Leah Smiley: Advancing Diversity with an Eye on the Future

By Princess Jones Curtis

Indianapolis, IN — As the founder and president of The Society for Diversity, Leah Smiley, CDE knows a thing or two about inclusion. “I envision my role as one that prepares people for the future.  In a sense, I feel like I was called to work through organizations, to help people adjust to a future that looks nothing like the past. [Many people] assume that diversity is about political correctness or categorizing workers by race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, or physical ability.  I challenge these assertions all day, every day.” 

Leah Smiley, CDE - Founder and President of The Society for Diversity Inc.

Leah Smiley, CDE – Founder and President of The Society for Diversity Inc.

Smiley doesn’t have any regrets about her choices in navigating her career, explaining, “I honestly couldn’t think of anything that I would do differently. Of course, I’ve made many mistakes along the way, but failing has really helped me to grow and do things better.  I probably would have liked to fail faster and not spend so much time dissecting what I did wrong.” Instead, the Hampton University graduate focuses on the future, saying, “For me, the bigger challenge is how to resist being “fail-proof” as I get older. I could also do a better job of listening to that still, small voice telling me to move, or not to take any action at all.”

Being a person of color in 2019 has many layers, according to Leah Smiley.  She acknowledges the persistence of racism and knows that there’s tremendous work to be done. “Communities of color must keep shining the spotlight on excellence in its many forms and illustrating that success isn’t always about driving fancy cars and wearing name-brand clothes. Sometimes, success lies in having an entire family that is college-educated, or owning a home, or helping others.” 

“Professionals, entrepreneurs, and investors must also communicate our expectations for transparency, not merely yield our power because we’re afraid to offend or we don’t want to feed a racial stereotype. With that said, even if someone makes a mistake, we should never give up on forgiveness, grace, or hope.”  Smiley thinks that the way forward requires compassion, as well as an eye on the future. “Moving on doesn’t mean that we forget. It just means that we move forward with the intention of never going back to giving our power away. Every group has contributed to America in a meaningful way, and it’s up to us to learn more about history, as well as understand our role in shaping the future.”

Join the conversation about the future of D&I on July 25th with Executive Session Speaker Leah Smiley, CDE at The 2019 Chief Diversity Officer Summit hosted by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.

Photo Description: Leah Smiley, CDE speaks at the 2018 Diversity 4.0 Conference (courtesy of The Society for Diversity Inc.)