Key Messages That are Making the DE&I Difference

The Chamber’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Conference began with a goal to bring valuable conversations to the forefront and has since expanded to taking actionable steps towards creating impactful solutions in our region.

This year, at the third-annual DE&I Conference, sponsored by Roper St. Francis Healthcare, the team ramped it up a bit. They set out to bring together talented speakers with incredible stories, but with an understanding that attendees would be at different moments in their journey, they also challenged themselves to push boundaries and bring a broader perspective to a room full of diverse individuals. Some people would be attending with the goal to better understand the perspectives of others and be an ally for those that don’t feel seen or heard, which will in turn make for a great leader. Others are seeking the opportunity to be seen and heard, to be valued for their power and abilities.

The beautiful thing about this Conference, all these people were in the same room, helping each other find what they are looking for, while also sharing a sincere value in mutual prosperity and creating an equitable community (which so happens to be the theme at this year’s conference).

That, alone, is powerful – what’s even better is that the room was filled with four times the amount of people that were at the first DE&I Conference in 2020, filling the Charleston Marriott ballroom with over 400 people.

Out of the almost 30 incredible speakers, panelists and sponsor messages, there were 10 key messages threaded throughout the day.

DE&I means getting to know your people.

Everything in the DE&I world begins with people. In order for you to understand where your organization stands and what it represents, you have to look to those that keep it moving – your people.

They don’t judge you on your organization’s intentions, they judge you on your output. How are you working with your employees to ensure they have pathways for success?

A great initiative that was brought up throughout the Conference is employee resource groups. It is important for these groups to be organic which will create a sense of belonging that you, as an organization, may not be able to create.

“This is heart work, not hard work.” – Dr. Shawn Edwards, Chief Inclusion Excellence Officer, The Citadel

Employee resource groups can lead to your employees becoming brand ambassadors because they see that they are valued and can speak for what your organization stands for. It has also been proven that these groups tend to lead to higher employee retention.

A word of caution to you though – don’t just let the voices in these employee resource groups ring hollow. Ensure that they know that their thoughts and perspectives are informing your organization’s strategic goals.

“Leadership is people science, not rocket science” – Dr. Arthur Takeall, Director of Professionalism, Charleston Trident Association of REALTORS, and Founder, The Right One Academy

Pat Tang (left) alongside the Chamber’s DE&I Executive Fellow, Kenya Dunn

Shades of DE&I aren’t just black and white.

Whether it was hearing from Pat Tang, an Asian-American, or learning the importance of including physical and mental disabilities in your business decisions around diversity, equity and inclusion, the Conference expanded the conversation beyond color. This is critical in ensuring that as an individual, organization and community, we are doing DE&I right.

“In order to be an ally for the Asian-American community, you must allow Asians to embrace their uniqueness, provide safe spaces and be patient. First generation Asian Americans are loyal and are riding the coat tails of their family’s incredible sacrifices.” – Pat Tang, Financial Advisor, Western and Southern Life

One way of doing something doesn’t work for everyone. Think about the way you hire, manage people and encourage productivity for example. From there, challenge yourself to look beyond what you typically do to ensure that you are not limiting your organization to be the best it can be.

Leverage your spaces.

DE&I work doesn’t just get done within the walls of your organization.

We all have spaces where we can make a difference. Whether it’s in your kitchen with your family or to a room packed with people waiting to hear you speak, you have the ability to ensure that you are making the most of the space that you are in to create positive change.

Be the safe space for someone or provide the perspective that helps open a person’s eyes more than they’ve ever been before.

Be a mirror to those around you.

It’s very easy to forget how much our words or actions are affecting those around us, but they do matter and are extremely significant.

“In order to move the needle, we must do this work together.” – Bernie Mazyck, President and CEO, South Carolina Association for Community Economic Development (SCACED)

Take time to understand the messages you are putting out in the world – do you want to be remembered by them? If not, it’s time for a change. Let’s set our sights on leading by example, encouraging those around us to follow a path of inclusivity and develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for what makes us so different.

