Closing day one of the 2019 International Conference on a high note was Jade Simmons, a classical pianist, who spoke about "Dynamic, Disruptive Diversity: A Bold Approach to Harnessing the Power of Differences." Simmons combined music and storytelling to explain how she approached diversity in transforming her career and how the same approach can apply to business.
As an African American classical pianist in a traditional industry, Simmons said she spent all of her time trying to be perfect to attract a more diverse audience. But, she says, "When we talk about diversity, we have to throw the idea of being perfect out of the window." She realized that opportunity lies in providing variety in what we do.
Pursuing diversity, Simmons says, requires going beyond ethnicity and gender. This includes diversity of thought, diversity of background, diversity of experience, and diversity of talents. "When we think of diversity of talents, what we're doing is opening up different opportunities to let people shine," she says. "We can't start from a place of initiatives and benchmarks. You're going to have to begin to believe that people want a different offering than what they are seeing."
Simmons wanted diversity of experience to be a part of what she was offering, so she began storytelling during her concerts. People began latching on to the stories. "What you do isn't about getting things right but about moving things so people can feel drawn to the space they want to be in," she explains. Diversity should never be about obligation, she adds — It should be about exploration.
"You need to shift your mindset," Simmons says. "At the end of the day, you should be able to look differently at how you see yourself and how you see others and how you value them."