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Published on June 17th, 2014 | by Millennium Magazine Staff


Nika White, Greenville Chamber’s VP of Diversity and Inclusion

Nika White is a big believer in the power of the mentor.

“I think mentoring is one of the selfless things a person can do to add tremendous value to another person,” says White, who is vice president of diversity and inclusion for the Greenville Chamber of Commerce.

In fact, White says, “I have a mentor for every aspect of my life, whether it’s my spiritual life, for working on my doctorate program, or for my professional life. … I always encourage people, have multiple mentors. That’s way too much pressure to put on one person.”

Two of her own mentors helped steer White toward the job she has now.

White spent most of her career at Erwin Penland Advertising. She began working there three days after graduating from the University of South Carolina in 1998.

The fast-paced ad-agency world felt like home, she says.

“I absolutely fell in love with the industry,” White says. “I knew that I would enjoy it, but I had no idea that I was in for such a wonderful treat.”

Two years into her career, White and her husband, Carlo, moved to Georgia. Carlo had participated in the Air Force ROTC at Clemson and was obligated to serve for four years. They spent that time in Warner Robins, and after the 9/11 attacks, Carlo was deployed to Kuwait.

That was a turning point, she says. After he returned they made the decision to move back to the Upstate to be near family, and White resumed her advertising career at Erwin Penland.

While she was there, White began to think about diversity in a marketing context. Helping clients bring in diverse perspectives can be a smart marketing move, White says.

Eventually, she began working with agency co-founder Joe Erwin to put together a diversity program at Erwin Penland.

Businesses seemed to welcome the idea, says White, who was named Career Woman of the Year by the Federation of Business and Professional Women of South Carolina.

“We just launched our initiative, and we found that through the years we were starting to get better at it, starting to have people knock on our door.”

Those people who came knocking represented companies looking to create similar programs in their corporations.

For her last few years in the advertising industry, White served a dual role, working in both the account management end of things and as an advocate for diversity.

Then came the opportunity to work for the Greenville Chamber, which was searching for someone to head up its new diversity and inclusion program. She didn’t pay much attention to the idea when a mentor first brought it to her attention, but then a different mentor made the same suggestion.

“The door opened wide, and I walked through it with great faith and no regrets. I really do feel like I’m in my element,” she says.

She started at the chamber last August, working in a newly created job, in a field that was relatively new. Other chambers have begun looking to Greenville as a role model in creating their own diversity programs, she says.

Creating the job parameters for a position that didn’t exist previously had a few challenges, White acknowledges. One of the first things she did was embark on a listening tour to gather information.

She didn’t want to implement any new programs quickly, but rather sought to learn what opportunities and challenges were out there. She discovered that partnerships are crucial, that bringing these issues to the forefront requires an effort across the community.

Capacity is the name of the chamber’s initiative, which includes networking opportunities, leadership symposiums, and the Diversity Leadership Pipeline, which connects women and minorities who want to be in leadership positions with organizations seeking volunteers to serve in those positions.

So far, there are 600 people in the pipeline, and more than 30 organizations taking part.

As White continues to expand the boundaries of Greenville’s outreach to women and minorities, she enjoys sharing her experiences with other young professional women, offering guidance, coaching and advocacy whenever she can.

“I think that can make a tremendous difference in a person’s life,” she says. “People need advocates.”

Source: Written by Donna Isbell Walker, City People writer, June 5, 2013


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