Second-Annual DE&I Conference Exceeds Expectations and Pushes for Action

In 2020, we set a goal: to set forth on a diversity, equity & inclusion journey that would bring valuable conversations to the forefront, create much-needed change in our region, and within organizations, and help our Chamber be able to walk the walk and talk the talk around these critical issues.

We believe that our first DE&I Conference did just that. But we needed more. There is still a lot of work to do and a lot of action still needs to take place.

The second-annual DE&I Conference set out on the same journey, but with motivation to make the right moves and take actionable steps towards solutions. Although the details and valuable knowledge from these speakers could make an entire website on its own, here are few of the highlights from the day.

Fireside Chat: Understanding Systems Change

Dr. Rebecca Baumgartner, Senior Diversity & Inclusion Manager, Ogletree Deakins
Kenya Dunn, Charleston Metro Chamber Executive Fellow of DE&I and Founder of The Power-Filled Woman

“The time for performative leadership is over – if you and your company are going to do something, it’s time to step up.” – Rebecca Baumgartner

Rebecca and Kenya encouraged attendees to put action behind the performative statement that was put out after the disruptions that occurred in 2020. Use data to truly understand the current makeup of your organization and learn how your employees are feeling/their perspectives. Also, gain insight from fellow businesses and organizations in the community to learn and have those difficult conversations. After discovering the climate of your business, make positive movements forward and tailor your original statement to “save face” into meaningful actions that helps your employees get behind you and shows the community that you are walking the walk AND talking the talk.

“You belong in every room, but not every room deserves you.” – Rebecca Baumgartner

Reflections: The Lived Experience

Vanessa Gongora, South Carolina Territory Manager, Norsan Media

Did you know that Charleston has the fastest growing hispanic immigrant population in the country? We didn’t either!

Is there untapped talent there that you and your organization haven’t thought about before? Not only are they willing and able to work, they will likely make your business better through hiring them.

“First generationers have real a positive impact on businesses because of their work ethic that they learned from their parents.” – Vanessa Gongora

KJ Kearney, Community Engagement Expert

Although KJ has been invited to speak at more DE&I Conferences than many of us in that room have, he recognized that as an education professional, he has never been invited to speak in those arenas. He also said that he speaks with C-suite executives often about how to elevate their DE&I efforts, but has never been offered a C-suite position.

His recommendation to everyone in the room is to “find the KJ in your organization.” Are they doing incredible work and have consistently showed their worth, but always gets surpassed for leadership positions? Take a hard look at your business and find root causes to learn why.

“When important conversations around DE&I are being had, the people you aren’t thinking of are the people who should be in that room.” – KJ Kearney

KJ also started Black Food Fridays on instagram. Check them out!

Chase Glenn, Director of LGBTQ+ Health Services and Enterprise Resources, Medical University of South Carolina

Chase highlighted that assumptions of people are brought about from biases.

Chase often gets the assumption that he is a straight male with a wife and kids that supports LGBTQ+ matters – but this isn’t his entire story. As a transgender man who is happy to tell his story, he has seen his journey cut short based on the assumptions and conversations that start off in a close-minded and assumptive manner.

He encouraged us to look at our conversations – how can you be more inclusive and not automatically assume you know their story? Consider partner or spouse over husband/wife, for example!

“Be more intentional about the conversations and interactions you are having with people you don’t know and ensure that your assumptions won’t be what guides your conversation.” – Chase Glenn

Keith Smalls, Violence Intervention Prevention Client Advocate, Medical University of South Carolina

Keith has truly turned his life around for the better and is making a significant impact in people’s lives that need his direction the most. Having served 19 years in prison, he learned the hard way that there weren’t a lot of mentor or positive re-entry programs once you get out.

Having tragically lost his son to gun violence shortly after Keith got out, he did something many of us can’t even fathom. Although he doesn’t forgive the two young men that murdered his son, he serves as their mentor in prison to help them turn their lives around and be a better person once they get out.

“Terms like black lives matter and gun violence, for example, only matter when they happen to us. Let’s change that.” – Keith Smalls

Panel Discussion: Leading Through a Lens of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Mary Garcia, Regional President, SC Coastal Market – Pinnacle Financial Partners
Bernie Mazyck, President & CEO, South Carolina Association for Community Economic Development

Herbert L. Drayton III, Managing Partner, HI Mark Capital
Moderated by Michael Eckard, Office Managing Shareholder, Ogletree Deakins

Here are some top highlights from their conversation on how to lead through a lens of DE&I:

  • The more people at the table the better – ensure that every person at the table can represent a sector of your employees
  • Data is key to gaining a foundation and framework for where your organization currently stands and where you are starting from
  • Add DE&I as a line item like you would finance, marketing, etc.
  • Be proximate to the people you want to recruit
  • Tap into our community for resources, guidance and insight

Fireside Chat: Diversify the Workplace with Intention

Michael Moore, Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Blackbaud
Kenya Dunn, Charleston Metro Chamber Executive Fellow of DE&I and Founder of The Power-Filled Woman

Think of diversity as talent acquisition and inclusion as the culture of your organization and engaging your employees. It is critical to invest in both of these.

