The Westchester Multicultural Chamber Executive Cabinet and Board of Directors includes (l to r): Ugo Chiulli of Progressive Computing, Gary Solomon of Tompkins Bank, Charlene Nixon, Randall Dolland of Douglas Elliman, Dr. Laura Persky, Anthony Fico of Atlas Adjustments, Taylor Khan of Clouted Thinking, and Robert Blair of KM Capital Personal Wealth Management. | Photos courtesy of the Westchester Multicultural Chamber
Charlene Nixon leads the charge on shaping the multicultural landscape of the county through the Westchester Multicultural Chamber.
A Trinidadian native with a mother of Southeast Asian descent and a father of Ethiopian, Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese descent, Charlene Nixon is the embodiment of why diversity is a benefit to be cherished. Her path to success was not a linear one. Nixon has always longed for more, but she wasn’t quite sure what that “more” entailed. She bounced around, working in finance at the World Trade Center, in the medical field as an assistant administrator for Mount Sinai, and trying many other trades before finally settling into the diamond industry, where she remained for roughly 16 years. But Nixon was still hungry to connect people and do more for the world around her. At age 40, she began attending Manhattanville College, graduating with a master’s in business leadership.
Meanwhile, still in school, Nixon had tracked down a new gig, coordinating business networking, following an effort with the Manhattan office of one of the world’s largest business-networking firms. Twenty-five years later, the restlessness came back. Although seemingly eclectic, Nixon’s background falls together like the pieces of a puzzle, with all the different parts of a well-rounded business now jam-packed into one person. All her paths route to one central theme: the service of others.
During the pandemic, Nixon, like many others, was hoping to reinvent herself. After reflecting on her experiences, she noticed two things: First, most people don’t know what business networking entails and that it is not just a transaction or a sale, but instead a process of learning. When a person engages in business networking, according to Nixon, it’s not just about building your own network but rather engaging others and educating yourself on what they are doing, what you are missing, and building relationships. Networking is a “marketing of oneself” and “word of mouth is currency,” as she explains it.
Second, Nixon noticed after looking back on old pictures that there were not a lot of people who looked like her in the field of business marketing in Westchester, despite people of color comprising 40% of the county population. A friend of Nixon’s suggested that considering her vast experience in business marketing, she could reignite the local African American Chamber of Commerce, but this wasn’t what she had envisioned. Instead, Nixon wanted a Chamber that catered to all communities.
Thus, the Westchester Multicultural Chamber (WMCC) was born last year as a comingling effort for diverse businesspeople to network and find footing through connections over culture, thought, and obstacles. The Chamber – whose stated mission is “economic equity and equality through multiculturalism” – also serves as a conduit for businesspeople to transition out of the traditional business networking bubble and work within the larger population of Westchester.
As founder and chief experience officer of WMCC, Nixon aims to ensure that every member comes away from Chamber events and gatherings with a positive experience, built on a foundation of knowledge to better prepare themselves for a successful entrepreneurial launch or business journey. The WMCC’s goal is to provide tools that entrepreneurs need when entering the business world. The group’s programs and initiatives not only teach the bureaucratic necessities of opening a business, such as filing the correct paperwork, having codes up to par, and assuring the correct insurance is acquired but also provide a strong network of support and the relationships necessary to succeed.
“Networking is a marketing of oneself. And word of mouth is currency.”
—Charlene Nixon, Founder & Chief Experience Officer, Westchester Multicultural Chamber
Among its many programs, the Chamber hosts monthly “Business Before Breakfast” sessions, during which experienced businesspeople will fire up entrepreneurs before they head out to work, armed with greater knowledge in a specific area. One recent session focused on social media voice and sales cycle optimization (SCO) strategies. There are also quarterly “On Topic” sessions and the “Small Business Series.” During a recent “On Topic” gathering in January, the three female mayors of color in Westchester — Omayra Andino of Tuckahoe, Shawyn Patterson of Mount Vernon, and Mayor Vivian McKenzie of Peekskill — shared their success stories with members of the WMCC. A recent “Small Business Series” event focused on cash flow and how to obtain it via bank and SBA loans and grants. Another notable WMCC initiative is the “Business of Your Business” program, which tailors its information to each individual’s field of business. As Nixon notes, the needs of someone starting a restaurant will differ from those starting an accounting firm.
The Chamber also works closely with elected officials, forging a bond with them to hold them to their promises of diversification, equity and change, and these relationships help to keep members informed of new legislation and how to navigate government bureaucracies.
To help ensure equal access to Chamber membership services, membership for the WMCC is based on the number of people that a company employs; the fewer employees a company has, the lower the membership fee. “It’s not divided into the gold or silver tier, basic versus intermediate, because that would create an environment of exclusion,” explains Nixon.
As for long-term goals, Nixon would like the Chamber to gain funding to offer membership scholarships to young and gifted entrepreneurs, and to create a junior board that mirrors the Chamber’s existing board, comprising seasoned business professionals. In this way, junior members will be able to partner with senior members within the same business field and gain the benefits of experience and knowledge. Through its commitment to the county’s business community and its countless programs and offerings, the Chamber is proud to walk the walk of diversity and the positive influence and empowerment that it can provide.