Alaka Williams speaks on diversity, importance of acquiring a mentor

Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Scripps Network, Alaka Williams, visited the University of Tennessee to discuss a variety of issues while also going into detail about her upbringing and how she rose to prominence within a major company.

Discussing the importance of inclusion, Alaka Williams, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Scripps Network, visited the University of Tennessee, Knoxville to conclude the Wednesday events for the 2016 Diversity & Inclusion Week.

Williams is an African-American woman born in what she called a “utopia,” Reston, Virginia. She began the talk by digging into her past and expanding on her upbringing, claiming diversity and inclusion was not something on her mind during her younger years due to how well she was treated in her community.

Of course, her mother still gave her specific rules to follow.

One thing she was told every day before heading off to school was “don’t make life, don’t end life and don’t get arrested.” It’s a statement she still recalls today.

These interactions with her mother would shape Williams’ adventures for the rest of her life, while also making her realize the importance of obtaining a mentor. She hammered on the fact that getting a mentor is not only a great way to grow your career, but also your personal standing. “Find someone, teach someone… Be the change you want to see and start a movement.”

The “teach someone” is another aspect Williams talked about extensively. Paying it back is integral to growing diversity.

She pointed toward numerous people that helped her while growing up in Virginia and transitioning to Knoxville life. One of which was a lady in her church that informed Williams of a HR position opening, and urged her to apply.

After going through the initial interview process, she eventually found out that the person who recommended the job was actually the person interviewing her in the final phase.

After stressing about finding a career path, Williams admitted that she felt great relief upon receiving a job offer. “I really just wanted those benefits,” Willaims jokingly said.

Williams would admit to her own personal bias, stating that everyone has them. But the most important thing is to assess why they exist, and how we can solve them. While doing so is important, it’s also not fun.

“We have to get to a place that is uncomfortable in order to get to a place that is sustainable and leads us to progress,” Williams said.

Williams concluded her 40-minute talk with a call to action that included many poignant messages, one of which stuck out.

Williams said, “At a time when our similarities outweigh our differences, what are we waiting on?”

Featured image by Jay Malone

Edited by Kaitlin Flippo