"This work has driven my personal passion to empower people to maximize their full potential and impact in this world by living, loving, and leading their life authentically and true to oneself."
Wema Hoover's Keynote at APC 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada began with a saddening but all-too-familiar story of discrimination in the workplace. Having just recieved her dream job as Global Chief Diversity Officer and Head of Culture at a company in Paris, France, Wema was mistaken as catering staff by her executive co-workers.
"All the excitement, the joy, and energy that I had walking into that room left my body like hot air being released from a balloon," Wema said. "I had to pull myself together and I had to shake it off because, I said to myself, 'I have to make an impression. I have to make the best impression.' But then how could I?"
Feeling alone and unseen, Wema realized the importance of activating real inclusion in the workplace and leaving behind tokenism, or performative action made with little effort.
"We do this by reframing diversity, equity, and inclusion, and going beyond the performative," Wema continued. By actively and intentionally working towards inclusion, companies will create the conditions that "optimize collaboration... and drive business forward."
To prove her point that Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) leads to high performance in organizations and communities, Wema cited a few statistics:
Many confuse or cross-reference diversity, equity, and inclusion. Wema describes diversity as "all of the things that make us different and unique... both visible and invisible characteristics," while equity "is the process and intentional act of ensuring that every person has access to fair and equal treatment by removing institutional and systemic barriers from organizations, practices, processes, and systems." Inclusion is when diversity and equity come together to make "the culture that creates the conditions for people to succeed."
During her session, Wema encouraged attendees to participate in a self-assessment exercise. After listening to the following questions, individuals were instructed to first stand, then raise their right and left hands, and finally clasp their hands above their head to count each situation they have personally experienced:
By the end of the exercise, almost all attendees were standing, and around a foruth of them had both of their hands raised. This activity showcased that while some groups have normal day-to-days, most have experienced micro-inequities and conditions.
To conclude her session, Wema stressed the need for organizations to take an integrative approach to activating inclusion. This involes a variety of tactical activities and behaviors:
"And so, Wema concluded, "when we think about purpose and how that actually brings to life the inclusive work environment, we think about the value of difference. This is where the head, the heart, and the internal cause of an organization is found."
To learn more about Wema Hoover and her work, visit her website.
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