Building Community

By Minjon Tholen

Last year, I was speaking at a Diversity & Inclusion conference, and as always, I found myself surrounded by a lot of incredibly talented and accomplished D&I practitioners and other business leaders. They were all, what would be considered “seasoned” professionals, primarily from the United States. Many of them “grew up together” in the field; the inaugural cohort of D&I architects. They form a close-knit community I observed and appreciated from afar. Although it was an inclusive space, I felt it was sometimes difficult to find my way into. 

I remember feeling a bit lonely without any peers. I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to be part of a similar community? Where are the other younger people in this field to build personal and professional friendships with? And where is the international representation of practitioners? As a Senior Consultant working with senior leaders in organizations, I also typically worked with people of older generations, rarely encountering people my age in my client work. Similar questions came up: how will millennials leaders further D&I in their organizations? Where will the next generation of D&I change makers come from? 

At the same time, I am surrounded in all other aspects of my life by people of all generations who are committed to diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. I often get inquiries from other millennials from a variety of backgrounds and professions who want to learn more about D&I and how they can incorporate it in their education and careers. They want to know what next gen D&I looks like and how we can improve and innovate to make a greater impact. Many also express an interest in connecting with other emerging change makers and becoming a practitioner in this field. 

My co-founders, Dan and Hannah, also experienced this and we all felt like there was a great opportunity to fill the gap. This is how the Inclusion NextWork was born; an international hub for community, collaboration and innovation for the next generation. We also felt strongly that given our global and domestic challenges, there is a real need to strengthen the social justice movement. To me, D&I has always been about social justice work in organizations and communities, so we decided to link the two together as they are already inextricably intertwined. This gave rise to the pro-bono component of INW, so that we could give back to our communities and support other groups in their D&I journeys, as well as offer a space for collaboration and professional development for INW members. 

So although the initial concept for INW was born out of a personal need for a community, I’m excited about how our organization can benefit and foster all of us as next gen D&I leaders. 

Jonathan Braxton