Written by Nina Banks (’23), Fellow in the Office of Personal & Career Development at Wake Forest University

Photo from Canva.com

My diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) journey formally started when I entered college. As I reflect on my growth, one challenge I experienced stands out the most. I started my journey–as most students are inclined to do–by gathering information and context about the history of oppressive systems and how they currently operate in society. However, there came a moment when I hit a brick wall. Suddenly, with a wealth of information at my fingertips, I had the simultaneous understanding that systemic problems are too complex for one person to solve. 

At this moment, it’s easy to feel stuck. I have. I’ve wasted weeks, even months, feeling that way. Here is one of the most important realizations that I came to during that time. 

It took me until very recently to really consider what advocacy means in a concrete, tangible way. Once I did, I started to realize that it is one of the most fundamental and important skills I can utilize to become a champion of DEIB. When facing that brick wall and having the ability to recognize the problem but not the solution, the catalyst that drives that static moment into action is advocacy. 

Everyone has the potential to become a strong advocate if they are willing to cultivate the skills within themselves. Through my experience, and from behavior that I have witnessed in people that I consider strong advocates, here is what I learned about cultivating advocacy skills:

Firstly, there is no one size fits all approach to this. In fact, the most effective way for everyone to collectively grow as advocates is to tap into our unique strengths and talents. I started with an assessment of my own strengths. Am I a strong verbal communicator who can influence people and garner support for initiatives with clear, confident and persuasive speech? Perhaps I’m more adept with written communication and can compel people with stories. 

I have also realized that most people have skills and talents that they wouldn’t consider strengths so it can be helpful to utilize a critical assessment (e.g. CliftonStrengths). These assessments are not comprehensive nor should they be used as an “end all be all” for determining someone’s strengths (that is a personal decision). Instead, I use it as a tool to reflect on what I consider my strengths to be. 

Here are some questions, outlined by Gallup’s resource, “Five Clues to Talent: A Guide to Real-LIfe Strengths Conversions”, that helped prompt me to think about my talents and strengths: 

  1. What kinds of activities do you seem to pick up quickly?
  2. In what activities do you automatically know the steps to be taken?
  3. During what activities have you had moments of subconscious excellence when you thought “How did I do that?”
  4. What activities give you a kick, either while doing them or immediately after finishing them, and you think, “When can I do that again?”

Secondly, I started to think about how to intentionally cultivate these strengths. This is a deeply personal, creative and imaginative process. With that being said, it helped me to consider: 

What knowledge and resources do I have available and accessible to me?

How can these resources be used to cultivate my strengths? 

What am I missing? What do you need to do to get access to them? 

These questions are easily applicable to professional life but they can be used in all areas of life!

In the workplace, this means identifying what DEIB resources are already provided to employees. If there’s something the employer doesn’t provide, consider what is needed to supplement that knowledge. This could mean attending workshops or conferences, connecting with experts in the field or enrolling in an online course or certificate program. But it can also be observing leaders in the organization who model advocacy for their colleagues. 

Finally, I cannot emphasize how important it is to cultivate your learning community. Having a community of people who share an investment in learning together, has been instrumental to my growth. My community sustains my motivation to keep learning while providing an accountability structure. Along everyone’s journey there will be mistakes and it is important to recognize and accept that as part of the learning process. It has also been instrumental in the acquisition and distribution of new knowledge. Each person in my community provides different perspectives and contributions to different concepts. Cultivating a learning community means seeking out people who are trustworthy, who have a diverse set of knowledge and skills and who demonstrate consistent effort to facilitate and share important learning moments. 

Developing advocacy skills can be difficult because there is no award, certificate or recognition that you will gain that marks the end of your journey. It’s a lifelong process and in order to sustain yourself, it’s important to give yourself grace to make mistakes and grow. After all, the best advocates first learn by being strong advocates for themselves. 


CliftonStrengths, 2019, “FIve Clues to Talent: A Real-Life Guide to Strengths Conversations”, Gallup Inc.