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National vision, locally focused: Diversity in Leadership

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The mission of the Diversity in Leadership Program is to serve as a catalyst for the advancement of ethnic minorities and women in central Indiana facilitated through the development of talent pipelines for higher education and industry. Founded in 2021, the program aims to grow the number of ethnic minorities and women in executive positions.

While pursuing higher education, Dr. Leon Jackson noticed the lack of diversity in this space and in industry and decided to combat the issue.

“My PhD is in workforce development and organizational leadership, so having that lens of workforce development pushed me to think, ‘How do we get more of us, ethnic minorities, and women in the position to take on executive level roles?’ That’s what the program focuses on,” said Jackson.

According to a National Center for Education Statistics study completed during the 2020-21 academic school year, 47% of women obtain a bachelor’s degree in business. However, the number of women in MBA programs is significantly lower. Another factor that has taken many women out of the workforce is the pandemic, according to Jackson.

“We know during covid that 2 million women left the workforce, and oftentimes women are challenged with raising the family, taking care of kids, taking care of sick loved ones, and they willingly give up their careers to do so,” said Jackson.

In addition to women, the program assists ethnic minority groups as well.

 “As far as ethnic minorities, it’s exposure and access. Many of the folks that have come through the program might come through and say, ‘I don’t want to get an MBA.’ The reality is many of them want to, they just don’t think they’re good enough,” said Jackson.

From his own personal experience with self-doubt, Jackson understands second-guessing one’s capabilities.

“You get in there and you realize the value that you bring, and you go through the program and realize that you’re more than capable,” said Jackson. “A big part of the program is demystifying the experience. Many of us have not been in classrooms or in a class as a student, especially in 10 to 20 years, so helping them get back into that mind frame of formal learning so that they can take advantage of it is great. I think that’s the other gap, helping us realize that we are good enough and more than capable.”

The seven-month program goes over a variety of topics, such as executive mindset, data analytics, organizational strategy, leading change, accounting, finance and leadership communication. Along with the various sessions offered, each participant is assigned an executive coach.

“To get in the room full of really talented, capable, experienced executive-level talent and realize you’re not the only one, you’re able to really exhale and be vulnerable, and vulnerability is where real growth happens. In that, you’re able to say, ‘What does the path for me look like? If I want to get somewhere, what do I have to do?’ So, everyone who comes through the program gets an executive coach and receives supplemental programming,” said Jackson

Faren Jones, founder and CEO of Kuumba Strategies – a strategic consulting firm that specializes in organizational readiness, excellence and growth – was introduced to the Diversity in Leadership Program by a friend who was in the first cohort. “They told me about their experience and what they were gaining from the program, so I applied to be in the second cohort,” said Jones.

“I think a lot of the technical skills that we have learned have been helpful as I continue to build out and scale my business,” said Jones. “In addition to that, I think the coaching piece has been very helpful. I have always been a trusted advisor for people that would come to me for different problems they were trying to solve or solutions they needed to figure out. So, the consulting aspect of the program has been very helpful in how I approach that moving forward and incorporating that into my business as well.”

Jackson said Bill Mays was the inspiration behind founding the program. Mays encouraged Jackson to pursue his MBA. With Mays’ mentorship, Jackson developed this program to help Indianapolis community members realize the possibilities within themselves.

“It’s about building this ecosystem. 51% of people that have completed our program go on to get executive credentials, 19 people have started new businesses and 83% of the folks who come through the program are on at least one nonprofit board. We also push the idea of belonging, especially locally.”

As of now, Diversity in Leadership has hosted six cohorts in Indiana and two in Ohio, with plans for further expansion.


Contact staff writer Braxton Babb at (317) 762-7854. Follow her on Twitter @BLIEVESHEWRITES. For more news courtesy of the Indianapolis Recorder, click here.

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