By Ellen McGirt
Updated: December 13, 2018 1:44 PM ET

An embarrassment of riches poured from Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit in Laguna Niguel, Calif. over the past two days.

What made the conference shine was the vulnerability and wisdom which came from the participants at every turn, whether they were on stage or speaking from the floor, culminating in the ideas that were shared during Wednesday’s Town Hall discussion on overcoming blind spots. More on that in a moment.

Perfect for the raceAhead crowd is this extraordinary discussion between Professor Anita Hill and Fortune’s Kristen Bellstrom. They did not mince words when it came to the high cost of sexual harassment in the workplace and beyond.

“I think we have to understand the root problem for what it is,” says Hill. “It’s not just about sexual harassment. In many ways, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It is about the abuse of power that occurs.” The dynamic is insidious. “One way abuse of power is manifested is through sexual harassment,” she said. “But it’s also manifested through pay inequity. It’s also manifested through lack of leadership opportunities. It’s also manifested just by day to day aggressions that occur.”

Similarly on point was this conversation with JPMorgan Chase’s Thasunda Duckett, who says that diversity goals should be managed and enforced with the same rigor as other business metrics. “When you are not delivering the right level of returns or the right level of performance, you focus on it and you do not allow excuses to get in the way,” she says.“It has to start from the top, and then you have to make sure you hold people accountable just like you do every other business metric.”

And we have to be able to talk about race at work and in the world at large, agrees another panel. It opens up opportunities to have the difficult conversations that allow people to be seen. “I’m black first and a woman second,” said Bärí Williams, vice president of legal, business, and policy affairs at All Turtles. “Someone else might walk in the room and might say they are a mother first. It’s really about trying to meet people where they are.”

And yet, people resist. “One company literally said to me, ‘Oh no, we don’t talk about race. We are not comfortable with that conversation,’” shared Molly [f500link, ignore=true]Ford[/f500link], senior director of global equality programs at Salesforce. “And I was talking to a black person on somebody’s diversity team.”

“It’s the theory of, ‘If you don’t open your mouth, you’re not going to put your foot in it,’” she said. “But that’s not going to help us move forward if we’re afraid to have these conversations.”

In that spirit, the parting highlight of the conference was a remarkable Town Hall discussion where women came together to dig deeply into their own experiences on both sides of blind spots, and to make fresh commitments to find ways to dismantle the barriers society erects for women, particularly women of color.

The discussion was led with grace and candor by Katrina Jones, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Twitch, Karla Monterroso, the CEO of Code2040, and Leyla Seka, Executive Vice President, AppExchange, Salesforce. It was an extraordinary conversation and I was honored to witness it.

The MPW/raceAhead teams have promised to find a way to capture those insights in a form that can be shared and built-upon, so stay tuned.


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