Recap: From awareness to action to innovation with Dr. Damon A. Williams

By Lilian Odera, Programs Assistant (Work-Learn), UBC Equity & Inclusion Office

On November 14, Dr. Damon A. Williams gave his keynote lecture address on empowering leaders through inclusive excellence at Sage Bistro.

This lecture was the first in the Provost’s Distinguished Lecture Series on Race and Leadership, hosted by Dr. Andrew Szeri, Provost and Vice-President Academic, and Dr. Minelle Mahtani, Senior Advisor to the Provost on Racialized Faculty.

Dr. Williams, a recognized expert in the field of strategic leadership, has worked with over 1000 universities across North America on issues of leadership, diversity, and organizational change. A visionary and charismatic speaker, he engaged the crowd with witty humour and inspired the room by invoking the power of spoken word poetry throughout his address, aptly titled From Awareness to Action to Innovation.

Over the course of 40 minutes, the address highlighted the necessary relationship between institutional leadership and community, stressing that diversity leadership is in essence a conversation about humanity.

Accountability and vulnerability are imperative virtues to strategic movements, and when it comes to leadership, an organization ought to engage in equity, diversity and inclusive centred work while being respectful of the needs of its community.

“I believe in the great possibility that an agenda of inclusion can be one that embraces a broad conversation,” says Dr. Williams.

Education is about how we invest in others, and diversity is important because it highlights our complex interactions in higher education. More than social justice, diversity is key to innovation. Institutions such as UBC have the ability to reframe narratives, environments, and systems that birth inclusive excellence.

At the helm of this reframing are senior leadership officials who can foster cultures that uniquely define equity, diversity, and inclusion at UBC.

“It’s the senior leaders who allow for us to take the idea and strategically integrate within an institution,” stressed Dr. Williams.

Movements towards inclusive excellence, are, nonetheless, a collective effort of the entire community; fragmented departments and groups of people are not as powerful as when they act collectively.

“It’s everyday courage that drives a culture of inclusive excellence,” says Dr. Williams.

An emphasis on diversity in strategic leadership means creating spaces of belonging for people to be who they need to be to facilitate changemaking. This takes tremendous courage and vulnerability, but is consequently beneficial for the future of institutions striving towards inclusion.

“Some institutions, despite having a community of champions can’t seem to move the institution forward because the DNA of the institution is configured in a manner in which they’re institutionally frozen.” says Dr. Williams.

Changemaking involves integration, an awareness of “dynamic diversity DNA” and a transition from awareness to action to innovation. This can be achieved through consistent questioning, engaging with other innovators who have experience in similar fields, searching and reapplying solutions, a willingness to experiment with new ideas, and leading with courage, humility, and vulnerability.

At the end of this journey towards strategic diversity leadership, the institution will have affirmed identities, built a strong community, and cultivated leaders who further contribute to changemaking.

The Provost's Distinguished Lecture Series on Race and Leadership is created to foster holistic discussions on equity, diversity, and leadership at UBC. The series seeks to engage in critical conversations on strategic and diversity-focused initiatives on campus and inspire organizational change and leadership.

As part of the series, each term a speaker and expert in the field of equity, diversity and inclusion will be invited to UBC to explore issues of race and leadership in higher education. The event includes an introduction and moderation by the Provost and Vice President Academic, Andrew Szeri, and a public lecture led by the speaker.