Warren Buffet said: “When the tide goes out, we can see who is swimming naked.” 2020 has been a perfect storm—we face a global pandemic that continues to rage along with the curtain being pulled back on systemic racism and social injustice in America as highlighted through a surge in the Black Lives Matter movement. On top of that, the COVID-19 outbreak and civil unrest are having an unprecedented economic impact on businesses, especially diverse businesses.

Among the turmoil of this year, an underlying theme has risen to the surface: intersectionality. Intersectionality, a term coined by lawyer and civil rights activist Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, is the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, which create overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage. In a nutshell, intersectionality brings race, gender, class, religion and gender identity, as well as social and economic disparity together as interconnected forces. There is simply no escaping its impact—these systems of oppression impact our lives wherever we are and whoever we are. Ultimately, through awareness of intersectionality’s existence, we can better acknowledge and bridge the differences among us.

In 2018, I became involved in the inaugural The Derby Diversity Business Summit, one of the first conferences to bring together diverse business categories—minority-owned, women-owned, LGBT-owned, veteran-owned and disabled-owned businesses. The summit, which coincides with the annual Kentucky Derby, focuses on economic growth for these underserved communities, with a view on building a stronger, more diverse supply chain for major corporations and corporate representatives that have a true commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). By relying on the principals of intersectionality, the summit allows for intentional relationships to be built across various minority categories and to provide a forum for DEI discussions within a commercial format.

Unsurprisingly, this year’s annual conference did not unfold as planned. As Tawana Bain, the founder of the summit, saw conferences cancelled and travel restrictions put in place due to the pandemic, she, along with the steering committee, were forced to restructure. The summit, which is usually held in Louisville in May in conjunction with the Kentucky Derby, is now being held virtually in September. In addition to shifting to a virtual format (and aptly re-named it the Derby Diversity Pivot Champ Summit), we also launched virtual city roundtables in 20 cities across the country, providing the opportunity for attendees to grow a network of diverse businesses in their local area.

The ultimate goal of the summit remains the same, but is particularly critical this year: to foster economic growth for diverse-owned businesses in order to create generational wealth while addressing racial injustice and economic inequality. While most diversity conferences focus on one type of diverse-owned business, the summit brings various diverse business owners together to create a community for collaboration and affiliation, touching upon this rising theme of intersectionality. Next month, speakers and attendees will tackle the hard questions of racial and gender-based inequity in business and identify strategies to succeed during a global pandemic and beyond. By creating and fostering an environment to engage with each other and with corporations that are truly committed to DEI, the summit provides the vehicle to reach economic parity by identifying, promoting and utilizing diverse-owned business locally and regionally.

An important DEI topic to be addressed at this year’s summit is supply-chain interruption during the pandemic, which has impacted virtually every company, industry and segment of our economy. These past few months exposed businesses’ lack of supply-chain resiliency and business continuity plans, forcing organizations to rethink their supply-chain strategies. Companies that previously relied on just-in-time inventory, offshore manufacturing and production, and single source global suppliers and vendors found themselves in dire straits to keep up with shifting needs. However, it also presented the opportunity to utilize smaller, regional businesses to fill in the gaps. The summit is the ideal opportunity to identify and utilize diverse-owned business that offer the solution to this crisis while also offering a greater market share to these businesses than was previously available. Ensuring supply chain redundancy and resiliency are not only powerful DEI initiatives, but they are also imperative to addressing our daily needs, because after all, we don’t want to run out of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and antibacterial wipes (again).

Just like businesses at large, the summit went through a pivot of its own. Despite the constant stream of challenges this year, Tawana Bain and the steering committee have worked hard to address and dissect the tough questions (many of which we have been bringing up for years!), while continuing to strengthen relationships among diverse-owned businesses and with corporate sponsors that are truly committed to DEI. The summit is inspiring attendees to step into their power now more than ever and accept the mantle of leadership by becoming part of the change that is so desperately needed in our society today. “Diversity” and “inclusion” are not mere words for the summit team, we foster, build and demand “equity.”

On a personal level, having been involved in this summit from its inception, the relationships I developed and the networks I brought together have made me a better lawyer in terms of my practice and on behalf of my clients, but also a better ally to those in my broader orbit. I’ve accepted the challenge to learn, dig deeper, connect, and to feel the uncomfortable light of intersectionality in my own career and life. I invite my peers to do the same by reflecting on their own privilege during this time.

This year, more than any other year, we are tasked with turning challenges into opportunities. Our world demands that we lean into change by acknowledging, listening and pivoting to create an environment that allows for economic advancement and parity for all. The summit brings together leaders who are willing to accept the challenges that 2020 highlighted and find the way forward with authenticity, honesty and an eye on the long term impacts of our decisions and strategy—not only from a financial standpoint but also from a moral one.

Reprinted with permission from the August 13, 2020 issue of The Legal Intelligencer. © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.

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