Nashville Region organizations bring people together to create a more vibrant community.
A community is only as strong as its efforts to be inclusive and support people in their journeys, whether personal or professional.
Several organizations based in the Nashville Region are doing just that. And their efforts have resulted in boosting minority-owned small businesses, welcoming new residents and providing a climate where all feel a sense of belonging.
Brynn Plummer, vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center (NEC), is among those making a difference. From her vantage point, an entrepreneurial community should not be homogeneous and reflect only a certain archetype. Instead, it’s the center’s charge to bring more people from different walks of life to the table.
“I would say over the last two to three years, we’ve taken a much deeper focus on how we can make Nashville the best place in America to grow business,” she says. “There are things that we can do our theory of change around that has really put diversity much more front and center.”
For example, making sure entrepreneurs of all races and backgrounds feel seen, understood and included is a conscious effort.
Programs such as Twende, an initiative of the NEC, gives entrepreneurs of color in all industries access to a world-class curriculum, a supportive community and individualized mentorship.
Putting People First
Domonique Townsend, the CEO of We Optimize Work and an engineer, is a Twende success story. Her business, founded in 2019, caters to employers who are open to what she refers to as “human-centered work approaches” to increase engagement, productivity and belonging for women in the workplace.
The pandemic, for instance, presented an opportunity for her to consult on the best way to cater to employees’ needs.
“So, I look at all these return-to-office approaches right now,” she says. “And I’m helping them figure out what’s optimal, what’s the risk if they go all in-person versus remote, versus hybrid. But at the core of that is having better work approaches so that way women do not feel like they need to downshift or leave their careers. So that’s what we focus on.”
Townsend, a mother and Black woman, says her experience informs her own approach to business. Twende was helpful because it addressed and leaned into some of the obstacles people of color face — head-on.
“In generalized programming, a lot of things are not discussed because (facilitators) don’t think about those challenges because they have not experienced them necessarily,” she says. “Twende, however, is really intentional about addressing those barriers.”
Creating a Welcoming Climate
Addressing barriers is a theme with which Joe Woolley is familiar, as the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce CEO. The organization advocates, educates and connects on behalf of its members who share the values of promoting equity and diversity in business and society.
“Education means providing our corporate members with information around diversity and inclusion initiatives,” he says. “Diversity and inclusion is the name of the game in business right now. And you have a lot of leaders in the field setting the bar here in Nashville, and then you’ve got a lot trying to catch up, too.”
Another program, Intro Nashville, empowers people differently. The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce program, Intro Nashville, provides new arrivals with tools that help unlock connections to the region.
According to Caitlin Okrzesik, the chamber’s director of community initiatives, Intro Nashville serves as a boot camp of sorts for recent transplants. Offered virtually and in person, participants leave the program with newfound relationships that can help them personally and professionally.
“It helps you build your network fast, so you get the opportunity to meet with people who are movers and shakers who’ve helped this community thrive,” she says.
That was the case for Amy Rao Mohan, an Intro Nashville participant and an attorney with law firm Sherrard Roe Voigt & Harbison.
“The ability to network with other like-minded professionals in a similar stage of career development drew me to the program,” she says. “I enjoyed the ability to get to know other professionals and hear about the type of work they are doing.”