Byline: Anne Lasseigne Tiedt, APR and Karen Aroian 

WCA@Lunch RecapA true diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) program should go beyond reaching diversity compliance demographics and celebrating culture or heritage just one month out of the year. 

For our September 2020 Virtual WCA@Lunch we gathered DEI leaders from Austin, Dallas and Atlanta to have a real, interactive discussion about where to start, build upon or evolve your DEI program. 

Lead with Inclusion: A Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Discussion included Senior Diversity and Inclusion Leader LaShanda Reed-Larry, CDE, at Lockheed Martin in Dallas; Diversity and Inclusion Manager Marisa Tatum,  at LexisNexis Risk Solutions in Atlanta; and VP of Development Monica Morales, at DivInc in Austin. The panel was moderated by Austin’s Pam Benson Owens, President and CEO of Edge of Your Seat Consulting. 

Pam kicked off the session sharing why the title focused on inclusion, instead of ‘diversity’ or ‘equity.’

“I love that question. Inclusion seems to be a good starting ground for people,” Pam said. “When we start talking about our leadership, the Seven Pillars of Inclusion, are as follows:

    • access
    • attitude
    • choice
    • partnership
    • communication
    • policy
    • opportunity

“Access is such a big piece of this,” Pam continued. “As leaders, we have an opportunity to be really intentional and conscious as we’re doing this work. And so we’re purposely starting the narrative and the conversation today around inclusion in an effort to really build a bridge around these other things that are also important.”

After discussing how the current climate and murder of George Floyd have led individuals, organizations and companies to experience an awakening, ready to stand on bolder language that is decisive and authentic, the group shared personal experiences, examples of DEI in action within their organizations, how to approach a DEI conversation and ways individuals can build their own cultural competency. 

Woven throughout the hour-long discussion were takeaways wrapped up in personal and professional stories and examples and all the raw emotions, confessions and feels that come with a complex, emotion-evoking conversation.  

One attendee shared this with us in the post-event survey: “These ladies were so authentic. They brought me to tears a couple times. It was a great pep talk for us (mostly) white women wondering what on earth to say and do now. So many of us in communications have it all figured out and have no problem advising our employers and colleagues–but 2020 is new territory for sure.” 

Here is an overview of the conversation. 

Evolving the Business and Communication Landscape  

1.The focus on DEI will be different for each and every industry. LaShanda shared her experience from 20 years ago with a global airline that had a diverse workforce, “It was gender equity. Diversity to them, the whole kit and caboodle of diversity equity and inclusion, was around women. And are we bringing women in? Are we developing women? Are we achieving equity?” She acknowledged that the conversation would be different today.

Now she is in a different position with a different company and sees the conversation shifting to “a real discussion around systemic racism and the effects of it on education, health care, housing, employment, access to healthcare, all of it–it’s all on the table.” 

2. Connecting Leaders with one another to discuss DEI holds deep value. Monica shared that DivInc brings CEOs and CDOs together privately to discuss issues and be vulnerable with one another, sharing feelings, challenges. “You know, I think if we can all be vulnerable around each other, we realize where we’re all fighting for the same goals,” she shared. She continued to say, “…it’s okay if we don’t always have the right answers and it is okay if we say something wrong, because then that’s an opportunity to talk through the issues. People need to feel like they are in a safe space, learning from one another.” 

Implementing DEI Practices and Programs Within Your Organization or for a Client 

1. We don’t do the best job of telling people how to enter into that brave space of convening conversations. Marisa shared that having conversations and moving into a space where you are no longer uncomfortable means that the person who is having some apprehension needs to strengthen their cultural competency. “Because if you don’t have knowledge about something, then that probably means that you are not knowledgeable about whatever it is.” She shared powerful examples about LGBT-related conversations and, separately, race-related conversations. 

2. Create a toolkit and create a space for courageous conversations. LaShanda shared how her company has put a toolkit together, using partner resources about diversity, best practices and directions on how to have a courageous conversation around race and other sensitive topics. Everything is customized for their culture and organization. This is a top-down approach where the CEO expected every leader in the organization to have a conversation with their teams. 

Deciding how to hold the conversation and creating an environment for conversation was the starting point for many. “Some leaders had town halls and had their HR partner with them or their global diversity and inclusion partner sit in with them. And many leaders also invited in a mental health professional, because in the first couple weeks people were unloading and really trying to grapple with their emotions. So we would never put a leader out there by themselves, right? That’s why we provided resources around them.” 

She went on to say how the conversations evolved into a cohort called I Act, I Care, because so many colleagues were expressing similar concern: 

We really care and we don’t know what to do. 

I really care, but I’m not aware. 

