Making meaningful change depends on commitment—and it also depends on who you keep company with. When South Florida Business & Wealth hosted a rollicking Diversity & Inclusion Awards last June, the evening was a triumph. But we and our partners wanted to do even more, to continue the conversation.
That’s why we joined forces with Jennifer Starkey, senior vice president and regional vice president at TD Bank, to lead a more intimate discussion—one that was both energized and personal.
Frank Romano, senior recruiter at TD Bank, spoke not just of sourcing talent who appreciate his employers’ values, but also shared his own experiences at TD Bank, saying that working for the bank actually aided his coming out process as a gay man. Michell Morgan, a business process manager at TD Bank (and a member of TD’s Black Employee Network), stressed how the bank not only talks the talk, but walks the walk, and how that makes her feel as a black woman. TD’s message is clear: You are not only welcome, but encouraged, to bring your whole self to work.
“Silence is part of the problem,” one attendee said, an echo of “Silence is complicity” the often-used antiracism saying, and “Silence=Death,” which became the catchphrase of the AIDS advocacy group ACT UP. TD Bank offers a simple, but perfect exhortation to oppose silence (you can find it on the bank’s website): “Come as you are.” Read all about the event here.
Recalling our diversity events got me thinking about other kinds of diversity, beyond race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender and gender identification. This issue also highlights diversity of experience and the ways in which hearing wildly different life stories enhances our sensitivity, humanity and effectiveness in the business world. Our cover star, Joe Furst, the founder of Place Projects, has a background that tracks much like my own. We both graduated from liberal arts programs, felt that we still had to find our direction after senior year—and got talked into going to law school by our fathers. Eventually, happily, we both found other paths.
Contrast that to Kalista Zackhariyas, the founder and CEO of the technology startup Sparkseeker. We’re both avid travelers and adore Greece, but Kalista, as I learned when I interviewed her, had to overcome heartbreaking obstacles, including foster care, and periods of homelessness, in order to achieve her impressive entrepreneurial résumé. We all have much to learn her story and everyone’s singular story. We feel that opening your mind and your heart—to come as you are, and encouraging others to do the same—is essential for success and living authentically.
Photo: Drew Limsky and Angelo Martinez, by Eduardo Schneider