I am writing this during a week marked by two starkly contrasting moments: a night of shocking violence against Asian Americans in Atlanta and the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (March 21). Once again, we are painfully reminded that we all must band together and stand against any form of hate, discrimination or racism. And that means taking action wherever we work or live.

A few weeks ago, in our latest IPR+One discussion on the most pressing events and issues facing our industry, we gained some powerful direction and learnings from a convening of next-gen professionals of color for Black History Month. An hour of the discussion was masterfully led by our vice chair, Yanique Woodall of Home Depot.

Although it was intentionally closed door to keep things candid and authentic – and to provide a safe environment so our guests and trustees could speak freely — I wish everyone could have heard the conversation. After all, it’s one thing to talk about creating an inclusive, diverse environment with a culture of belonging, but it’s another to understand what this truly means for people who have never had a sense of belonging at work.

Some eye-openers:

  • In the rush to improve workforce numbers, diverse talent can become a commodity. Instead of checking the box that says we hired ethnically or racially diverse people, first look internally and have honest conversations about whether your culture is ready to make this an enduring success.
  • Seeing potential requires looking at things differently. Unfortunately, we don’t always truly see someone’s potential, and the problem is exacerbated by the fact that people of color are often overlooked for promotion due to systemic racism – not because they lack ability. Being mindful of someone’s journey can make all the difference.
  • It cannot be said enough: mentoring and sponsoring young racially and ethnically diverse professionals is critical to their success. This is even truer in environments where there are no leaders who look like them. We need to ensure that our next generation knows what it takes to succeed, how to expand their skills, where to turn for help in navigating situations, how to prepare for reviews, etc. Ultimately, people need to see themselves in leadership, but mentors can come from anywhere.

The group also had advice for young Black professionals:  bring your authentic self to work; be bold and invite leaders to have coffee with you, and ask them what it takes to be successful; and, above all, tell your story. People really do want to know you – and the opportunities can be life changing.

For me, one of the most surprising outcomes of the conversation was the honest admission that diversity fatigue is real. But, in the face of it, everyone agreed that we cannot stop working toward a better future.

My two biggest take-aways: it was inspirational to see the passion and energy of next-gens – and their hope and belief that the future will be far better for them than it was for previous generations; and, if everyone were as truthful and as promising as the next-gen leaders I met, I know we’ll get there. Even as we confront terrible moments of racist hate, we must continue to believe—whether stirred by a global United Nations initiative or by the personal insight of a colleague—that together, we can make positive change happen.

Stacey Jones is Chair of the IPR Board of Trustees and Head of Global Corporate Communications at Accenture.

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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