Sustaining and Growing Denver’s Diverse talent: 7 Insights from the Piton Fellowship

December 12, 2023

Sustaining and Growing Denver’s Diverse Talent: 7 Insights from the Piton Fellowship

PERSPECTIVES | With Liloni S.Ramos

If we’re going to change the face of leadership in Denver, we must partner with Denver’s next generation of civic leaders, particularly leaders of color who, despite having all the promise and potential, have been historically denied access to the careers and lives they want to build here in Colorado.

I’ve long believed that leadership sits at the intersection of identity and purpose. When I stepped in to lead the Piton Fellowship at Gary Community Ventures over a year ago, I had the chance to build on this belief not only for myself, but for rising leaders across Denver. As a 4th generation Coloradan, Denver Public Schools graduate, and education advocate, I saw so much opportunity to be part of a program dedicated to changing the face of leadership in Colorado, with a focus on a new generation of leadership, one driven by purpose and identity. 

What does changing the face of leadership mean? At The Piton Fellowship, it’s a commitment to partnering with Denver’s next generation of civic leaders, particularly leaders of color who, despite having all the promise and potential, have been historically denied access to the careers and lives they want to build here in Colorado. Highly skilled leaders of color across metro Denver note that this lack of access to networks and professional support limits their opportunity to fully explore their professional aspirations.  At the same time, metro Denver employers are looking for highly skilled, diverse talent, and are experiencing challenges connecting to such professionals.  

The Piton Fellowship aims to be part of the solution to bridge this gap between diverse talent and values-aligned employers, while nurturing the development of Denver’s next generation of executive directors, philanthropists, investors and innovators who will lead for Colorado kids and families. This approach is deeply inspired by our founders Sam and Nancy Gary, who held a poignant belief.

One of the most important ways to ensure that our mission is realized is by building strong human capital and leadership both internally and externally.

– Sam & Nancy Gary.

This year, we welcomed our 5th cohort of Piton Fellows, an incredible group of leaders across nonprofit, for-profit and government sectors. It was our most diverse cohort to date, an outcome shaped by past Piton fellows. Their insights, opinions, and perspectives made possible the diversity we at Gary, and so many other values-aligned companies, strive to have in our teams. With an acknowledgment that we’re still actively leaning into our own DEI practice, a process that is never complete, we also wanted to share and amplify insights from the early career fellows that have supported our continued commitment to finding, connecting, and learning from and with diverse civic leaders. Below are seven insights from our experience.

  1. Social capital is an important part of career development, and the workplace can play a role in leveling the playing field for their employees.  So often it’s not about what you know, but who you know, especially when thinking about leadership or leveling up in your career. When the privilege and resource of social capital isn’t part of someone’s upbringing, it can limit the synapses that connect great talent to great opportunity.  This reality is more common for rising leaders of color. Compounding this, many early career professionals have been building foundational years of their career in a virtual setting. Virtual work spaces may be magnifying an issue already felt primarily by your employees of color. How are creating opportunities for the development of social capital in the workplace?
  2. The story of self as part of leadership development: A story of self communicates who we are – our values, our experience, why we do what we do. High-impact leaders share personal stories and experiences to inspire teams and partners to embrace their vision and ideas. Think about the magic that could happen when diverse, lived-experience is embraced and encouraged as part of your teams’ leadership development. 
  3. Sponsoring Early-Career Talent: Want more diverse leadership? Sponsor rising talent. Sponsorship is more than mentorship, it’s being an advocate for rising talent alongside them and behalf of them in rooms and at tables they don’t yet have access to. Mentors share their knowledge, perspective, and experience, whereas sponsors leverage their network, power and resources on behalf of rising talent. 
  4. Ongoing Learning: Rising leaders, both Gen-Z and millennials, place more value than past generations on continuous learning. In fact, it’s a key driver of fulfillment and satisfaction in their  job. How is your company providing different learning opportunities, both within the scope of employees’ work and more broadly in the communities where they work?
  5. Dreaming Big: When was the last time someone invited you to dream big about your future? Along with network and knowledge, a fundamental piece of The Piton Fellowship is making space for goal visioning and goal setting. The chance to do this as a group of professionals, to have your big dreams validated, supported, and resourced, has produced big wins and strong relationships. With this model, we’ve seen fellows get promotions, raises, launch their own small business or start new careers. Supporting rising leaders means leading and following – make sure there’s space to dream of where they want to go. 
  6. Show your commitment to BIPOC employees in actions throughout your decisions: Our commitment to Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) talent that shaped the Piton Fellowship extends through how we run the program. It’s not just about finding diverse leaders, it’s about continuing to show our commitment to the value of racial equity in our work. It informs our vendors, our facilitators, our panelists and our staffing. Our actions are meant to communicate to anyone who walks into our space – both persons of color and nonpersons of color – that racial equity is at the center of the fellowship and it is a space to show up authentically. 
  7. Accepting feedback and acting on feedback: One of our guiding design principles throughout The Piton Fellowship has been to solicit and rapidly implement feedback from fellows. Our commitment to centering racial equity means acknowledging that we operate within systems that are designed by and for predominantly white people. Ensuring that our fellows have places to share feedback, and that that feedback is then responded to in the way we shape programming, communicates trust and commitment to their experience.


Liloni S. Ramos

Liloni S. Ramos is a 4th generation Coloradoan and 3rd generation Denverite who grew up in Denver’s Harvey Park neighborhood. Being raised by her mother and grandmother, Liloni understood the power of education, service, and human connection at a young age.

Learn more about Liloni >

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