‘Are people validated?’ Local conference promotes inclusion and diversity in the workplace


TEXARKANA, Texas — Local business owners and entrepreneurs gathered at the Texarkana Convention Center on Tuesday to sip coffee, socialize, and absorb new information about inclusion and finding purpose in the workplace at the Engaging Business Conference Texarkana.

The first speakers of the day were Charlotte Strickland and Wendy Holbrook, from the University of Central Arkansas. Strickland is the director of professional training and development, and Holbrook is the assistant vice president for engagement, leadership and service.

Holbrook opened the discussion by saying that access to opportunity is a big part of inclusion because it allows people to contribute their perspectives and talents to help improve their communities.

“When freshmen come to campus and we welcome them, we say we need each and every one of you here,” Holbrook said. “There’s a reason all these wonderful people live in Texarkana.”

Strickland said the word “diversity” can make some people anxious, but encouraged attendees to view the word positively and be open to what diversity training entails.

“It’s an ongoing conversation,” Strickland said. “What’s your workplace like? What’s your workplace like? Are people validated? Can they bring their true selves to work?”

Strickland cited the story of three football coaches who were unhappy about having to undergo diversity training and spoke about their thoughts on the conference.

“Today’s training and conversation is about affirming you,” Strickland told the trio. “It’s not about feeling less than; each of you is part of humanity. But it’s affirming who you are, discovering who you are – which leads to discovering other people. Each of us has a story.”

Keynote speaker Joshua M. Evans began his talk, “Culture of Engagement,” by running around the stage in a circle and shouting in an effort to shake off the jitters and amuse the audience. The

Evans, author of “Enthusiastic You,” explained how encouraging authenticity in the workplace helps people care about their jobs.

Evans said 20 years ago he was approached with an offer for a position as a whitewater rafting guide based in the mountains of Colorado. He packed all his things – a bag of clothes, a guitar and a copy of “The Lord of the Rings” – and began his journey.

At first, he enjoyed waking up early in the morning to cook breakfast by the fire, lead campers down the rapids, and top off the evening by singing songs around a campfire. He thought he had the best job in the world.

However, the routine began to weigh on him and he began to resent the work. One day, a more titular guide gave Evans some advice in the form of a question, “What did you do today that will help these guests remember it for the rest of their lives?”

Evans realized he had forgotten why he was there: to help people make memories.

Evans also told an anecdote about her young son, Luke, who came home from school and headed to the bathroom to wash his hands, then suddenly started screaming.

Evans and his wife eventually took their son to a pediatrician, who recommended a child psychologist. After several interactions with the boy, the psychologist told the couple that their son had autism.

Luke continued his routine of coming home and screaming while washing his hands in the days after his parents learned of his diagnosis. Evans said his wife would cry as she held their baby on one hip and tried to comfort Luke.

One day, Evans asked Luke a question that brought an answer he hadn’t expected: “Luke, why are you screaming while washing your hands?”

“I’m not screaming, dad. It’s the germs that are screaming. They’re falling from my hands,” the boy said.

Evans said he told the story to help encourage those who attended his lectures to lead with optimism and understanding. He cited a Harvard study that reported a positive brain was 19% more accurate, 31% more productive, three times more creative, and 10 times more engaged than their workplace counterparts.

“We really need more time to try to understand and research this information,” Evans said. “We need to be solution-oriented, not problem-oriented.

Louise Thornell, Timothy Hall and Jessica Green are all working on their “I am” – writing down facets of their personality that contribute to who they are – during a work break at the Engaging Texarkana business conference on Tuesday, September 20, 2022 , in Texarkana , Texas, Convention Center. (Staff photo by Mallory Wyatt)


Charlotte Strickland, left, and Wendy Holbrook lead a discussion during the Engaging Texarkana Business Conference on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022, at the Texarkana, Texas Convention Center. Strickland is the director of professional education and development at the University of Central Arkansas, and Holbrook is the assistant vice president for engagement, leadership and service. (Staff photo by Mallory Wyatt)


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