I was the third woman hired at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center two years ago, and at that time we made up a fourth of the staff. There were a lot of men in and out of the building, participating in accelerators, mentoring companies, coming to events, running the events. There were not a lot of women. Many conversations with women familiar with our organization, and who sometimes had even visited, came to the same conclusion: Where are the women? And typically the ones I spoke to who did try out an event in our space, didn’t return because they just didn’t feel comfortable. If there were a more diverse audience, they probably would have come back. Could it be that simple? The more diversity you have, the more diversity you will continue to have because that means newcomers are more likely to see someone who looks like them involved?
I am not an expert on race relations or diversity or social justice. What I am is passionate and curious, and I like to think that if you continue to pursue those passions you will find opportunities to incorporate them in your day-to-day life. So for me, leading the EC’s diversity and inclusion initiative has been exhilarating. It has allowed me a position to hear stories from people in our community, to represent a really positive and proactive action, to work alongside and learn from some really impactful partners (Code2040, The Contributor, Google for Entrepreneurs) and to see the demographics of our community actually start to look like the community of Nashville, which has been positively changing the past couple of years.
That being said, this topic gets really confusing really quickly. There are different opinions on what the problem actually is and what the solution should be. And it’s not just one way of thinking versus another, there are a thousand different ways. What has been confirmed through many conversations I’ve had recently is that most of the time your past experiences determine how you answer those questions.
My experience? I’m a white woman who grew up in a mostly white neighborhood in north Florida. I haven’t encountered racial discrimination in my life, and as a woman, for the most part, I have felt empowered to lead and speak up and participate without feeling inferior. I have long had an innate passion for causes of social injustice. The more I learned about stories around the world like human trafficking, children soldiers and gender inequality, the more I was resolute in involving myself in those causes—starting clubs at school, traveling to eastern Europe to work with women, even studying law, justice and society in college. This is what drew me to want to take on the initiative at the EC. Having been engrossed in this subject of equality, I have my own conclusions on the problem(s) and solutions(s), but I am anticipating all that I will learn as I get to work with the community around the subject.
What excites me the most about this mission is that we are just getting started. We are at that rare and valuable moment that we can sit with our team to recollect past efforts, realizing what did and didn’t work, analyze where we stand today and look forward to dream and plan. Our advantage in this, I believe, is our city. I look at what we hope to accomplish and know it is possible because of the community that Nashville is: ready to meet, ready to be involved, ready to offer support and guidance. From nonprofits to higher-ed, metro government to corporate partners and everyone in between, we are starting from a good place. We have a long way to go but I am confident in an ever-progressing future. Let’s get started.