For the first time since the pandemic, ColorComm, a professional membership community for women of color in communications, hosted the 8th Annual ColorComm Conference returning under the theme "Reconnect & Reimagine." Over 400 women from across the communications, marketing, advertising, and digital industries gathered to glean insights and share a safe place to discuss relevant business and social issues and navigate new ways to guide their career journeys.
Over three jam-packed days, the conference served a truly intergenerational and diverse community of women at every level of business, with five female representatives attending from Edelman. The innovative programs presented by the industry's top practitioners and thought leaders covered a broad range of topics. The event started with 'The War on DEI: This Isn't a Florida Problem' featuring a panel of esteemed experts on the impact of DEI programs nationwide. For me, this session set the tone for the conference, and the discussion framed the importance of why so many leaders across industries were all gathered — we all must stay vigilant and informed about our future as an inclusive nation. Programming that followed included sessions on financial health and planning, the evolution of media, an ode to Hip-Hop turning 50, an array of DEIB topics and much more. In addition, Trisch Smith, Edelman’s Global Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer hosted a fireside chat with Sue Obeidi from the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) on faith at work and portrayals of Muslims in the media.
Despite the diverse slate of programming and information, one key theme emerged for me: "leadership lessons." Now, the word 'leader' cannot be presumed to be limited to those in the C-suite. No matter your level, leadership is a trait that is required to thrive in business and drive our country forward in positive ways.
In our rapidly changing and evolving workforces, the qualities that define a great leader have evolved beyond mere expertise. Today's leaders must embody authenticity, practice effective communication, lead inclusively and commit to continuous personal growth to successfully inspire and guide their teams and organizations. Drawing insights from thought-provoking discussions with several 'badass' leaders, I uncovered five valuable leadership lessons that can shape one's journey toward becoming more impactful and respected:
Communication is the bedrock of successful leadership. Body language Expert Linda Clemons highlighted the significance of nonverbal cues during her "Nonverbal Cues for Million Dollar Moves" session, stating that 55% of communication is conveyed through body language. As leaders, we must be aware of how our facial expressions, body angles, and voice impact interactions with others.
Being 100% present in someone's presence and showing up convinced and convicted before entering a room sets the stage for impactful communication. Clemons also encourages people to remember, "It's not just what you say, but how you say it and how others hear it." To ensure that our message is heard and understood, we must master both verbal and nonverbal aspects of communication.
We hear it often, leading authentically is the cornerstone of effective leadership. During a fireside chat titled "Leading Under Fire," featuring two of the first Black executives to lead major news networks, Kim Godwin, President of ABC, and Rashida Jones, President of MSNBC, they emphasized that authenticity means leading with respect, transparency, inclusivity, courage, clarity, care, and integrity. Being genuine and open with your teams builds trust and fosters an environment of openness and mutual support. Godwin noted that as executives step into a leadership role, they must focus on setting a culture standard from the outset, emphasizing values that prioritize empathy and fairness.
The pair also noted how embracing personal stories and vulnerabilities is essential. Owning our experiences shapes who we are as leaders.
Effective leadership demands continuous personal growth and self-awareness. Speakers encouraged attendees to live a "360 life" — a life grounded in our community and connected to our personal foundation, whatever it looks like for you. Being rooted in who we are enables us to make better decisions and lead with confidence.
Moreover, owning our strengths and vulnerabilities empowers us to overcome challenges and build a strong leadership presence. Detavio Samuels, CEO of Revolt TV and Tyler Lepley echoed similar sentiments of finding wholeness and purpose within yourself, and that growth is exponential when you focus on what keeps you rooted. Once you know your value and your differentiator, you can step out of your comfort zone and build the life you want to live, tapping into passion and purpose.
While the corporate world can be demanding, prioritizing personal well-being is crucial for sustainable leadership. The emphasis on prioritizing mental and physical health was prominent throughout many sessions. To be an effective leader, you must disconnect from time to time and find your inspiration, whether spending time with family and friends or engaging in activities like taking walks, listening to podcasts, or indulging in a bit of reality TV can help rejuvenate the mind.
Balancing work and personal life may not be easy, but it's essential to prevent burnout and maintain a healthy perspective. Embracing life beyond the office fosters emotional intelligence and empathy, both vital for effective leadership.
As we navigate the challenges of leadership, we must remember that being a leader is not just about position and authority; it's about the ability to connect with, inspire and uplift others. The ColorComm Conference, to some extent, embodied what the future of work can look like, working collaboratively and through an intersectional lens across all types of diversity — age, race, sexual orientation, disability status and more.
If you're not already, you should be looking to diversify your network with mentors, mentees, advocates, accomplices and sponsors who do not always look like you. We are all much stronger together, and as we look to grow and lead, there should not be limits around who is in the room or in your network.
Faith McIver is a Senior Diversity & Inclusion Manager.