the best good is to use that for the benefit of others.”
Open-minded leadership makes a critical difference, said Schuster, who experienced feeling “other” years ago as an Eastern European applying for academic positions in the deep South. “Finding somebody in your life who will understand, who will not necessarily be like you but who will understand who you were, who you are, and who you want to be is extremely important,” he said.
Webster Speaks returns on Dec. 16 with “2020 Reflections and the Road Ahead,” a special 90-minute review of an extraordinary year with a panel of past guests. Register and watch previous episodes.