At Diversity Professional, Business Starts With Personal.
It was February and Reno, Nevada, already blanketed by a late-season snowfall, was bracing for several feet more.
There were 20 of us: small business owners, solo entrepreneurs, nonprofit executives and Fortune 500 diversity professionals, representing a range of industries from across the country: advertising, automotive and banking to construction, consulting and healthcare. And we were settling into a cavernous lodge for the fourth annual Diversity Professionals Connect (DPC) 2018 Summit an intimate, invitation-only retreat hosted by Melissa Simmons, Diversity Professional magazine publisher, president and CEO.
Launched in 2015, DPC’s mission is to “connect people, explore opportunities and build relationships.” Unofficially, its job is to dispense with the niceties that clutter business networking. It’s about pulling back the curtain on all segments of diversity and where they’re headed. It’s about the future of diverse entrepreneurs and professionals. And, with stark candor, it’s about economic survival, the closed-door struggles with worklife balance, the drive for success and the fear of failure.
However, the forum can be as transformative as it is disarming. Under the theme, “Disrupt You,” this year’s DPC included workshops and roundtables focusing on cultivating the next D&I leaders, disruption and innovation, and personal and professional development. DPC alumni have left retreats armed with fresh ideas for disrupting their businesses. Others, like Simmons, have used the forum to embark on an entirely different journey.
For me, it became all about creating a shared experience connecting people who could make business happen.
One story disrupted, a new one begun
The Great Recession claimed more than 170,000 businesses and, as Simmons confessed during the retreat’s opening session, decimated her highly successful Mary Kay direct sales business. At that time, she ranked as a senior sales director in the top 2 percent of Mary Kay, Inc. Scrambling to regain her financial footing, she embarked on a magazine ad sales career during which she worked for other minority- and women-owned publications. After about eight years, Simmons pivoted from what she called fulfilling someone else’s vision to discovering her own: Diversity Professional magazine.
“People want to work with people they know, like and trust. That’s how business works,” said Simmons. “For me, it became all about creating a shared experience connecting people who could make business happen.” Diversity Professional magazine, combined with DPC, would be a catalyst.
“After working in this space for several years, I wanted to do something that I hadn’t seen before” said Simmons, whose introspective, unassuming demeanor belies an impatience to dream big. “Diversity Professional focuses on issues that impact employment, entrepreneurship, business, social trends and all aspects of the diversity space—supplier, workforce and diversity and inclusion. We are also about a ‘diverse lifestyle,’ such as what happens outside the diversity world. And that includes building businesses, growing careers and making the right connections.” But, she admitted, that’s becoming harder.
“The national political climate has changed and it’s not been kind to diversity,” explained Simmons. “The conversations taking place also have changed. There’s been a decrease, particularly in the supplier diversity arena with many corporations transitioning to D&I or simply focusing on inclusion. If we don’t innovate and change with it, we, as, diverse professionals—and entrepreneurs—will get left behind.”
Positioning for change
Social media has changed how publications and corporations engage with audiences. As social media platforms become ubiquitous, readers crave a more personal connection. Diversity Professional aims to provide it.
This year, the magazine held its second annual Women of Excellence (WoE) awards program. As I learned first-hand, it’s part DPC reunion, part networking, part motivational and part deal-making: two minority-owned companies were recruited onsite to collaborate on a corporate RFP bid.
The WoE awards showcase the accomplishments of trailblazers like Christine Simmons, president and chief operations officer of the Los Angeles Sparks, and Jodie Lesh, senior vice president of national delivery system strategy, planning and design at Kaiser Permanente. It also bridges a generational divide. Priscilla Chavez, an energetic millennial and diversity and inclusion manager at Los Angeles-based PCL Construction, were honored with WoE’s inspiration award. Lydia McGee, a 23-year supplier diversity veteran and business outreach team member at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, was named a Woman of Excellence in a supporting role.
With backing from a stable of corporate sponsors that includes American Honda Motor Co., Inc., Metropolitan Water District, Grady Healthcare System, Kaiser Permanente, Southern California Edison and Southern California Gas Company, Diversity Professional will continue its run of successful signature events: “One Powerful Day,” a training program for professionals and business owners, and the “Heart of a Champion” awards program honoring the country’s top diverse professionals.
