When you need inspiration or affirmation, you may just find it among your 500 closest compatriots.
ColorComm, an organization that fosters a community for women of color in all areas of communication, marked its 6th annual conference this year in Miami. The focus was on professional development, advocacy and inclusion, and wellness under the theme, "Get Ready!" The event, which was nothing short of inspiring, brought together more than 500 women of color, including a delegation of Publicis Groupe employees — of which I was one — led by the global advertising and PR company's chief diversity officer, Sandra Sims-Williams.
I attended my first ColorComm Conference as a delegate of Starcom with other representatives from Publicis Groupe, while also entering a new chapter in my career; this is the chapter where you haven't ascended to the perpetual "there" yet, but you're a little closer than when you started.
Getting to "here" wasn't without challenges, questions, or self-doubts (hello, imposter syndrome), but it also would not have been possible without the support of my village. Almost a decade into my career, the only thing I know with absolute certainty is that prioritizing spaces and people that nurture, value, uplift, and advocate for underrepresented identities is critical for any measurable progress in increasing diverse representation in the workplace. My time attending ColorComm's conference reaffirmed that belief.
A few years ago, Starcom gave me the opportunity to attend Black Enterprise's Women of Power Summit. It's another dynamic conference to attend if you can — or can offer to someone else. I left feeling reinvigorated and capable. I desperately wanted to save the essence of the experience for those times when I forgot to see myself or, more so, someone else failed to see me as capable. Inspired by our conference experience, fellow team member Ayanna Telfort and I cofounded VivaWomen of Color, Publicis Groupe's business resource group for employees identifying as women of color.
VivaWomen of Color is where I first met Lauren Wesley Wilson, founder and CEO of ColorComm. At the time, she was seeking charter members for the newly launched organization she was building while also having a full-time career at MSL, Publicis Groupe's public relations and integrated communications network. I couldn't afford the expense of joining ColorComm then. Fast-forward a few years, I now can't afford not to pay attention to ColorComm (and similar organizations) — and neither can you.
Isolation will significantly stall or even kill careers for women of color
Without access to mentors, sponsors, and allies, the advancement ceiling for women of color is limited, regardless of talent and capability. Ascending to a position of leadership requires relationships and support. Too often, unchecked biases inform hiring decisions, promotions, and even how resources are allocated to support a charge to the executive/officer level. Conscious, iterative effort to challenge existing processes must be made to ensure that candidates have an equitable chance from consideration to elevation.
The pipeline isn't broken, the approach is
Recruiting and retention are often noted as key problems within the pipeline. Instead, I would argue that most organizations have a limited cultural fluency to translate and serve the needs of underrepresented talent effectively. Inclusion has to be an interwoven and intentional component of your organization's cultural practices, processes, and policies. The brunt of [re]building an inclusive organization cannot fall sorely on the excluded. It needs to be a joint effort.Listening, having organizational awareness, finding ways to gain a deeper understanding of one another, and committing to cultural education are critical. Partnering with relevant organizations that specialize in the talent you wish to attract and retain can help build or strengthen inclusive practices.
We are enough; more than enough
I, and many other women of color, still face being the "only one" in the room. It is a harsh reality. The experience of ColorComm was a welcome reminder that I am never alone in this journey, and I will always be enough, even if there may be times that I'm the only one in the room. That said, we should probably fix this "only one" issue sooner than later. Until then, attending ColorComm was a necessary moment to intentionally pause and reflect on how I want to show up for myself, for my career, and for others.
In case you also needed a reminder, you, too, are enough.
Photos courtesy of ColorComm.
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