At Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Conference, An Emphasis on Authenticity

The Magnuson Center’s Maggie Ronan recently attended the Elevate Conference at the University of Texas at Austin, where she learned a new approach to diversity and inclusion.


When Maggie Ronan, Program Manager for Startup Support at The Magnuson Center, went to the Elevate Conference, she expected to learn a shared lexicon and norms around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Instead, she learned that authenticity is at the center of DEI work.

"What surprised me was the message of staying true to your own path,” said Ronan. “In order to be an effective, inclusive environment, an organization must take people in as they are.”

The conference, hosted by the McCombs School of Business at UT Austin, was subtitled “Let’s Dance.” The tagline proclaimed “diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”

In addition to having an actual dance party, the program organizers often returned to the metaphor of a dance, Ronan said. Like dancing, challenging yourself to do DEI work can be awkward, she said. 

“They offered the idea of dancing with the awkwardness,” she said. 

Sometimes, people don’t engage with others from different backgrounds because they’re afraid of saying the wrong thing. They worry about not having the right language or enough experience working with people from diverse backgrounds. 

But being guarded in that way undermines the point of DEI work, Ronan said. It also detracts from you being your authentic self. 

That message will inform Ronan’s interactions with faculty, staff, alumni and students, she said. 

“I’ll hold space for the uniqueness of their experiences,” she says. “We have resources and programs that we offer, but we can always do a better job of catering to who comes in.”

Personal backgrounds can also impact someone’s entrepreneurial journey. For example, many first-generation college students or people from marginalized communities might prioritize career paths that are seen as safer, like getting a business degree and working for a large firm.

“We have to think about the challenges inherent to entrepreneurship and the barriers for people to even be attracted to it,” Ronan said. 

Keeping those barriers in mind can help the Magnuson Center create programming that addresses concerns and appeals to a wider audience. 

“We need to be noticing who we’re missing, and having an eye towards that,” Ronan said. 

At an organizational level, Ronan was interested in the conference’s message that an entity can set its own metric for success. One speaker discussed working with an organization that serves Black dads. Their main metric for success was how many men felt more connected with other fathers after participating in their programs. 

“That’s what mattered to them,” Ronan said. It wasn’t a conventional metric, but it was the one that was most true to the organization’s mission.

That’s a message that Ronan will keep in mind working with founders. 

“As  entrepreneurs, you’re creating key performance indicators. There are some that investors are more used to seeing, but if you have different metrics you can advocate for why they’re important,” she said. “By sharing a story, stakeholders can understand why it’s an important metric.”