Another key concept they discussed was addressing the power dynamics and ensuring that those don’t interfere with progress and with employees feeling like they are visible and heard, regardless of their title.

“If we want to maximize our employees, we have to be intentional about DE&I and maximizing what makes each of them different.” – Michael Moore

Presentation: Amplifying Accountability

Dr. Shawn Spann Edwards, Chief Inclusive Excellence Officer, The Citadel

“What gets supported gets accomplished.” – Dr. Shawn Edwards

Culture of Accountability

  • Give support
  • Offer freedom
  • Share information
  • Provide resources
  • Ensure clarity

Steps to Accountability

  • Be honest
  • Value others
  • Keep records
  • Take responsibility
  • Do the right thing
  • Act promptly with care

Amplifying Accountability

  • Be open
  • Be relevant
  • Be realistic
  • Engage your stakeholders
  • Engage your employees (at all levels)
  • Commit resources from the start
  • Be transparent – share successes and failures

“Accountability is the glue that ties commitment to results.” – Bob Proctor

Panel Discussion: Things in the Workplace that Stall DE&I Efforts

Vanessa Gongora, South Carolina Territory Manager, Norsan Media
Michael Samuel, Commercial Portfolio Manager, Truist Bank
David Galvin, Senior Director of HR & Operations, Coastal Community Foundation
Sean Holleran, Vice President, First National Bank
Moderated by Jaymes McCloud, CEO, J.H.W. Enterprises Property Management

Top things reported as things that cause a stall in DE&I in the workplace

  • No sense of belonging – allow employees to bring their authentic self to work
  • Peel back fear and ensure that everyone’s input, regardless of what it is, is brought to the table
  • Psychological safety is non-existent
  • Not responding to challenges in a productive way
  • Employees not feeling like their organization is their advocate

Panel Discussion: Tying DE&I Strategies to your Daily Operations

Charles Stephens, Senior Diversity Recruiting Partner, Klaviyo, Inc.
Bobby Teachey II, Project Manager, Brownstone Construction Group
Amber Brown, Program Officer, Coastal Community Foundation
Moderated by Mamie Bush, Director of Sales & Marketing, Hilton Garden Inn Charleston Waterfront

How and Why to Incorporate DE&I into Your Daily Operations:

  • DE&I has relevance in every aspect of your business.
  • Communicate internally with your team about what you are working on and how they can help – then communicate in an authentic way externally so that the community is aware of what your company is working on.
  • Challenge yourself by asking diverse individuals why they left your organization – although hard to hear at times, it may offer clarity moving forward for what needs to change.
  • Draft DE&I language that all staff can use so that everyone is referring to the same sheet of music.
  • If your organization is large enough, identify affinity groups and utilize them for talent acquisition and as a resource for decision making.

“Low-hanging fruit doesn’t mean these steps are easy.” – Amber Brown

Keynote Message: Megan Connolly, Principal and Senior DE&I Consultant, Mercer

Diversity – Increasing representation

Equity – Designing to ensure equal access to opportunity, experience and pay

Inclusion – Fostering belonging

Megan considered the above words as an equation: Increase diversity = recruiting + promotion + retention

Megan agreed with many of our speakers throughout the day with ensuring that your company has DATA. Consider your data as proof for how and what you organization chooses to encourage diversity, equity and inclusion.

She also pushed organizations to ensure your DEI strategy addresses health, financial well being and careers. She breaks it down into three sections

  1. Workforce data

Data offers a great starting point to gauge where you organization stands as a whole and what things are happening in the organization that you may not be aware of. As a reminder though, when you ask employees for this information, ensure that it will remain anonymous and that the information they will be providing will be used for good and positive strides in the organization.

2. Employee Voice

A great way to gather data is to send surveys out to your employees (completely voluntary) to learn how they are feeling about certain aspects of the business, remembering to tie in DE&I questions that help you better understand your business climate. Digital focus groups are also a great way to learn from employees in an honest and safe space.

3. Policies, Processes and Procedures

This is a biggie – give yourself an audit of your current policies, processes and procedures. Are you assuming where you shouldn’t? Are you being inclusive based on the questions you are asking? Are your procedures affecting any of your employee sectors in a negative way? These questions should be answered honestly and shouldn’t just have the input from the leadership. You may find that by asking your employees for their perspective, your organization and bottom line will be better for it.


One word came to mind for this conference: powerful.

Powerful speakers. Powerful perspectives. Powerful conversations.

I look forward to seeing these conversations turn into powerful movements and action to ensure the most diverse, equitable and inclusive region we can possibly be. Let’s do it!

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