The Power of Authenticity & Belonging: Insights from ColorComm 2023
ColorComm’s origin story is of a luncheon bringing together Black and brown women in media and communications that became a community, spawning annual conferences, a global network of chapters and a business. It has a way of seeping into your soul – an incredibly energizing experience in the moment, but also something that sticks with you and leaves a lasting impact on how you move through your day. Reflecting back on this year’s conference, here’s a recap of some of those “sticky” moments from the C2 ColorComm Conference in Miami.
“You can fake ‘till you make it – but eventually the ‘fake’ will fade.”
One of the most compelling sessions was that by renowned body language expert Linda Clemons who has dedicated her career to helping people unlock their full potential and reclaim their power through nonverbal communication. Not only did she offer insights into the nuances of posture, facial expression and even eye movement for conveying a message, but also a valuable lesson on authenticity – that even if you stand in a certain way and say all the right things, in the end, your true self will always show through.
To me, this spoke to the power and necessity of authenticity on a personal level – being true to myself, my beliefs and my values and bringing them forward in my own body language, voice and actions. Authenticity can’t be faked when it is rooted in honesty and genuine emotion.
But what, exactly, do you do to show up more authentically? What is it that shows people that you are true to your own personality, spirit or character? Where’s the proof for that?
At FleishmanHillard, these are the same questions we challenge our clients to answer in order to understand how they show up for employees, customers and other stakeholders, and the impact of authenticity on their reputations.
Being authentic is not based on a single action. To be perceived as authentic, we need to be courageous and take consistent action driven from our innermost and most authentic selves. That we are showing our unfiltered behaviors and that we are speaking or writing with honesty.
Faking it is easy but doing the hard work it takes to live authentically is far more rewarding.
– Aisha L. Hudson, vice president, New York
“The difference between resilience and struggle are perspective.”
ColorComm was an empowering experience especially as a first-time attendee. In corporate rooms often it is common to be one of few Black faces in the room and there I was surrounded by 400 fierce, dynamic and compelling women (in chic, fabulous attire no less)! It was inspirational to heed advice from the likes Kim Goodwin, president of ABC News and Rashida Jones, president of MSNBC (to name a couple) and the various women who have created impactful work in the world we see today.
Through the dozens of panels, each had a takeaway that resonated and has shaped my my career intentions since, but there was a through line in each story that sits with me the most: resilience.
Without resilience and risk, we wouldn’t have beautiful work such as Colors of the World skin tone crayons. I was enlightened by the background story and journey that led to a product that ultimately fosters a greater sense of belonging and acceptance. Because of Mimi Dixon, senior director, Brand Activation and Content at Crayola, the brand was directed to revisit their approach and partner with experts. Now, my children can make art that reflects what they see in the mirror and be recognized – a far cry from the orange color I used during my youth. It took courage for her to speak up and guide them on the right path.
As client counselors, we are not the final decision makers and sometimes it can feel like a struggle especially when impassioned about a topic that resonates with our life experiences. Ultimately, it falls on each person to make sure we persevere as the work we do is equitable and necessary. We must all lead with courage.
– Faith Golden, account supervisor, Chicago
“To tell courageous stories, you must be courageous yourself.”
It takes bold communicators to tell bold stories. During a session about authentic storytelling, one panelist shared this statistic about the influence of a company’s values and brand identity on Gen Z’s purchasing behavior:
Another panelist shared an insight on how to respond to this stat – “To tell courageous stories, you must be courageous yourself. Speak up in the room and challenge things. Encourage disagreement with your teams.”
While this advice can seem tough, it’s key to position us as strategic voices on our teams and uplift diverse and equitable perspectives. It’s equally important for our teams to foster environments where disagreements are welcomed and bold ideas are encouraged to develop authentic communications.
Embracing courageous storytelling and personal courage is not just about keeping up with Gen Z – it’s about shaping our direction to where they’re evolving and ensuring we’re developing our teams with a value for breaking the norm.
– Dasia Jones, senior account executive, Atlanta
“Pressure produces two things; you want more diamonds than farts.”
While the quote I chose is comical, the pressure business leaders are facing is real and increasing. And as counselors who pride ourselves on being able and willing to get into the trenches with our clients and leaders, we’re facing the same challenges, translated for the realities of our industry.
Among the nearly 400 other leaders in attendance at ColorComm, I was reminded that the collective wisdom we have is meant to be shared. Throughout the conference, you could see the bent heads of women coming together, collaborating and commiserating, one-on-one and in small groups. And during sessions, these same faces were openly expressing agreement as panelists and keynote speakers spoke about resilience, ingenuity and steadfastness in the face of difficulty. We needed this event to create a release for that pressure and to strategize on how to make diamonds.
After the conference, I sat in the hotel lobby, decompressing and reading my notes before heading to the airport. The same women who dazzled on stage were accessible in that lobby, taking pictures and exchanging contact information with attendees. The intimacy of ColorComm and the reminder that we create diamonds made the experience all the more powerful for me. I’m grateful.
– Veleisa Patton Burrell, senior vice president, Dallas