My identity has been shaped by being a baby-boomer born in the deep south and raised as a staunch southern Baptist who has worked for over 25 years in a large multinational corporation and is now living and working in the Middle East. At heart, I still consider myself a country girl from Memphis who spent summers as a child playing in the dirt, shelling peas with my grandmother, and eating homemade ice cream on the fourth of July. Never in their wildest dreams would my grandparents imagine that the skinny knock-kneed little girl they knew and loved would become a global leader who’s traveled to over 50 countries and interacted with men at the highest echelons of business. However, my journey has given me a wonderfully broad perspective on equity, diversity, and inclusion.
Why Does This Matter
Living at the intersection of race and gender equality has taught me how to survive in an environment with the odds stacked against me. Black women often attribute their lack of advancement to the fact that it’s challenging to find sponsorship in their organizations because they have trouble relating to those with whom they work (Cheeks, 2018). However, I now see more challenges as it relates to economic disparities. What helps me stay grounded is remembering my modest beginnings. It helps me to relate to people at all ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. When I am transparent and openly share my experiences with other leaders, it helps us both to find things that we have in common and not dwell on our differences. This helps us to see each other’s humanity. I find they then treat me as an individual rather than as a member of a group that they don’t understand or relate to.
The study of intersectionality is an emerging body of research that looks at implications of having multiple areas for potential discrimination. As an HR professional, I’m obliged to help business leaders by identifying the factors that help or hinder people from fully engaging to achieve their strategic objectives. I believe that understanding and focusing on intersectionality is key to engage the hearts of minds of your entire workforce. The concept of intersectionality should make the goals of anti-racism and social justice relatable to most everyone. There is always a connection to be made.
Tell Me More
Globalization has made the world a much smaller place, and global leaders need more than diversity training to lead today’s multinational workforce. I have had the honor and pleasure of working in the State of Qatar for the last six years, and it has taught me a lot about leading multicultural teams. The capital city of Doha is one of the most diverse places to live and work. Because the country is dependent on labor from around the world, only 30% of the workforce are nationals, and virtually every workgroup is a multicultural team. The critical lessons on equity, diversity, and inclusion that I will bring back to the USA from this experience are:
When you need and have the resources to get the best talent, you will seek it out regardless of race, nationality, or gender.People can and do have pride in their home country’s culture as well as respect for other cultures. Nationals and expats are all proud of Qatar and invested in its success.People will naturally gravitate to others from their home country outside of work, and that’s okay. People need to create and feel a sense of community for psychological safety.People will make enormous sacrifices for work opportunities and a livable wage at the expense of being away from their families for long periods.The American passport has privileges that we take for granted and often don’t even realize. I’m not identified as primarily African American or Black outside of the USA. I’m an American first.
Historical approaches to improving diversity and inclusion in USA companies have not resulted in much success during my thirty-year career. According to a recent diversity statistics report by Sapling (2020), 68 percent of C-level executives are white men, and by comparison, only 4 percent are women of color. I’ve seen the focus shift from affirmative action to diversity, then to inclusion and diversity, to building awareness of unconscious bias: all to get managers and employees to embrace and champion equity in hiring and progression of minorities.
Unfortunately, as Dr. King noted in the famous letter from a Birmingham jail, “it is a historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily” (2018). Attention to diversity issues can and does cause resentment from those who operate from a scarcity mentality. The size of the pie is finite, and there are always winners and losers in their minds. Systemic problems require systemic solutions. Therefore, to improve the statistics, we must have a multi-pronged approach with strategic objectives at an individual, team, organizational, and societal level.
Individuals must not only be made aware of their conscious and unconscious bias. Still, they must also be accountable for their actions. This is especially true of leaders within organizations who make decisions that impact people’s livelihood.Diverse teams are proven to be more effective, so leaders must be intentional about demonstrating inclusive behaviors. Leading by example to identify and address the specific challenges of intersectionality within their teams.Organizations must work to address the policies and practices that create systemic bias. They should have equity, diversity, and inclusion as part of their strategic business objectives.Societal ills impact organizations and shape the cultural environment that we live and work within. As people of character, we can and should strive to usher in a new millennium.
I’m still just a country girl from Tennessee. Yet, my eyes have been opened to the possibilities of a more equitable and just workplace. It’s time for us to align our actions with our espoused values. By working together, we can achieve a better world and drive organizational success. There is room for all of us to succeed.
Cheeks, M. (2018). How Black Women Describe Navigating Race and Gender in the Workplace. Harvard Business Review.https://hbr.org/2018/03/how-black-women-describe-navigating-race-and-gender-in-the-workplace
King, M. L. (2018, February). Letter From Birmingham Jail – The Atlantic. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/02/letter-from-a-birmingham-jail/552461/
Sapling. (2020). Diversity and Inclusion Statistics You Must Know in 2020. https://www.saplinghr.com/blog/diversity-and-inclusion-statistics-you-must-know-in-2020