In Conway, Lencola Sullivan Tells Business Leaders to Embrace Diversity

by Sarah Campbell  on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017 4:44 pm  

Lencola Sullivan, left, speaks with Christina Madsen, associate vice president of communications, public relations and marketing for the University of Central Arkansas, on Thursday at the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce’s first CEO Luncheon of the year.   (Sarah Campbell)

Everyone has preconceived biases, but business leaders must recognize them and ask whether they're being fair, Lencola Sullivan said Thursday at the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce's first CEO Luncheon of the year.

Sullivan works at the Royal Dutch Shell headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands, as an office manager, founding member of its Diversity & Inclusion Action Team and the team's focal point for the tax department.

But she's also from Morrilton and, in 1980, was the first African-American to be crowned Miss Arkansas. She was the first African-American to win preliminary awards in the 1981 Miss America pageant and to place in the top five, as fourth runner-up.

Sullivan was also a reporter for KARK-TV, Channel 4 in Little Rock and graduated from the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.

Sullivan was interviewed at the luncheon at Central Baptist College by Christina Madsen, UCA's associate vice president of communications, public relations and marketing.

"What I see from afar is that, if you don't agree with me, you can't be my friend or you can't work for me," Sullivan said. "That's not the way we get along, folks. It's like we are stronger together. And I'm not trying to quote a campaign slogan. I'm just saying we really are stronger together. The more diverse the population is, the better we will do, the better your company will do."

Sullivan talked about what it's like to break ground as an African-American.

"What I'm very conscious of is that I don't just represent my color; I represent more than color," she said. "I represent everyone who looks like me. I know that what I do affects not only me, but affects other African-Americans.

"So, if I act crazy, it'll become like, 'Well you know those black people.' You hear those things. I'm just being honest," Sullivan said. "We need to be open with each other and talk to each other."

She also asked the audience to think about how she would have been received had she walked in with a "scarf" on her head.

"Ask yourself, because sometimes we don't recognize those hidden biases we all have. I have them, and, yes, you all have them as well," she said. "It's about recognizing those biases and saying, 'Are we being fair?' Are the CEOs of your companies or organizations being fair? Is everybody getting a fair shot?' "

Sullivan said statistics show hiring managers might discriminate against applicants with names that indicate they are of a certain race or ethnicity.



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