Although leadership shows up in many ways throughout one’s life journey – in work, family or community – (EID) lens is not always easily identifiable. Instead, it discreetly reveals itself at times or moments when we become more aware of its purpose and impact – and most, of all, its importance.
When I see someone leading with an EID lens, some of the attributes are detectable. I recognize how someone can demonstrate awareness of their own biases and preferences. I watch as they intentionally seek out and consider different views from their own, make efforts to have an empathetic perspective, and engage in courageous conversations.
Very few innately possess these attributes. In fact, most of us, like me, acquire them through life experiences and environmental influences.
At this time in my life, I am gaining a better understanding of how EID leadership has influenced me, by taking inventory of my journey – a continuous series of chapters, each providing an opportunity to explore my curiosities and gain exposure to the unknown. Some that come to mind:
- Born from the love of biracial high school sweethearts who attended Manual High School in the 1960s with predominantly Black, Asian and Mexican students, creating a community of mixed races, cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds
- Attending predominantly white private schools, because my parents knew that education would be the key to accessing limitless possibilities for my brother and me, exposing us to different worlds
- Living in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Park Hill, now renamed “North” Park Hill, where my father has lived in same house for decades and has witnessed the changing cultural fabric
- Earning a degree in International Business at Howard University, the mecca of Historically Black Colleges and Universities located in a majority-black city in the 1990s, shaping my definition of success from those who looked like me, my family, and community
- Working for Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., the “Black Rainmaker” in DC, raised in Jim Crow Atlanta who broke the glass ceiling for minorities to serve on Fortune 500 corporate boards, paving the way for future generations and creating a network of professionals carrying the torch to the next
- Mentored by the first CEO of the Fannie Mae Foundation, Wendy Sherman, who corrected me when referring to myself and colleagues as girls instead of women. She instilled in me the desire to make an impact with my work
- Living in the heart of New York City and working for George Soros, a self-made billionaire who escaped a war-torn Hungary during World War II and emigrated to the United States. He has created one of the largest foundations opening closed societies around the world
- Serving on a board of Miracle Makers, a social service agency in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, as a young professional; this was my first experience voluntarily working with a diverse group of members, during a controversial time of city funding and the transitioning of founding executive directors
- Building the operational foundation for a start-up philanthropic marketplace, GlobalGiving Foundation, connecting donors to grassroots projects globally, and distributing hundreds of millions of donations to those wanting to improve their lives
- Decades after leaving, moving back home to Denver, once labeled a “cow town” that has grown into a thriving economic destination attracting a vibrant workforce yet still faced with inequitable circumstances for lifelong residents, in particular the minority population
- Managing the finances and operations at the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation developing programs for leaders to better understand the issues of their communities and how to contribute for impactful change
- Currently leading operations at The Equity Project, an EDI consulting firm founded by a Black woman who hired an all-female leadership team, empowering organizations across the country to become more equitable
All these life events are the sum of who I have become (and I am still becoming). They have provided me a unique lens – directing the way I live, contribute, and understand. Life events that have made me aware of my predispositions, offered unique perspectives I may not have sought on my own, triggered the discovery of the new and unfamiliar, as well as developed a sensitivity of empathy and compassion. I share this inventory of experiences because without knowing, labeling or communicating it, diversity, equity and inclusion were weaved throughout. Each piece of the puzzle has formed a unique lens of lived experience THAT I use to lead wherever I stand.
Professionally, my roles have not included responsibilities to implement EID initiatives. Instead, I manage the financial and operational health of organizations, which has provided me the opportunity to work at a range of companies and nonprofits, each with unique missions, locations, and employees.
Today, I lead the business operations for The Equity Project, a consultant firm that specializes in EID training for organizations of every sector and industry.
For me to be truly vested and successful in my role, I must be aligned with the mission and integrate into our day-to-day operations the same values we counsel externally to clients.
Additionally, I also must apply my EID lens in managing the operations and developing the organizational strategy. I believe this practice will not only grow the business but will create empowered team members who contribute to the overall strength of the team. I also believe it will make our organization and team impactful community members. If we make decisions using a true EID lens, as Dr. Dwinita Mosby Tyler, chief catalyst of The Equity Project says, it should be “a win for the individual, a win for the organization and a win for the community.”
I’m sure if you took an inventory of your life events, chapters from your journey, you would be able to take stock of how your EID lens has developed and supports how you lead through awareness, willingness, empathy and authenticity resulting in wins for you, your organization, and your community.
Wylia Sims is the Chief Zen Officer at The Equity Project.