Never underestimate the power of data.

Data has continued to be an important theme throughout the Conferences because it is critical to learning how to improve.

“What doesn’t get measured, doesn’t get done” – Dr. Anthony C. Hood, Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, First Horizon Bank

Many of the speakers throughout the day said that they started gathering data by sending a survey to their employees. This survey gave a pulse check and base line for the organization to build from and helped identify what is important to the people in the organization and shed light on what’s lacking. From there, the organization can develop measurable goals to improve.

As you begin to implement new initiatives or process changes, you will need to continue to track how your employees are feeling. If you are moving in a positive direction towards your goals, you are on the right track!

Success in DE&I means buy-in.

Buy-in is critical to the success of a DE&I strategy within your organization. If you do not have a mutual understanding that this work is extremely important (especially at the leadership or Board level), you are missing critical pieces of the puzzle.

This, also, is not just one person’s job. A DE&I or HR leader is important, absolutely, but their needs to be an understanding from everyone on your team that they have a stake in the success of DE&I initiatives and strategies within the organization.

You don’t have to be an expert in DE&I before you get started.

This is an anxiety that many organizations feel. As a reminder, you don’t have to know everything to take the first step.

“You can be really new to the space and still be really successful. We have 55 staff members at Floyd Lee Locums LLC and 23 of them joined our newly-launched DE&I Council. This speaks volumes and shows that if you show up and begin, you’ll find how much your employees step into this.” – Natasha Lee, CEO, Floyd Lee Locums

You also don’t have to do this alone. You have great resources at your disposal in our region and can always lean on your team to help navigate the DE&I journey within your organization.

Grecia Hamilton (right), the Chamber’s Director of DE&I, moderating a panel of MBA Cohort participants

The community has great resources already (and continues to grow!)

After this Conference, it was apparent that there are already amazing and valuable resources happening in our community that you can either be a part of or learn from!

One of the initiatives highlighted was the Chamber’s Minority Business Accelerator (MBA) program which has had a tremendous positive impact with its inaugural class.

“This program challenges me to focus on even the smallest parts of my business and gives concentrated knowledge that we never would have gotten.” – Adrian Lorduy, CEO and Founder, BuenaVista Information Systems

Other valuable programs highlighted include:

  • YWCA’S WE 360, a national YWCA program designed to put women and women of color entrepreneurs, who are fearless leaders and innovative shakers, on the path to starting a successful business
  • HI Mark Capital is a black and veteran-managed investing fund based in Charleston who partners with investors to build minority- and women-owned businesses
  • Climb Fund reported 1/3 of new small business loans were made to black- and latinx-owned businesses
  • The South Carolina Association for Community Economic Development (SCACED) opened The Opportunity Center in North Charleston, which focuses on impacting low-wealth communities, providing workforce development, small business incubators and co-working spaces benefiting entrepreneurs and start-ups.

The newly-released Minority Business Ecosystem report is also a great resource to learn from!

DE&I is a journey without an end.

There is no peak on this mountain. DE&I is a journey that continues to evolve and grow, which is exactly how it should be. Just like you’d never want your business model to become outdated or stale, you want to continue to keep your DE&I strategies relevant, challenging and structured around clear and measurable goals.

“The more discomfort we feel, the better we are doing. If we aren’t feeling uncomfortable, we probably aren’t doing enough.” – Jeff DiLisi, M.D., M.B.A., President and CEO, Roper St. Francis Healthcare

A shared challenge – how will you create mutual prosperity?

Life is short. How are we making the most out of our time to ensure that we give ourselves the opportunity to prosper, but also create space for those around us to do the same?

Not in the future, but today. Let’s carry this challenge with us every day to ensure that we continue to move the needle forward to ensure that our community is a better place to live, work and play.

“I’m here to get it right, not to be right.” – Natasha Lee, CEO, Floyd Lee Locums LLC

Learn about the Chamber’s DE&I Initiatives

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