Our Future Is Now

In my last post, I talked about leaving New York; ironic, because I just spent four days back in the city I claimed I was leaving. Just can't stay away, ya know?

Although I got my entire life painting the town with my girls on Saturday, I was actually in the Big Apple for "work," not play. Every year, the Hispanic American Employee Resource Group (ERG) and the African American ERG at Accenture host a joint Leadership Summit regionally across the U.S. In my four-year tenure, I've only attended one other summit, so I was excited to attend this year's event.

Over the course of the day and a half of activities curated for attendees, I had the opportunity to learn about topics that ran the professional gamut: leading with innovation, diversity recruiting, professional development, data driven inclusion, making connections, being "truly human" at work, and more. Of course I had to capture a few key quotes from these discussions and I'll share my thoughts on a few of my favorites below:

I&D Regional Updates:

"ERGs are a critical part of I&D strategy. We utilize ERGs as an opportunity to gain a sense of what's happening on the ground with our people. They help us to understand the kinds of things we need to do differently to make the employee experience even better."
- Michelle Gadsden-Williams, North America I&D Lead at Accenture

In a previous post, I discussed the positive impact my ERG has had on my career and ways you can jump start or support similar efforts at your own firms. This message from our very own I&D lead was a reminder that there is truly a business case behind the growth and activation of employee resource groups. As you continue to build community within your industries and within your companies, remember that ERGs are often one of the few drivers behind the successful reduction of attrition.

When people feel seen, they're more likely to say. When people have community, they're more likely to stay. When people have safe spaces where they can navigate the concerns and unique experiences they have as a result of being "other" in one way or in multiple ways, they're more likely to stay. Beyond that, the feedback that's often produced within ERG events and conversations is often the impetus for, and/or the additional context behind, unconscious bias efforts. Michelle mentioned that from a leadership perspective, ERGs often originate inputs to a broader strategy. That strategy, to my understanding, includes initiatives like unconscious bias training, which ideally would impact not only ERG members, but also non-other employees who aren't considered the "usual suspects" who attend and have an inherently deep understanding of the benefits of such training.

The ultimate goal of leveraging ERG insight to guide I&D strategy: attract, develop, advance, retain. As many of you know from personal experience, trust in employers and in workplace practices and growth trajectories is often much lower for members of marginalized groups than it is for members of more privileged groups. One way for employers to work on bridging that trust gap is to support groups that meet people where they are and to address the concerns that they voice (and not those that leadership assumes).

"Transparency breeds trust and trust is the most important currency we have in this organization."
- Michelle Gadsden-Williams, North America I&D Lead at Accenture

Keynote Conversation:

Drew McCaskill had the folks nodding their heads vigorously and murmuring "mmhmm, that's right" with fervor during his keynote speech. Drew is "an accredited communications and crisis management executive," a Morehouse College graduate (and an Emory University MBA graduate), and a fervent diversity and inclusion educator.

Drew's keynote speech centered around a few unpopular opinions of sorts that he holds with respect to inclusion and diversity. His first point elicited all of my snaps and support - in his opinion, we shouldn't bring our entire selves to work. Paraphrased this way: "3 AM in Ibiza Drew doesn't need to come to work every day." And that's a word! Instead, he advocated for situational authenticity. The onus here isn't that we should fully assimilate into work culture, but that we can maintain our uniqueness while keeping some of "us" for ourselves and without trying to be, sound, and look like those around us. He conveyed the idea that we can, and should, bring our authentic selves to our workplaces so that we're ensuring that the benefits of our uniqueness and our originality can be leveraged as the assets they truly are.

"Assimilation is exhausting. It doesn't leave enough energy and time for creativity and innovation. The company needs creativity and innovation more than it needs for you to look and sound like the person sitting next to you."
- Drew McCaskill, Senior Vice President, Global Communications & Multicultural Marketing at Nielsen

Be you. Be you and know that there is only one of you on this Earth and that that's all that there will ever be. It's a powerful reminder, and one that I know I needed to hear. As a gay, black man with a strong Southern accent, Drew knows the importance of being authentic while keeping certain things sacred. I agree wholeheartedly with that approach and I also know how difficult that can be for others to accept in the workplace, especially others who don't consider themselves to be diverse employees. It can be exhausting to hear "it took you awhile to open up" from your co-workers. I hear it all. The. Time. But I'm reaffirmed by talks like this one that remind me that I should never feel shame for being the flower that blooms slowly.

"I'm always going to do what my grandmother told me to do, which is to 'save some to keep.' "
- Drew McCaskill, Senior Vice President, Global Communications & Multicultural Marketing at Nielsen

Once you affirm yourself in that truth - that individuality and simultaneous personal preservation - are more than acceptable in the workplace, your ideas begin to flourish. The time that we spend stifling our thoughts and holding back our opinions because they deviate from the norm is time that could be better spent speaking up and using the seat we've so rightfully earned at the tables at which we now sit. But, sometimes we need that nudge. We need to hear a keynote speaker say that our ideas are valid before they're even voiced. And sometimes we will need to be that voice for others; that reminder to speak up, speak out, and be heard.

"9 times out of 10, you already have the answer inside you, but hearing it from someone you respect just gives you wings."
- Drew McCaskill, Senior Vice President, Global Communications & Multicultural Marketing at Nielsen

Truly Human:

Rahul Varma is Accenture's Global Talent Lead and during the summit, he celebrated his 25th Accenture anniversary. He spoke openly about his start in India almost three decades ago, and the challenges he faced that stemmed both from impostor syndrome and from doubts vocalized by leaders above him. Many of us are more familiar than we would like to be with impostor syndrome: that nagging feeling that we're in the wrong room, that our credentials are insufficient for the task at hand, or that we can't possibly measure up to our peers.

The antidote to impostor syndrome? For Rahul, it was care. The care of a senior leader who wouldn't give up on him. From the time he participated in his first prospective employee interview to his 25th anniversary celebration, Rahul found himself encouraged and inspired by Rajan, an advocate that helped launch his career. He reminded us of two things in telling his story: take the time to reflect on those who have made it their mission to advance you and your career and ensure that as you rise, you're serving that purpose for others.

One of my staple questions for features on No Funny Business is "how are you best able to lift as you climb?" Rahul reminded me of the importance of fueling that spirit in others while constantly seeking it in myself.

"Think about who in your journey has been your Rajan. Who is it that pushed you beyond what you think you can handle? Who is it that pushed you into a zone of [professional] discomfort over and over again? Who is it in your journey that actually cared about you as a person, and what you brought to the table, and helped you bring that into the world?"
- Rahul Varma, Senior Managing Director of Talent at Accenture

I'll leave you with these nuggets of wisdom and a book recommendation offered by one of the panelists during the last session of the summit: "The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom." I'm full following this summit and I look forward to continuing to allow my well to flow over through this book and other inspiration like it.

Let's chat about some of the most rewarding and inspiring experiences you've had at work or through work over on Instagram.

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