Inclusion Must Honor the MLK Legacy

As we return to work after observing the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, we must pause to honor his legacy and reflect on the impact of his work as it lingers throughout our communities.

If we consider the presence of that legacy being carried out in our organizations, we would immediately consider the practice of diversity and inclusion.

Sadly however, many organizations spend more time talking about how they can and should improve workplace diversity than taking any measurable action toward workplace inclusion.  Statements and declarations, committees and councils, trainings and assessments — all sound great. None of those things truly move the needle toward inclusion. When policies are not matched with strategic efforts, results will never come about.

In light of this much needed work, I was happy to create and coordinate the annual MLK Diversity Breakfast hosted by the Lipscomb University Department of Communication and Journalism and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences on Friday, January 15, 2016 in partnership with the Council on Workforce Innovation and National Organization for Workforce Diversity.

This event is aimed at inspiring interactive conversation among local leaders who are champions for diversity and inclusion by sharing ideas, addressing issues and rethinking practices that affect our multicultural communities.

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(Aerial Ellis opening the 2016 MLK Diversity Breakfast at Lipscomb University.)

The MLK Diversity Breakfast is an opportunity for area professionals to gain a greater understanding of how to communicate about diversity and inclusion as a priority within their organizations and have access to a network of colleagues who collectively celebrate the cultural progression of the Nashville community. Our keynote speaker is a C-suite or civic leader connected to the practice of cross-cultural communication with a passion for the ways in which diversity and inclusion impacts business and community.

This year’s event featured Rose Jackson Flenorl, Manager, Global Citizenship, FedEx Corporation as keynote speaker. Flenorl directs and implements the company’s community outreach strategy in the areas of disaster relief, safety, environment, education, and diversity. She leads a team of professionals committed to representing the heart of the corporation by executing strategic programs and maintaining relationships with national and international non-profit organizations. Flenorl provided insight on the global corporation’s work in serving an evolving base of multicultural consumers, strengthening its pipeline to recruit, retain and advance diverse talent, and supporting minority business owners and community initiatives through citizenship engagement.

Last year, our inaugural event featured Anthony Carter, Chief Diversity Officer at Johnson & Johnson. Take a look at our 2015 highlights.

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(L-R: Rose Jackson Flenorl of FedEx – 2016 keynote speaker, Jacky Akbari of Now Diversity)

In addition to the breakfast, Rose Jackson Flenorl spent time talking with our communication and journalism students about the path to success in the industry. Discussions about diversity allow our students to better identify bias and stereotypes, discover advocacy with an objective lens, and communicate across global cultures as future journalists and public relations practitioners.

Though her visit, I believe all were able to consider diversity as a social action that challenges those norms, values, styles and patterns of thinking that can inspire more inclusive conversations.

If organizations strive to live up to the tenets of Dr. King’s vision, they must honor his legacy through actions that show real progress toward workplace inclusion. Initiatives must not only embrace employees for their individuality but also celebrate the differences that contribute to the success and innovation in the workplace regardless of gender, creed, color or sexual orientation.

Beyond commemorative events and celebrations, we have an obligation to act. Inclusion at any point should always be our goal. In this new year and moment of cultural reflection, I challenge you to thinker deeper about the ways Dr. King’s legacy can inspire and shape your organization’s practice of inclusion.

See a few highlights from the 2016 MLK Diversity Breakfast.

Conversations about Race at Lipscomb University’s Summer Celebration

PSX_20150702_113200Ferguson, Baltimore and now Charleston – tangible and tragic moments in a much larger national dynamic that involves an increasingly diverse nation trying to understand and practice racial harmony.

This morning, I had the chance to talk issues of race and injustice around these events and the media coverage surrounding them in a class led by President Randy Lowry at Lipscomb University’s annual Summer Celebration. I was certainly happy to do it (see my photo? 🙂

One of my fellow faculty members asked me at the end of the discussion in reference to my comments, “how do you talk to your students about race as a black woman in a majority white environment like Lipscomb?” and we had good dialogue around my answer.

I am always amazed when a community of faith comes together to talk about such a difficult topic as race in a spiritual context and encouraged by the honesty of those who admit their shortcomings when dealing with issues of race.

I have much more to say about these topics as we dwell deeper and deeper into an era of racial understanding so I plan to write a few pieces around the subject in the coming months.

Thankful to President Lowry for inviting me to be a part of the discussion today! ‪

A Commitment to the Credo

The work of building strong brands and profitable companies begins from within.aerialellis -johnsonandjohnson -plankcenterfellowship Walking into the world headquarters of Johnson & Johnson to begin a month-long project in communication, diversity and innovation, I instantly sensed a spirit of integrity. The globally recognized brand has a set of beliefs called “Our Credo.” These beliefs are embedded in the J&J workforce. I read and researched the Credo in preparation for my stay there. Upon my arrival, I couldn’t help but notice the Credo printed, mounted and framed in variations along the walls and halls of the building. More importantly, I found evidence of the Credo in the conversations and interactions with J&J employees. It soon became apparent that the Credo is more than words – it’s a living definition of the J&J culture.

More than 70 years ago, J&J Founder Robert Wood Johnson formalized consumers, employees, communities and stockholders alike.

A sign of effective communication is when a strategic message is adopted within an organization to establish the foundation for a healthy internal environment and then translates externally through work performance and relationships. These original mantras help employees make inspired and informed key decisions and actions. They also present values that provide direction and guidance for ethical practices.

imgres-3 As the company culture evolved, Johnson & Johnson acknowledged the role of the individual and the organization in balancing work/family responsibilities. They took another look at the beloved Credo, framed it in the context of today’s business world and reaffirmed its relevance in an ever-changing environment. Last year, J&J created a website to share the Credo through stories, videos and photos across its global community of approximately 128,700 employees in more than 60 countries.