For more information about sponsorships or upcoming events, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
behind THE scenes
The intent behind DPC is to disrupt the way we lead diversity. The landscape is changing, and we need to operate from a solutions perspective that advances progressive thinking when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion in the workforce and supply chain. DPC provides a collaborative table where innovative companies, independent businesses and brands can work together to look at the economic impact of diversity, where it’s being challenged and where we can take advantage of new opportunities. And, in bringing together the best minds in the business, DPC is building a network that we think can emerge as one of the country’s strongest think tanks when it comes to inclusion.
Director, Supplier Diversity, Grady Health System
Chair, Diversity Professionals Connect
Through DPC, we are able to obtain a better understanding of all the different layers of supplier diversity from the perspective of corporations, suppliers and different advocates in the community. DPC creates a safe environment that allows each stakeholder to openly discuss their perspective on supplier diversity and share their expectations, best practices and struggles from a corporate and personal space. My participation in DPC has helped me identify ways WBEC-West can better prepare WBEs for today’s opportunities and tomorrow trends. We work with corporations more proactively and identified ways to actively engage and partner with other certification entities and advocacy groups. I don’t think that there is any other organization that brings together all stakeholders for the purpose of collaboration, understanding and personal and professional growth.
Regional Vice President, WBEC-West
DPC is a small, intimate “penalty free” environment where there’s no fluff and you can really connect on a professional and business level. Meeting and learning from other members is almost like having your own advisory board or mastermind group. You can grow those relationships to a point where they can help you with your business; you can help them with their roles and what’s going on in the industry. You won’t find another forum like it.
President/CEO, McPherson Berry
DPC is a unique environment that I’ve not seen anywhere else. You spend the weekend getting to know people instead of going through the usual “meet and greet” that happens at traditional trade shows. This environment creates more comfortable, intimate discussions. We had some of the most genuine, personal conversations without constantly talking about business and without the hard sell. For WWT, it helped us build a relationship that was instrumental in getting a major contract opportunity. That happened only because of DPC. We are grateful for Melissa, her team and the entire DPC family for this innovative platform!
Central Region Diversity Strategy Manager, World Wide Technology
In today’s digital, virtual and social media- driven world, we are losing the ability to connect in real space and time. DPC offers a creative and groundbreaking solution—an ecosystem and a community with real value—that brings together the professionals who read, sponsor and appear in Diversity Professional magazine. What better way to connect one-on-one regarding diversity and inclusion, supplier diversity, health, safety, lifestyle and the challenges each of us experiences?
President/CEO, ICE Safety Solutions
The absolute brilliance of DPC is that you don’t get what it’s all about until you’ve gone through it. You don’t realize that you, a diverse professional, are at the intersection of small businesses, entrepreneurs and corporate America. The spirited dialogue that happens at DPC, the ones touching on the pain points and gaps we all face, trickle down to Diversity Professional the magazine, which gives DPC a greater, national reach. It’s the kind of honest conversation that needs to happen, consistently, but not many people want to have it. I’m thankful that Melissa has created a space where people can have those uncomfortable discussions because if they don’t happen, then we’ll all suffer for it.
President, ARGO Systems
DPC is the future of diversity. It’s on the cutting edge of finding innovative ways to make companies better and making personal connections happen. Connecting with great business minds, on both the corporate and diverse supplier side, makes DPC incomparable to any other networking organization. Everyone brings their own specialty. Being able to tap into those resources provides a point of reference to any business you’re in and strengthens your network beyond your own territory. Those connections become lifelong friends.
President, URisk Solutions
Initially, I was somewhat hesitant to attend DPC because its format is so different from other events in the supplier diversity space, but my first impression was “wow!” It’s more intimate, which helped me understand issues from a diverse supplier perspective. Because of the time we spent together, it gave me the opportunity to learn more about the participating diverse business owners. And I hope it helped them understand my perspective as a corporate diversity professional. Attending DPC can be a competitive advantage and more diverse suppliers should be clamoring to get invited. Unfortunately, the bigger it becomes, the more difficult it will be to reap the benefit of this event. I’m confident the DPC team will strike the right balance.
Manager, Supplier Diversity Development, The Ford Motor Company