By Kimberly Gladden-Eversley
Social movements have shaped society into what we see today, from labor to civil rights and women’s movements. Thanks to social media, we can collaborate from the comfort of our homes to drive social change, to expose injustice and to advocate for policies that protect vulnerable communities. As generational values, preferences and ideals shift, and GenZ, the most diverse generation in history, prepares to take the lead, all eyes are on how today’s businesses respond through innovation.
Introducing Chelsea C. Williams, the Founder and CEO of Reimagine Talent, who shared her expertise leading workplace & talent development and DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) as a speaker at the annual SHRM Inclusion Conference. Williams shed light on the rise of social enterprises that appeal to a generation who desire to blend profit with purpose. “This makes me really excited because I believe a movement is taking place,” said Williams. “The social entrepreneur is not just focused on bringing a product or service to market…they’re not just moved by revenue, a social entrepreneur wants to make an impact…they want to drive social progress, deliver socially conscious goods, and bridge sectors towards progress.”
William’s journey to entrepreneurship was not easy, considering her quest to entrepreneurship consisted of many obstacles without a roadmap. From navigating childhood as the daughter of immigrant parents, to funding her way through Historically Black College & University, Spelman College, to launching her early career on Wall Street as an “only,” Williams has overcome significant odds. During her time on Wall Street, she represented 1% of Black employees. With that reality came its own set of challenges personally and professionally.
“I believe [in] diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging [and] I can intentionally lead that work now because I lived exclusion,” said Williams. “During my early career, I clearly saw the beauty of belonging and toxicity of exclusion — both of which playing significant impacts on the global workforce & workplace.”
Leadership with Impact
Despite representation barriers experienced in her career, Williams still found the confidence to reimagine the future and write up a business plan that would address real issues she encountered in her roles managing & leading human resources. In 2018, she stepped made the decision to leave corporate America, first completing a social impact fellowship at Teach for America and then launching her firm.
“I early learned that leadership doesn’t have an age, it doesn’t have a look, it doesn’t have a race, it has to do with impact,” stated Williams. “You can have a business that is focused on revenue, but also have a part of your mission statement or part of your strategy that is addressing a social issue. Within the case, entrepreneurs are addressing societal barriers such as the intersection between gainful employment and racism, as two examples, but also tapping into the opportunities that come with entrepreneurship such as financial prosperity and ownership.”
To awaken your inner activist as part of your business strategy takes skill that supersedes the continuous hard versus soft skill debate circulating the workplace. Instead of pinning hard and soft skills in a battle of importance, consider both skills a necessity. “Language is important. Instead of referencing hard skills, let’s say technical, let’s say job function specific skills. Instead of soft skills, let’s say interpersonal skills, leadership skills,” said Williams. “If you’re leading an organization to function or promotion, you better believe that those skills actually become more important than what got you there from the beginning.”
Creating solutions in organizations to fight social issues takes more than diversity; it takes understanding, building and nurturing relationships. “Being open to learning and supporting people, especially those who are different than us, is our ability to lead effectively in 2022 and beyond,” said Williams. “Our mission at Reimagine Talent is to educate the next-gen workforce and empower conscious organizations to build workplaces of belonging.”
Turning a Vision into Action
Despite many years of progression and historical wins, writing the business vision and making it compelling and relevant takes courage. In this case, Williams challenges aspiring social entrepreneurs to turn their vision into a business plan and to consider the economic impact of today’s most pressing challenges. Considering 45.2% of social enterprises only last between one to three years, and 45% earn less than a $250,000 profit, it’s crucial to focus on impact without forgetting the importance of running a scalable business.
“Even with vision for impact, do not lose sight of the fact that you’re still an entrepreneur, and if you’re for profit, you still have to make a profit to grow your team, products and processes; if you’re not moved by profit, you should start a non-profit,” said Williams. “Broadening out to what your vision is for your business, who do you want to serve, answering those questions upfront and really thinking about [the] short and long term is important. In the early days, you want to test out your product or service and make sure you’ve got customers/clients.”
Williams shows the beauty that comes with fully owning our stories and leveraging the roadblocks as a springboard to purpose. Her access and experiences now grant opportunity to future generations. As we reflect on her mission, let’s consider our own and ignite the confidence to become something we may have never seen before.
For more information on Williams and Reimagine Talent, visit reimaginetalentco.com.