There are many roles to fill when it comes to making Charleston a more diverse, inclusive place to work. Two of those roles, however, are particularly vital: the Talkers and the Quiet Movers.
Everyone knows the Talkers. These are the people who are loudly banging drums, gongs, trash can lids, cowbells, and whatever else will make a loud enough noise to get your social media-shortened attention span to rest upon this subject long enough for it to stick. Columnists like myself and Stephanie Hunt, organizers like NAACP Vice President Rev. Joe Darby, Muhiyidin Moye of Black Lives Matter, Circular Congregational's Rev. Jeremy Rutledge, and many local clergy members fall into this category. Every ear may not enjoy the kind of noise made by these individuals, but the first two of many of our goals is for our noise to reach eardrums, and then for it to move into the brain to get you thinking about it.
The second category — the Quiet Movers — consists of those people you don't notice as much. I could rattle off some names of Quiet Movers, but unless you already know them or work in their industries, you probably won't know who they are. Quiet Movers put the Talkers' ideas into action, and in many cases it's their positive action that inspires the first group and keeps us from feeling like we're just screaming into gale-force winds. Sometimes Quiet Movers don't even know they're filling that role for the community.
Right now, let's take a look at Charleston's tech industry, where there are many hard-working Quiet Movers.
"Tech?" you might scoff. Yes, the tech industry at large is one of the most maligned in America when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Women and people of color are often locked out of this Good Ol'-Yet-Rather-Young Boy Network. However, if you look closely, Charleston's so-called Silicon Harbor actually has some interesting movement happening around diversity, especially when it comes to technology workshops and conferences.
Most people in Charleston know about DIG SOUTH and its founder and CEO, Stanfield Gray. The first time I met Gray was at a women's lifestyle and entrepreneurship conference on Amelia Island in 2013. I found it interesting that he took the time to address a room full of women who were mostly focused on lifestyle blogging, fashion, interior design, and handmade crafts. At first it seemed like an odd fit — probably about as odd as it seemed to him to have a journalist there peppering him with questions about racial and gender inclusion (I would say something about his answers to my questions, but it was so long ago I don't remember what I asked).
What struck me most was his excitement to be there absorbing and contributing to the energy in the room. He was ready to learn from our questions and from his observations of us. Now, if you look at DIG SOUTH's staff lineup on their website, you'll see more women than men, and the recent conference presenters and attendees have included many female business leaders and innovators. Of course, as you may expect from me by now if you've read my last two columns, I think the conference could use more racial diversity, but from what I can see, Gray's goal is to bring in the brightest and the best regardless of skin color, and I hope that within that effort, the diversity will continue to grow each year.
Which brings me to another Charleston-based tech event, the Revolve Conference. Founder Karl Hudson Phillips came to Charleston from Trinidad in the 1990s to play soccer for Charleston Southern. Since then he's been beckoning people to learn about tech, coding, and small business through workshops and smaller conferences, finally culminating in Revolve. Last year's lineup for the conference not only included many local and national female speakers (including people like Charleston's Shauna McKenzie, founder of Best Kept Self), but 57 percent of the attendees were women. This year's conference takes place Oct. 26–28, and if you look at the lineup their website, you'll see that women and people of color are well represented. Are there still strides to be made here? Yes. But this year the Revolve staff is experimenting with increasing the racial diversity of conference attendees by encouraging businesses to participate in a Diversity Ticket program. Companies can sponsor the program for $500, and the resulting tickets will be entered into a lottery system. Each ticket winner will receive a ticket to be used by themselves or an employee for access to the conference. Applicant details will only be shared with Revolve Conference organizers.
The hope is for the program to be used as a workforce incentive for people to broaden their skills while expanding and diversifying their own personal and professional networks. The tickets are intended to mostly be distributed to "those within a daily commute of the Charleston area," the website says.
This isn't public relations lip service, and I find that refreshing. Especially compared with the writing and publishing industry where I dwell hasn't yet moved on from having panel discussions about diversity rather than simply having diverse panels.
There's a common thread here, which Phillips and I discussed over coffee recently. The end goal of all this talk about diversity and inclusion is for the brightest and the best to be anything but homogenous. When leadership is made up of a single color, class, and gender, innovation dies, if it gets off the ground at all. In order for innovation to continue to be a hallmark of the Lowcountry, we need more Talkers and Quiet Movers. When diversity and inclusion no longer need so much discussion because they're a given, Charleston's tech industry will likely become a global force for driving the industry's next directions.