Charles Gibson III (BA 2009 Music Major, English Minor)
Chief Diversity Officer at Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, NC
Tell us about your current job role and employer. What are you currently working on?
I lead efforts to foster a welcoming climate for faculty, staff, and students at Lees-McRae College–a small, private liberal arts college in the North Carolina high country affiliated with the Presbyterian Church founded in 1900. My main priorities at the moment are to fine tune the strategic framework for inclusive excellence I developed that complements the college strategic plan, and to continue building the infrastructure of the first diversity, equity, and inclusion office at the college.
What key personal and/or career experiences led you to where you are today?
During my time at Wake Forest, Dr. Barbee Myers Oakes (BS ’80, MA ’81) was my advocate. Her professional example inspired me to pursue a career in diversity, equity, and inclusion work with a specialization in higher education. I also had my first experiences in higher education administration as a student leader at Wake Forest. I served as coordinator of the Board of Investigators and Advisers and Co-Chair of the Honor and Ethnics Council under the leadership of Dean Harold Holmes. Since leaving Wake Forest, I have completed three graduate degrees in higher education, held several positions in higher education administration, and worked as a corporate management and human resources consultant serving Fortune 500 companies until returning to the higher education field in my current role.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job? How do you navigate that challenge?
People in most need of assistance sometimes hold preconceived notions about what I do that keep them from seeking me out. In response, I do my best to increase awareness about what I do, who I serve, and how I can help.
What advice would you give to Wake Forest graduates about developing their personal life habits after college (finances, health, values, work/life balance)?
Follow your instincts. You know yourself better than anyone else. Do not attempt to please others by choosing to do something you feel is not right for you. There is a peace that comes from following your instincts that is priceless. A peace will be felt in all areas of your life (work/life balance, health, finances, etc.).
We know that relationships are important for any kind of development. How do you build and maintain your network?
Throughout my life, I have attempted to be as open as possible to new experiences. Consequently, I meet a range of interesting people. I build relationships by taking a true interest in what others say. I purposefully and meaningfully engage in conversation. I am also very intentional about staying professionally connected (mostly via LinkedIn). I send the request on the spot from my phone, instead of waiting until after the fact. After that, I check in periodically. Doing this has enabled me to turn what likely would have been fleeting, tangential encounters into strong personal and/or professional relationships.
Tell us about your mentoring relationships. What impact have these relationships had on your career and life?
Mentors see in you what you do not or cannot see in yourself. Dr. Barbee Myers Oakes (BA ’80, MA ’81) saw my true passion–and encouraged me to be purposeful in exploring it. Dr. Oakes was the inaugural Chief Diversity Officer at Wake Forest. I am the inaugural Chief Diversity Officer at Lees-McRae. I am very proud to be part of her incredible legacy.
What advice would you give to current Wake Forest students and/or young alumni who are interested in working in your industry?
It was my Wake Forest experience that led me to my current industry. I thought I was headed to law school until my mentor opened my eyes to a career path I had never considered. Take an honest inventory of your college experience. What did you enjoy most? The least? Figure out how to incorporate what you enjoyed most into what you choose to do for a living. That is what ultimately led me to where I am today. Diversity, equity, and inclusion professionals are needed across sectors. I have experience in non-profit and for-profit sectors–this was also unintentional. Someone in corporate America saw something in me, and asked me to consider consulting. Life is the most interesting journey you will ever take. Do not be afraid to take the scenic route or a shortcut every once in a while. It will all balance out, in the end.
What’s next for your career? What future goals or plans are you pursuing?
My only goal is to keep doing what makes me feel fulfilled and happy. I have recently developed an interest in higher education law. I may elect to explore that more purposefully in the near future. Regardless of what life may bring my way, I know the foundation laid during my formative years at Wake Forest will remain “constant and true”.
Story published in April 2022. For current updates about Charles, visit his LinkedIn page.