Today, our nation is in a state of chaos and pain. A quick glimpse of the news, a text from a friend, and we see another death; brutality against the innocent; and biased, politicized blaming. But we’re also in the midst of a turning point. Peaceful protests continue. New efforts are being made to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. And more of us are having necessary, if uncomfortable, conversations about race.
The YWA Speaker Series this August centered around these important issues.
This month we heard from Leslie Wingo, President and CEO of Sanders\Wingo, a Texas-based advertising firm. In addition to being a Black, female CEO, she’s an Advertising Badass (check her Linkedin; it’s official), a sought-after keynote speaker, and an expert in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).
Sharing stories of her own experience as a Black woman in America, Leslie wove a narrative that illustrated some of the issues black people – women, especially – still deal with every day.
She created an atmosphere that invited conversation and vulnerability. In doing so she showed how allowing that vulnerability creates more true, valuable connections; and how those connections can be what creates real, lasting change.
Here are five key takeaways from that evening:
1. Start with Honesty.
It’s okay to not be okay. We all have a lot on our plates right now. Most of us are struggling in some way or another, but how many of us feel comfortable admitting it?
Leslie shared that she’s “doing okay…with an asterisk.” She divides her feelings into categories: personal, civic, and work. Some of these are going well, others not so much. Sound familiar? There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s normal and human.
Admitting it lets you accept the feeling. It helps you to move your focus on learning how to deal with it, and moving on. And it shows others that not only can they too be honest about themselves; but that they aren’t alone.
That sense of understanding, and of being understood, is what creates the trust we need to build whole, real connections with the people around us.
2. Look inward with intention.
Now is the time to look deep within and be truthful with ourselves. It’s not a lot of fun to think back and admit the things we regret, or that we’ve been insecure about. It’s less fun to admit where we may still need to make adjustments. But once you witness these things with intention and acknowledge their existence, you make room for growth.
Allowing the discomfort within helps you to see why you made the choices you did, where you could have done better, and where you made the right decision. It reveals the person that you want to be moving forward – and empowers you to work toward truly becoming that person.
3. We need change more than we hate it.
2020 has been a year of massive, unexpected change in so many ways. From toilet paper shortages, to shelter-in-place orders, to mask requirements and beyond, hearing about these “unprecedented times” has us all burned out.
“People hate two things. Change, and the way things are.” – The Hustle
Change is scary, and it’s hard, especially when it comes at you as fast as it is. It’s why we make the same mistakes more than once. It’s why only 8% of people achieve their New Years’ resolutions.
And like all hard things, the end result is very much worth the effort.
You don’t have to look far to find something that needs changing right now. We need empowerment; equity; and so much more. These are big, heavy things, and creating change has, and will continue to be, a huge group effort.
We may at times hate the process of creating this change – but nobody can say truthfully that we don’t need to do the work regardless.
4. What stands in the way, becomes the way.
If we don’t clear obstructions – for ourselves or for others – then we allow the obstruction to become status quo.
Leslie asked everyone to share – no details needed – whether there was anything in their past of which they were insecure, or regretful of. A time when they were afraid. A resounding stream of “yes,” filled the comment box.
In her talk, Leslie recounted a time when she was blocked from becoming her sorority president. There had never been a black president in the sorority’s history, and it was clear the board didn’t intend to let her be the first. As a young college student, hurt by rejection, nobody could blame her for choosing to walk away from the situation. But the fact is, allowing the unspoken excuse “it’s not the way we do it” to stand simply perpetuates these problems.
It takes a lot to make yourself vulnerable enough to stand up in front of others and resist. You risk failure, embarrassment. By doing so, though, you also take the chance that you could succeed, and create the change that will help not just you, but so many after you. And that, you will never regret.
5. Our words and actions MATTER.
There are a lot of different ways people can make their mark. You might be someone who wants to go out and protest. Sign petitions, or read books on anti-racism. Join a DEI committee, like so many YWA members have. Maybe you speak to audiences, like Leslie did in this Speaker Series, or speak up in smaller settings when the situation arises.
These are all valid, and there’s no one ‘right way’. The point is that you do something. That you move outside of your comfort zone, accept the feeling of vulnerability, and take steps to make things right. No matter what, your voice and your presence matter. It’s up to you to determine what you’re willing and able to contribute. It’s up to you to step up and do the work.
There are centuries of ideas and actions for us to now unlearn and correct. It’s daunting, but entirely possible. Culture and ideology are not fixed, but evolve, like every other aspect of humanity. For positive evolution to occur, though, problems have to be acknowledged and addressed.
“Culture is not made up, but something that evolves which is human.” – Edward T. Hall
Honesty and vulnerability are critical to initiating true change. And the changes begin within us as individuals. It’s hard, slow work, and painful at times. But what comes after we all do the work will be more than worth the effort. It will be a culture that has evolved to truly value human life and connection; a culture that’s not just diverse, but equitable and inclusive.
Did this resonate with you?
There’s more to come. YWA’s monthly Speaker Series features a different keynote speaker each month. Attendance is free for YWA members, but all are welcome and encouraged to take part! View upcoming Speaker Series’ on our Events page.
The Young Women’s Alliance of Austin is committed to empowering women in Austin and beyond – and this includes a strong commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion within the YWA organization. For details on the policies and initiatives we have in place to support DEI, click here.