Elizabeth Williams-Riley, President & CEO for the American Conference on Diversity, brings more than two decades of experience in education, training, and consulting on diversity and inclusion matters working with corporations, nonprofits, professional associations, communities and schools, nationally and on the local level. She was recently named Girls Scouts of America Jersey Shore 2015 Woman of Distinction, 2013 Woman Worth Watching, and is featured in Diversity Journal. Elizabeth is also a 2014 Lead New Jersey Fellow. She is a dynamic presenter, facilitator, and diversity and inclusion expert.
Playing Small Moment
In Elizabeth’s teenage years, she had to come to terms with being comfortable with the skin she is in, her size and who she was. Her mother suggested that she audition for a beauty pageant. Elizabeth was convinced that she did not fit the mold for a beauty pageant. Though she was very involved in her community, school and church, Elizabeth felt that she was just not one of those girls. Her mom persisted and said there was no reason for her not to audition. Elizabeth followed her mother’s advice and ended up not only making her way through, but won! Elizabeth realized she was the one getting in her own way.
The Wake Up Call
There was a school in Orlando that was turning 100 years old and for the celebration, Elizabeth was asked to create a wall of history featuring images from the last century. As she was collecting the photos, she realized there were no pictures of people like her. Elizabeth used this as motivation to go out into the community and connect with people, often going door-to-door, listening to many stories and collecting photos. Elizabeth knew that she needed a complete picture of the history of this school, and she owed it to the community to feature the different people who contributed and why it was important for everyone to be included. From that point on, she made it a point to respect and value everyone she met and creating and believing in the humanity of individuals.
Style of Leadership
Elizabeth ensures to keep herself very humble. She also believes you need to be a good follower in order to be a good leader. Elizabeth is thoughtful when she engages individuals and keeps direct conversations but remains respectful throughout. Elizabeth is also very in tune with her own vulnerability. She is passionate, driven by what she does, but is also driven by the relationships she holds with those around her.
What Are You Excited About?
Elizabeth is part of a statewide No Hate campaign that was launched in January. To kick off the campaign, they held a town hall meeting discussing the meaning of hate and how it manifests in current society. Elizabeth finds it as a wonderful opportunity to engage people in bold dialog and learn from each other in a respectful environment. Elizabeth believes that when we want to learn and grow, we need to make sure we are thinking about all of us, not some of us.
Biggest Leadership Challenge
Fundraising is the greatest challenge that Elizabeth finds in the non-profit sector. That challenge holds so many great opportunities that it makes it all worth it.
The process of being able to really hear what people are saying without thinking of your rebuttal, active listening, is so important to Elizabeth. You are not listening to reply; you are listening to seek understanding. For Elizabeth, it has been one of her strongest skill sets because it allows her to see where people are coming from. Communication is a two-sided process.
Advice For Younger Self
Elizabeth would tell her younger self to never underestimate the value of her authentic self. Allowing your authentic self to show up wherever you go, provides consistency in your life. You don’t have to hide your mannerisms to fit in.
“You never know how much your past will affect your future until it shows up in your present.”
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