Celebrating Diversity and Inclusion by Honoring History, Supporting Future Leaders

Photo of Black History Month display in Nelson Hall

Photo of Black History Month display in Nelson Hall

The months of February and March put diversity and inclusion in the spotlight across the nation and here at NC State University, with Black History Month in February and Women’s Herstory Month in March.

At the NC State Poole College of Management, diversity and inclusion are celebrated with events and exhibits throughout the year, with a focus on starting conversations about diversity and inclusion, and helping students prepare for careers in a multicultural business environment.

Many of these initiatives are arranged by students under the leadership of Tayah Butler, the college’s director of diversity and inclusion. During Black History Month, a committee of 10 students assisted with the college’s Inclusive Leaders Breakfast, which focused on helping students prepare for their future careers. An exhibit about Black Wall Street in Durham reflected on past history.

In March, a Women’s Herstory exhibit will celebrate six Poole College alumnae.  Jessica Carter, a Poole College senior majoring in human resources who is working on this exhibit, said it will present what inspires them, what they like about their jobs, what has made an impact on them, and what is fun for them. It also will address obstacles such as stereotypes, social structures, and how they overcame those, Carter said.

Students will have a chance to meet the women during a luncheon scheduled for March 29.

Future-focused: Inclusive Leader Breakfast

The college’s Inclusive Leader Breakfast, held prior to the start of the Poole College Spring Career Fair on February 2, provided students and recruiters an opportunity for small-group conversations on the topic of inclusion and diversity. The event was sponsored by VF Corporation, NC State University’s newest strategic corporate partner.

About 60 students and 40 representatives from 16 companies participated in the roundtable discussions, many of which began with questions like, “What is it like for a person like me to work at your company?”

Reginald Miller, global inclusion and diversity leader at VF, which has operations in 107 countries, noted that the term inclusion and diversity has a different meaning in many countries of the world.

“When you are looking at diversity in particular, what does it mean in Europe, Africa, Latin America? We are better together. We know it’s going to take everyone to build the kind of inclusive environment where everyone can succeed and shine. I think that’s part of why the partnership (with NC State) will be so fruitful for us. It includes developing a kinship, between what Tayah (Butler) is trying to do in her role and mine.”

Kayla Stephens, a Poole College senior majoring in marketing who attended the breakfast, said, “It was good for people to be honest about their worries, concerns” during the round-table conversations with company representatives.

For Isaac Jacobs, a Poole College senior in supply chain management, the conversation “went way beyond diversity,” he said, to include how the company treats its younger employees and how it prepares them for future leadership positions.

When asked what he had hoped would happen at the breakfast session, Miller said, “We had achieved it.” He noted that connections made between students and company representatives during conversations over breakfast helped the students feel more comfortable and confident about meeting with recruiters at the career fair. The students could also easily find the companies that had been part of the breakfast program: Their information tables displayed “Inclusive Leader” banners.

Greater knowledge about companies, more confidence at the career fair

Sree Yallapragada, a Poole College senior seeking to work in an analyst position after graduating, said the conversations at the Inclusive Leaders Breakfast enabled her to learn about the culture at companies she was exploring. “A lot of the companies that I thought were rigid are for empowerment and employee development,” she said. “You’re not left to yourself; they provide peer mentors to help you develop,” she said.

Lisa Glebus, director of talent acquisition at VF, called the breakfast program “fantastic.” She added, “Diversity and inclusion are important for us. We recognize that diverse leaders, different perspectives are critical for the success of business.”

The event also helped introduce students to the VF Corporation. “Because we have students who are our customers, it is important for them to relate to us as a corporation and the product lines we offer,” Glebus said. VF is the parent company of clothing brands including Wrangler, JanSport, The North Face, Lee, Dickies, and Nautica, and has a global workforce of more than 65,000 associates. (link: https://www.vfc.com/brands)

Historic Perspective: Durham’s Black Wall Street

Kalund Brodie and Lindsay Garner, both Poole College sophomores, collaborated with Butler to create a six-panel display about Black Wall Street, a thriving four-block section of Parish Street in Durham, N.C., in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This exhibit featured John Merrick, Mollie Huston, Fred Carnage, Mechanics & Farmer Bank, Bull City Drug Store and NC Mutual Life Insurance.

“Working on the display was truly enlightening,” Brodie said. “I hadn’t heard about Black Wall Street until Tayah Butler mentioned the project to me. I had heard of NC Mutual and Mechanics & Farmers Bank, but I didn’t know the history of the two organizations. It was awesome to see what all of the individuals involved accomplished during times of inequality.”

Gardner said that, “Working on the black wall street display was a great opportunity to learn more about historical impact in the local community. I was unaware of how much the Durham area was affected by the civil rights movement, but this area was extremely progressive and highly integrated,” she said.

Tayah Lin Butler (second from left) and Poole College students meet with James Sills, CEO, M&F Bank.
Tayah Lin Butler (second from left) and Poole College students meet with James Sills, CEO, M&F Bank.

“This opportunity was great not only for me to learn more of my historical roots, but to share this with others in Poole. I think the best part of this whole project was the fact that it was so close to home, and that the individuals we highlighted are great examples of historic leaders in our own community,” Gardner said.

In addition to learning about Durham’s Black Wall Street, several Poole College students had the opportunity to meet and talk with James Sills, III, the current chief executive officer and president of M&F Bank.

Trending Now: Recognizing Diversity AND Inclusion for Poole

The February showcase was not the first of a series of diversity and inclusion exhibits to be installed in the glass display case near the third floor auditorium in Nelson Hall. Last October during Latinx Heritage Month, Butler partnered with the NC State Entrepreneurship Clinic to curate a display on Latina Entrepreneurs of North Carolina. In November Butler’s team curated a display on prominent Native American-owned businesses of North Carolina.

In March, the display case will hold a Women’s Herstory Month exhibit featuring six Poole Alumnae. The display will also call attention to the national #MentorHer movement to engage men as allies in the pursuit of equal opportunity and confronting sexism and sexual harassment.

“These exhibits validate a variety of identities in the context having professional success,” Butler said, and are part of Poole College’s commitment to changing the narrative that to succeed in business one has to conform to a particular image. “After all, business in the modern economy needs both diversity and inclusion to spur innovation and growth,” Butler said.

Recent research by two Poole College professors and a colleague added further validation: it showed a causative link between workforce diversity and innovation

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