 

This multi-platform strategy allowed employees to have an open dialogue about the Credo with leaders of the organization. Leaders conducted sessions for their team members with the help of a full toolkit to prepare, facilitate and guide the conversations, along with activities for interaction and reflection that included case studies, sample messages and decision-making resources. Employees were given opportunities to share personal stories of the Credo in action, explore conflicts and dilemmas that may arise and the responses needed to resolve them, and reflect on how the Credo influences and impacts communication. Each employee of J&J signed the Credo as a symbol of their personal commitment to the company’s guiding principles and in demonstration of the values in daily action.

This form of communication, with its supporting tactics, creates employees who become unbeatable brand ambassadors – both on and off the clock. It greatly influences a company’s culture, which then plays a role in a company’s brand reputation. The public often develops their perceptions of a company from more than tweets, press releases and advertisements. Its employees are the face of the brand and often impact how the public hears, sees and perceives an organization.

The Credo is an effective communication tool because it proves that J&J recognizes and supports the need to evolve and provide context to big picture messaging that gives meaning to day-to-day exchanges and experiences. It shows communication through deliberate messages, actions and policies in a proactive interpretation of the core values. Together, J&J and its Credo create a communication climate that inevitably reflects a positive organizational culture.

 

(This post is part of a series written during a four-week project in corporate communication at Johnson & Johnson through the Plank Center Fellowship program.)

PR+ 2014 – Our First Conference

Lipscomb University hosted its very first public relations conference, PR+ 2014, on April 22. The successful event took place in the Ezell Center and included breakfast, two panel discussions, lunch, and a keynote speaker. Coordinated by dGE PR’s Aerial Ellis, the event had a turnout of 85 attendees made of professionals and students from all over the region. The day was filled with learning about how PR is used across different fields as well as great networking.

 The first panel discussion revolved around the topic of evolution strategies for some of Nashville’s most iconic brands featuring rockstar panelists were Bob Higgins, CEO of Barge, Waggoner, Sumner and Cannon; Michelle Lacewell, PR/Marketing director of Nashville Chamber of Commerce; Andrea Lindsey, senior VP at DVL PR & Advertising and David Reuter, VP of corporate communication at Nissan. dGE PR’s Perri duGard Owens was the moderator for the discussion and posed some great points for the guests to delve into. Each one had priceless input about gaining momentum for new brands and re-establishing relevance for existing brands.

 The next panel was focused on the future generation of PR. The young, vibrant, and distinguished speakers discussed ideas about the positive effects of cross-brand collaboration and what is next for the public relations industry in Nashville. The group was moderated by Meagan Rhodes from 12th and Broad and consisted of Jamal Hipps, CEO of MPYER Marketing & Advertising; Nicholas Holland, CEO of Populr.me; Marcia Masulla, co-creator of Nashville Fashion Week and senior marketing manager at Yelp Nashville; and Ryan Witherell, partner at Seigenthaler PR.

Lastly, the keynote speaker was stand-out Steve Buchanan who took the stage to talk about his hit TV show Nashville and how the PR industry related to his work with the Opry Entertainment group. The entire conference was highly interactive and received positive feedback from those who attended. Students from Kennesaw State, Austin Peay, and Belmont all mentioned how they enjoyed how the panelists were so accomplished, yet relatable. PR+ 2014 would not have been successful without the support of its sponsors PRSA, DVL, BWSC, Seigenthaler Public Relations, duGard Ellis Public Relations and Nissan along with its media sponsors Yelp and Google.

Vision + Voice + Brand: NCAA Women’s Final Four Leadership Academy

NCAA Womens Final Four Nashville“Vision + Voice + Brand = CEO of Me” is the title of the workshop I had the honor of facilitating for Music City Girls Lead! – a leadership academy produced by Lipscomb University  in cooperation with the Champions4Women Committee of  the Nashville Local Organizing Committee, proud host of the 2014 NCAA Women’s Final Four.

The Academy was a series of classes and experiences for high school girls in grades 9, 10, and 11 in the Middle Tennessee area aimed at strengthening girls in their pursuit of excellence through classroom and online learning, community experience and direct mentoring.

Engaging the students were a few of Nashville’s deep bench of local leaders and mentors, as well as experts on leadership development.  The Academy curriculum covered six different areas: developing as a leader, becoming an ethical leader in multicultural society, developing vision and voice, learning to use technology in leadership roles, promoting wellness and health, and transforming vision into results. Each academy culminated with a graduation ceremony and served as a lasting legacy of the 2014 NCAA Women’s Final Four.

Aerial Ellis presented NCAA Women's Final Four Personal Branding for GirlsI spoke to the young women about creating a personal brand using entrepreneurship and technology. I started by having them write a vision statement. A vision statement is your declaration of what you want out of life. It is your opportunity to answer the question:

“When I get to the end of my life, I will be the most disappointed if I never accomplished ___________.”

We talked about female visionaries such as Michelle Obama and Taylor Swift. We also looked at young girls who had the vision to become successful entrepreneurs at an early age.

Next, we defined voice. Your voice is inherent to who you are. You have to find it. We did an exercise that allows the girls see the various ways we can find out voice through writing daily. That allows your content to be your voice and for your story to inspire someone. It proves that what you have to say has value.

Then we defined a brand. I explained they each have their own brand and that it will always follow you throughout life. When you hold true to your brand personality, opportunities come to you.

We did an exercise that allowed the girls to write their favorite brand on a name tag and introduce themselves to the group as that brand as a parallel to who they are personally. We then discussed online protection and privacy, the best tools to use for distributing your voice across social media and how to find your passion through these activities. I also gave the girls a worksheet as brand map to take home and chart their future success.

This was a great opportunity to teach and inspire. Girls rock!