I really care, but I’m nervous. 

I care, but my Black colleagues said, “Don’t come to me with that.”

3. Chambers of commerce can be a resource for small businesses. Look at programs held by your chamber of commerce so that you don’t feel like you’re isolated on this journey or feel that your only option is doing something on your own. You can also brainstorm with your peers and have a greater impact around a particular DEI issue. 

4. Supplier and partner diversity has impact. 

      • Hire from the BIPOC community and other communities so that you’re representative of the communities you serve. 
      • If you’re B2B, you can use suppliers who are women, people of color, people with disabilities and disabled veterans. 
      • When you hire  for training, bring in people from different backgrounds.

5. Inclusion Cards give everyone a voice. An example for smaller companies was shared, too. Inclusion Cards were created and passed around to everyone, ensuring everyone could take part in the conversation. They included prompts such as:

      • Did you cut someone off while they were speaking? 
      • Did everyone in the room have a chance to speak? 
      • Was everyone included in the meeting? 

Questions like this reminded the group to be inclusive of everyone in the room, and to be inclusive of people who might be introverted and that it sometimes takes a little bit more for them to speak up and to talk. 

6. Allyship is as critical as providing a sense of belonging. Monica shared, “I think it’s to be clear that it is not the responsibility of people of color to fix systemic racism in the United States. You know, we need our white allies, to be educated, to learn about what brought us to this moment. And I think more importantly, just as we’ve said, here is to just acknowledge and see people to see a person and to say, I see you. I care about what’s happening deeply. I see you, how are you? And I’m going to do what I can to learn more.” 

Developing Your Own DEI Curriculum and Core Competencies 

  • Inform and educate yourself. “When you inform and educate yourself, you put yourself in a place where you can be a little bit more open and have a conversation that is mutually beneficial.” (Marisa) 
  • Be vulnerable and open-minded. 
  • Come into the conversation with humility, regardless of your race, ethnicity or background. 
  • Trust yourself. “Sometimes we don’t trust ourselves. It feels so uncomfortable, but I think people need to trust themselves. You have the words, you just [sic] have to step forward.” (Pam) 
  • Be mindful that everyone is not in the same place.
  • t’s so important to remove blame, shame and guilt from the conversation.
  • When educating yourself: pace yourselves. You can actually over-function and come in hot. 
  • Check your bias. “We all have them, and literally no one alive is devoid of bias. Recognizing that those biases exist and keeping them in check–be it in your writing, programs, engagement events, etc.,–will make you a more balanced communicator.” (Marisa) 
  • The Implicit Association Race Test is a good place to start. There is a test on race as well as other tests you can explore.
  • Use your communication skills for good. When you’re ready, call an organization of color, one that supports LGBT issues, or any other marginalized audience, and donate your communication skills in an effort of support. (Monica) 

We all have a responsibility to promote diversity in all aspects of corporate culture and communications, create inclusive employee and communication programs, and hold up equity as a communication truth for everyone. 


Our panel shared that the work starts and continues within you. Below is the list of resources they shared. 


So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

Mindful of Race by Ruth King

Human Kind by Ashlee Eiland

Good White Racist? By Kerry Connelly

White Rage by Carol Anderson

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

What If? by Steve Robbins

Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome by Dr. Joy DeGruy

Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology by Deidre Cooper Owens

Freedom Is A Constant Struggle by Angela Davis

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in The Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

Between the World and Me by Ta-nehisi Coates

The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard


Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo

The Black and the Blue: A Cop Reveals the Crimes, Racism, and Injustice in America’s Law

Enforcement by Matthew Horace and Ron Harris

How To Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, And A New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement by Wesley Lowery

The Compromise of 1877 (History Channel – free article)


Systemic Racism Explained (animated) – 5 min 

Getting to the Root of Racial Injustice (TED-Ed Talk) – 19 min 

Why Cities are Still So Segregated – 7 min 

Comedic take on Racist Housing Policies – 6 min 

Medicine is Still Haunted by a Racist Past – 18 min 

Brief Overview of the United Daughters of the Confederacy – 7 minutes 

History of Jim Crow: Compromise of 1877 and Plessy V Ferguson – 8 minutes 



13th (documentary Directed by Ava Duvernay)

When They See Us (based on the true story of the Central Park 5)

Just Mercy (book adaptation, starring Michael B Jordan and Jamie Foxx



Austin Justice Coalition

Lone Star Justice Alliance


Six Square

Austin Area Urban League


Beyond Austin: 

American Civil Liberties Union 


Atlanta Solidarity 

Fund Fair Fight (voting) 

Andrew Simpkins Innovation Foundation

Black Lives Matter


All of our elite HBCUs