Reflections on Fueling Innovation with DEI
I had the pleasure of leading an event for Women in Cleantech & Sustainability (WCS). The event, Fueling Innovation with DEI, aimed to raise awareness around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the cleantech & sustainability industries. Lorenzo Jones, Vice President of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging at Eden Housing, Inc. did an amazing job moderating this important discussion. The audience was lucky to hear from WCS Vice Chairwoman, and Founder and President of SmartWaste, Sara Fuentes; Keally DeWitt, Vice President of Marketing and Public Policy at GAF Energy; and Jerri Taylor, Director, Diversity in Career Pathways, Project Learning Tree, and Sustainable Forestry Initiative. As a board member and event lead, it was incredible to see so many passionate individuals come together to talk about this important and timely topic. Here’s a brief recap of what we discussed during our lively discussion.
What is DEI?
The event began with a discussion on what Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion means to each of the panelists, what barriers they have overcome and the vision they are working to achieve within their teams and organizations as a whole. We discussed how having a diverse team not only leads to better decision making but also can help organizations tap into different markets. Each panelist shared their views and their personal experience with equity when it comes to access, wages, and opportunities for underrepresented minorities in the workplace. Each panelist spoke about what they are doing to create an inclusive environment that fosters collaboration, encourages open dialogue, and allows for vulnerability amongst team members from all backgrounds.
“Oftentimes, I found myself being the only woman and only brown woman in the room. I learned to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” – Sara Fuentes
Why Does DEI Matter?
Lorenzo then shifted the conversation towards the importance of DEI in fostering innovation. We talked about how having a diverse workforce is key to creating innovative ideas that can revolutionize entire industries. Each panelist also discussed how companies need to make sure they have equitable practices in place that provide equal opportunities for all employees regardless of gender, race or background. Finally, we focused on how creating an inclusive environment allows everyone’s voice to be heard which leads to better problem solving capabilities and more innovative solutions as a whole.
“That’s what has helped me breakdown barriers, showing and demonstrating that there is space for multiple people in this sector. I understand my role is to be, again, unapologetically black, but also to make sure I keep a door open and a space open for the person behind me. I’m doing the best job I can because I want to create an opportunity for people to come in behind me.” – Jerri Taylor
Creating Lasting Change
We concluded by discussing ways companies can create lasting change when it comes to DEI within their own organizations. Each panelist emphasized the importance of pushing themselves out of their comfort zones, leading by example, and creating a working environment where every voice is heard. This allows for team members to be open and vulnerable, vulnerability is where change and growth takes place. Additionally, we talked about the need for leadership buy-in when it comes to implementing effective DEI programs within companies as well as providing training opportunities that help foster understanding amongst team members from all backgrounds.
“Make sure that you are paying it forward, in addition to actively creating the environments within your organization where you have influence where people feel like they can grow, even if they don’t fit the fill-in-the-blank expected demographics and identities for what those roles look like.” – Keally DeWitt
Overall, our discussion highlighted just how essential Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are when it comes to fostering innovation within any organization or industry. Events like this are critical because they provide an opportunity for people from all walks of life to come together and discuss these important topics in a meaningful and personal way – something that will hopefully lead us closer to achieving true equality across all sectors. Thank you again WCS for allowing me to be part of such an amazing event!