As we imagine a more rewarding and productive future of work in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, prioritizing inclusivity and belonging in our workplaces and communities is more important than ever. But how can we create more inclusive workplaces where individuals can bring their full, authentic selves to work? What does it mean to be an inclusive leader? How can we position ourselves effectively and communicate our value and potential? These were some of the questions addressed at the 2021 Women’s Leadership Conference, hosted by Mount Saint Mary’s University, on September 30.
The virtual conference, organized by the Mount’s Center for the Advancement of Women in partnership with the University’s Bernadette Gonzaque Robert Center for Equity, Diversity and Justice, featured inspiring keynotes, powerful workshops and engaging panels with leaders from across industries who shared actionable insights from their fields to make workplaces and communities more inclusive.
Diversity, equity and inclusion strategist and author Lily Zheng opened the event with a keynote session on ways of achieving equity through structural change. Zheng shared actionable tips to channel DEI practices in everyday actions to help make effective change. “We have to be more intentional about how we are engaging with the world as allies,” said Zheng. “When the root cause of inequality is structural, equity through allyship requires structural change.”
Guest speakers also discussed some of the challenges posed by the pandemic in the workplace, which have led to the “Great Resignation” and the “She-session” with record numbers of women leaving their jobs or seeking new opportunities. Connie Chan Wang, senior director for global brand marketing at LinkedIn and Joanna Bloor, futurist for humans and ambition guide, engaged in an insightful conversation about how people, and particularly women, can position themselves effectively to advance in their careers and personal goals. “As we navigate this great unknown, it is more important than ever for us women to own our own stories,” said Chan.
The closing panel featured industry leaders who shared their innovative approaches to inclusivity issues and how to facilitate cultural shifts in workplaces. The conversation featured moderator Chinako Miyamoto Belanger, associate dean of Student Life and Leadership and interim co-director of the Center for Equity, Diversity and Justice; Betsabe Botaitis, CFO of Uplift Inc.; Rekha Chiruvolu, director of diversity, equity & inclusion at Nixon Peabody; Sharon Evans, vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion of the National Association of Women Business Owners; and Maria Shelton, founder of the security tech company Ardian Group, Inc.
Panelists discussed the importance of adapting workplaces to the new needs created by the pandemic, the impact that COVID-19 has had on women’s mental and physical well-being, and the specific positive outcomes that diversity has on businesses. “Diversity is not just a tagline. In order to survive in this new economy, diversity has to be built in any organization. There are true numbers attached to diversity and success,” said Shelton.
“As leaders and concerned citizens, it is our responsibility to implement sustainable and effective structural change,” said Kimberly Nao, PhD, the Mount’s Fritz Burns Endowed Chair, assistant professor of education and interim co-director of the Center for Equity, Diversity and Justice. “This is why days like today, where leaders across industries and sectors gather to share best practices and inspire each other, are crucial.”
Note: View the recording of the 2021 Women’s Leadership Conference’s “Women in the Workforce: Leading Inclusively. Driving Change”