Dr. Lena Hill makes lunch a priority. But lunchtime is about more than having a meal to fuel her for the rest of the day, time to run errands or catch up on her to-do list.
Her lunches are often spent getting to know others, including students, and she welcomes new colleagues to Washington and Lee University. It’s also an opportunity to mentor and support the university’s inclusion efforts.
“People are often surprised when they walk into a restaurant and see who I’m eating with,” says Hill, Washington and Lee’s provost and professor of English and Africana studies. “These lunches are rejuvenating for me, and I enjoy them, and they get me out of my box.”
Hill will discuss inclusive leadership strategies during a Women’s History Month event at Wofford College at 5:30 p.m. on March 29 in Leonard Auditorium. Hill’s talk is titled: “The Renovation Will Be Televised: A Toolkit for Inclusive Leadership.”
She will reflect on her career trajectory, her commitment to enabling diverse leadership and specific actions to undertake that can help institutions maintain important traditions while moving toward equity. The event will also be livestreamed at wofford.edu/live. Wofford’s Women’s Leadership Group organized the event, which is being funded by the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and the Office of the President.
Hill created a university-wide mentoring program for Washington and Lee’s faculty and a professionals of color group at the university. She spent 12 years at the University of Iowa, where she taught English and African American studies before later serving as senior associate to the president and interim chief diversity officer and associate vice president.
“Any conversation like the talk I will give at Wofford is an opportunity for an institution to make sure it’s making the most of its own talent,” Hill says. “Too often we miss that.”
Many institutions and companies strive to have diverse communities and workforces, but that isn’t enough.
“Don’t just put it in a strategic plan,” Hill says. “We want to make people feel welcome.”
That’s where inclusion efforts help. Hill’s lunch meetings and the pizza and smores nights that she’s hosted around bonfires at her home during the pandemic are intended to be spaces where people feel welcome. She also emphasizes processes to make progress sustainable.
Being intentional about inclusion not only helps people feel welcome, but it can support their growth and opportunities to make institutions better and more diverse.
“It’s really important for those of us at institutions that weren’t necessarily built with certain types of leaders in mind,” Hill says.