I’m standing in the cafeteria holding a tray of food.
It’s 1979 and I am a freshman in High School. I look around to see a room divided. The black people are sitting on one side, the white people on the other, the Filipinos, the Mexicans in the middle–and I ask myself the question, “where do I belong?” Little did I know this question would permeate the entire rest of my life.
I am a bi-racial woman. Being black and white has afforded me the opportunity to live the life of navigating race. Race is at the forefront of every facet of life right now. Actually, it always has been for me and every other person of color in America. The revealing of “just beneath the surface” racism in business, politics, and day-to-day life is just the tip of the iceberg for where I believe we are headed.
Rejection reveals purpose. In my thirty-year journey of trying to belong in corporate America, I have come to realize, as many women of color have, that discovering my journey towards self-sustainability is crucial. My own journey is about renewal, forgiveness, healing and the courage to stand up to help reshape the world for our next generation. I aim to heal hearts for people and organizations that have the courage to journey with me. I accomplish this via three practice areas; Education, Workforce Development, and Diversity Architecture.
In the state of Washington kids of color need champions to help them succeed and be prepared for a full and participatory life. The intersection of income inequality, lack of resources, systemic race-based biases are a direct contributor to problems in public education. Resources are not evenly distributed to low-income schools, where the highest concentrations of kids of color are represented and teachers of color are largely working.
Washington’s economy ranks near the top of all states in terms of exports and GDP, but our student achievement and educational outcomes range from average to mediocre. When I unpack our education story, I realize while we graduate roughly 80% of all of our kids from high school, that percentage is far lower for members of some groups than others. I know from experience that high school graduation rates aren’t the be-all and end-all demonstration of high-quality learning. Students of color face disproportionate challenges in school discipline, suspension rates, lack of access to advanced programs with enriched curriculum, unbalanced school funding, and more. These challenges require courage and investment to solve without losing sight of the fact that at the end of the educational road all students are doing more than just graduating. They need to be prepared for success in post-secondary education or high-quality vocational training programs.
Remember, this is your talent pool! This is the future!
Companies seem comfortable with hiring some people of color into “entry” level jobs and sometimes these pathways ultimately lead to “middle management” roles. I believe the challenge for corporate America is to hire and promote people of color beyond middle management and propel them into true leadership roles. I believe we can do much better in the way we invest in improving the public policies that promote fairness and equity in government contracting, talent development, and leadership attainment. We need to remove systemic barriers that impede diverse talent recruitment, hiring and development.
To build diverse talent pools, organizations must invest differently, accept that they must confront the margins of perceived advantage that have led to the current state, and build scaffolds to workplace cultures that reward diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). My observation is that companies are using gender as their measure of diversity, while racial diversity continues to be left behind.
Here are a few of the guiding questions I use when working with organizations considering a DEI path. They are designed to uncover the heart work that must be done to transform your culture and mindset to prepare for change. Examples include:
Are you truly ready for change?
Leaders must invest the time, resources, and courage to make progress on creating inclusive work and educational environments. They must make the commitment to leverage resources and hold themselves accountable for the desired results. Only through this focus will the aspiration of a diverse and inclusive environment for all be achievable.
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