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Advocating for Change

Alumnus Danya Perry Works to Advance Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

headshot of Danya Perry
Alumnus Danya Perry is Wake County's first director of diversity, equity and inclusion. Photo courtesy: Danya Perry.

Diversity. Equity. Inclusion.

All are top-of-mind issues across the country, perhaps now more than ever. They are also priorities for alumnus Danya Perry, who is advocating for change through the lens of fairness.

He’s the first-ever director of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) for Wake County, North Carolina. In this new role, Perry is equal parts servant leader and change agent. As such, he makes people comfortable talking about uncomfortable DEI topics, works to level the playing field for all county residents and employees, and delivers solutions that ensure equity is more than just a buzzword.

“I want to make sure we think about what’s best for us collectively, and we know that with proven diversity, equity and inclusion, we are a better community,” he explains. “Inclusive prosperity ensures everyone can maximize their talents and, in turn, help support the services the county can provide to all its residents.

“It’s all interconnected,” says Perry, an alumnus of the B.A. in political science and Master of Public Administration programs. “And it’s the right thing to do.”

I want to make sure we think about what’s best for us collectively.

Not an easy job, but Perry is up to the challenge. While he stepped into the position earlier this year, he has more than 25 years of experience finding strengths in people’s differences through his work at educational and nonprofit organizations across the state. Now he’ll do the same for Wake County, which employs more than 4,000 workers and serves more than 1 million residents.

Perry says his work falls into two big buckets: interpersonal and infrastructure. The first is working across differences as colleagues; the second is investigating how the current system could perpetuate inequities, he adds.

To start, he will examine data, initiate conversations, scrutinize the county’s equity challenges, study past projects, and listen, listen, listen. He’ll use what he finds to reach key first-year goals, which include:

  • Building relationships with important stakeholders.
  • Celebrating past successes to launch new initiatives.
  • Developing a professional development platform.
  • Enhancing the county’s policies, programs and practices through the lens of fairness.

The latter includes hiring strategies, pay equity, workplace culture, and supplier selection.

Perry acknowledges that accomplishing those goals will happen incrementally over time. He also knows that it is not his responsibility alone to bear.

“It will take all of us,” he says. “Well-intentioned people create inequities every single day, so if we are mindful and intentional about disrupting those inequities, we can change the system.”

The county, he points out, already laid the groundwork by forming the WakeUP! Committee, made up of a cross-section of employees, to support DEI efforts.

An Accomplished Career

Perry’s latest position builds on an already accomplished career. He held two leadership roles at the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce – vice president of diversity, equity and inclusivity, and director of equitable economic development. Before that, Perry worked for Communities in Schools of North Carolina, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering students to remain in school.

In those roles, Perry supported the most marginalized individuals and communities — and promoted an environment of understanding and compassion. Reflecting on his time at the Raleigh Chamber, he sees leading the Triangle DEI Alliance, which helped businesses elevate equity efforts, as his most significant contribution to date in driving positive change.

“This stuff just really lights my fire,” he says of his equity work.

Perry’s ultimate hope is to help Wake County realize its mission “to be a place where people can live, work, play and be their true selves.”

A Member of the Pack

At NC State, Perry gained invaluable training for his career.

He learned how to work, engage and live with people of different backgrounds, cultures and regions. “Those opportunities allowed me to find my authentic voice and to hear the authentic voices of others,” he adds.

Perry also valued his graduate and undergraduate classes, even Chemistry 100, he jokes. They taught him to think critically and creatively and understand and appreciate history.

Those opportunities allowed me to find my authentic voice and to hear the authentic voices of others.

And from courses centered on organizational behavior, Perry says he discovered “how best to serve an organization that serves people.”

To anyone considering entering or advancing in the profession, here’s Perry’s advice: “Come in as a continuous learner, be open to different ideas, and have a mindset of service.” 

Did Perry follow his own advice when taking on his new role? “Absolutely,” he replies without hesitation.