In the summer of 2020, PCMA Groundbreaker Award nominee Yolanda Simmons Battle added to her responsibilities as the American Health Information Management Association’s (AHIMA) senior manager of meetings by accepting a new voluntary role. She committed to developing and leading the first iteration of the Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity (IDE) Task Force for PCMA’s Greater Midwest Chapter (GMC). For more than a year, in addition to her job at AHIMA in Chicago, she has worked alongside her peers to emphasize to why IDE is crucial to the meetings industry.
“If we are going to be successful as great partners, not [only in] business but in our personal lives, we have to walk through the healing process together,” Simmons Battle said. The initiative launched shortly after the murder of George Floyd and the lack of accountability around Breonna Taylor’s death, Simmons Battle said. The world was still dealing with COVID-19, she said, while many were also feeling exhausted from “race and gender relations, all during a time and space of our volatile and unpredictable industry.” Simmons Battle worked to bring to light that all these issues are interconnected and that “we must learn how to manage them together,” she said. Simmons Battle has curated IDE content for GMC PCMA’s website and helped bring related educational events to the chapter, organizing such sessions as “Authentic Answers to Uncomfortable Questions,” “Women of Color in the Hospitality Industry,” and “Being Black in Business: Community Conversation.”
Simmons Battle credits her strong sense of leadership to her ability to continue learning and asking questions about the world around her. “My dad was a big proponent of questions,” she said. “If you don’t know the answer to something, it is up to you to ask about it. I ask questions. I volunteer to participate on committees. I listen. Listening is a true gift and I try to be more of a listener, observer, and doer than a talker.”
Simmons Battle takes classes, participates in webinars, and tries to broaden her horizons on issues pertaining to meetings and events and beyond, incorporating a more “global view,” she said. “We can’t be afraid to show up and take a seat at the table, and in those moments [when] I have been afraid, I took a seat anyway. There are moments where I had to bring my own table and stand up, and I had the energy from those who went before me to give me courage to do just that — pave the way, not just for me, but for everyone walking this journey with me.”
Among the lessons Simmons Battle said she has learned in her extensive career, including almost nine years with AHIMA, the greatest has been to learn not to allow others’ perceptions, thoughts, or attitudes toward her cause her to act or respond differently. “I remain confident in myself that I am an eternal learner. As long as I continue to be open to receive,” she said, “I will never be empty.”
Casey Gale is an associate editor at Convene.