The Rockland Business Women’s Network (RBWN) held an informative, dynamic panel discussion, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Strategies for Business Leaders…it Starts with YOU! The event took place at Gio’s Restaurant in New City, NY and was well attended by an enthusiastic audience. The conversation followed Part One of this discussion earlier in the year, where panelists outlined the meaning of fostering diverse, equitable and inclusive work environments, explaining why it is not something you do just to check a box but rather a fundamental element of a successful business. This follow-up event took DEI to the next level with a pivotal discussion on what is next, how to implement the practice with actionable tools, and how to develop a strategy to strengthen an organization and help it thrive in the future environment.
The event opened with sponsor Elena Hernandez, LCSW, Founder and President of Rockland County Counseling Services” sharing her struggles as “a Latin American queer, omonistic woman who grew up thinking I was an Ashkenazi Jew. Today, my child is bi-racial, and my partner is Jewish. This conversation is not just important to me, it’s personal”.
From there, the panel discussion commenced taking a unique approach to implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion, temporarily setting aside the statistics and best practices, and exploring the fact that beginning to make change starts with a conversation and understanding that this discussion is painful, even for passionate supporters.
By having the dialogue needed to make meaningful change, individuals and businesses will realize prejudices and bad practices of their own. Dr. Zenya Richardson, Assistant Professor & Program Director at Rockland Community College, said, “This is a lifelong journey. Yes, mistakes will be made, but it is all a part of the process. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. You may not like what you are going to hear…..but then you have to ask yourself, ‘Why’? Self- awareness and self-assessment are just the beginning!” Dr. Richardson went on to discuss, how as women, this group has a unique understanding of the subject and is therefore poised to be skilled and impactful in initiating discussion and action for change, saying, “Any type of change starts with you!”.
Brooke Malloy, Founding Executive Director of Rockland County Pride Center, talked about how putting DEI into action is an ongoing, organic process where we all learn as we go. She brought the conversation home with a final piece of advice about where to focus, “Stay in the community. Stay at the table. We will learn from one another. Relationships are everything.”
The panel discussion was interactive, with many comments, shared experiences and questions being rendered by participants. The final comment came from RBWN member Julie Chitiyo, who cleared up a common misconception of what DEI means, saying, “Not only am I a woman and a woman of color, but I am also a first-generation immigrant from Zimbabwe with an accent! However, when I apply for a job, I don’t expect to be hired just to make ‘DEI quotas’. If I am not qualified, I don’t deserve the job, plain and simple. I’m not looking for handouts!”
We asked RBWN President Jill Cruz what inspired this DEI Panel dialogue, and her answer was swift, “Rockland Business Women’s Network is deeply committed to fostering an environment that is welcoming and supportive for all professional women in Rockland County. For us, DEI is not just a buzzword. We recognize that all our members benefit from being in a richly diverse community that feels mutually inclusive and empowering.” Member Julie Chitiyo chimed back in, saying, “This is just one of the reasons I appreciate RBWN. They are passionate about empowering women, regardless of age, race, social class, background, etc. They are currently paying for the Board members’ attendance to ‘Getting to The Root,’ an intensive training on racial justice. They don’t just talk the talk, they put their money where their mouth is!”
RBWN is a nonprofit women’s organization that offers opportunities for professional and business growth through leadership, education, collaboration, and networking. They have regularly scheduled events that range from informative to fun. Upcoming events include November 8 , Cultivating a Winning Mindset, December 6 , their year-end Holiday Party, and
on June 6 , 2024, they have their Women of Achievement luncheon that celebrates outstanding professional women in Rockland County with both awards and scholarships. For more information, visit rbwn.org/events.