Early on in my career, I looked around and noticed that I was often the only one in the room – the only person of color, the only person to represent a different and diverse point of view, and in many cases, the only woman. Year after year, I committed to surrounding myself with the best minds in the business that I could learn and grow from. I found wonderful sponsors and mentors who helped me grow, brought my credentials into rooms where I didn’t have a seat, and pushed for my raises and promotions. But yet, as a junior account person, I found it nearly impossible to find sponsors and mentors who looked like me, and who were at the senior level that I was striving to reach.

Fast forward 15 years later, the unfortunate reality is, I still look around and notice, more times than not, that I am the only one – person of color, woman, different point of view – in the room.

The good news? The conversation has changed. There are more and more amazing organizations that dedicate themselves to opening minds and hearts to the need for diversity. ColorComm is one of those organizations. In July, I had the pleasure to attend ColorComm’s fourth annual C2 conference for women of color in communications. Their mission is to personally connect women with other like-minded individuals and to build a strong network of leaders by creating mentors/mentees, business relationships and friendships. And, they’re elevating the conversation with CEOs and high-level leaders of all backgrounds – like our very own Michael Roth. These are people who understand the importance of this topic in our industry and genuinely want to move the needle and make an impact.

As a conference sponsor, IPG was able to send a number of our employees to the conference. As the WLN Chair, I was able to attend and I wanted to share my experience with you.

IPG’s Michael Roth and Heide Gardner joined AdCouncil President and CEO Lisa Sherman and opened the conference with a candid discussion titled Rising Tide, which addressed the progress we’ve made as an industry and the work that remains to be done. Heide kicked it off with some eye opening survey results about the retention rates of women of color in communications. One stat that really surprised me – not in a good way – was that there is a desire for more diversity in leadership, with half of women surveyed agreeing that “having diverse leadership to learn from is important” (52%), but shockingly, only 22% say that they wish there were more women of color in positions of power. So, that means that even though HALF of women understand diverse leadership is important, LESS than a QUARTER are committed to seeing that become a reality. This is why organizations like ColorComm are so important.

I took away a few insights from the conference that I hope will inspire you as they’ve inspired me:

We don’t talk enough to people who don’t agree with us. Don’t be afraid to have the “constructive disruptive” conversations that can open minds and hearts around the topic of diversity.  The more the workplace reflects the world, the more our businesses will thrive.

Your authenticity is at the heart of your power. Surround yourself with people who appreciate what makes you uniquely “you,” and go where you are not just tolerated, but celebrated.

Performance currency isn’t enough, it’s all about relationship currency. Once you’ve proven you can deliver, the expectation is already set (and not enough). This is why relationship currency is important.  Get to know the right people within your organizations and employ “frequency of touch” – ways to create small encounters with people you look up to, that can eventually turn into more.

We all have an obligation to speak up. Even a few good men… We want you at the table to be a part of these conversations and welcome your help to move the needle on gender and diversity.

Take risks. Fear is simply ‘False evidence of things appearing to be real.’ The more we take risks, have the difficult conversations and engage senior leaders of all backgrounds on the topic of diversity, the more we all win.

There is more diverse talent out there than ever, and they’re walking through the doors of our companies with passion and energy to make an impact in this great business. Let’s help set them up for success. Nurture that talent, get them in front of great people who can help guide them and be a source of mentorship to help them be successful.

Because after all, each time we speak up, have the hard conversations, and support each other, we are a part of creating the change we want to see in this business.