One of my first post-degree jobs was located in the University of Miami’s payroll department. My supervisor was the director of payroll and she was a Jamaican woman. I was thrilled to learn from someone I could relate to. A few years later, I moved back to Chicago. I ended up working for a black woman (again). She was the executive director of the program. It’s ironic that I had none of this black girl magic in my life at a younger age and so much of it in my early career. This woman taught me what a true leader was. She built me up, invested in me, believed in me, and taught me how to deal with the adversities we both experienced in the workplace. I was blessed to be able to work under her direction. Since moving to NYC, I have worked at NYU Langone Health, NYC’s Department of Education and for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. I’ve had my fair share of white superiors. Even in one of the world’s most diverse cities, I have endured adverse comments, looks and snarls. Reflecting back, these experiences have solely been in environments where I was the minority. I’ve had a boss openly share with me that he does not see color. Another said my hair was a situation. He spoke those words as if he deserved a badge, not realizing these comments were offensive to me. “One stream of research has shown that diverse teams with a color-cognizant perspective tend to have better process and outcomes than those holding a color-blind perspective” (Foldy, 24). In turn, I often ended up feeling disconnected. I felt like only part of me was acknowledged. I’ve also had the honor of experiencing what it is like to be open about race in the workplace.
As a part of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, we often had the space to discuss the different race events that were taking place in America and we took the Intercultural Development Inventory to increase our awareness of our unconscious biases. “Reluctance to talk about race is widespread despite many exhortations. In the wake of the verdict finding George Zimmerman innocent in the shooting death of young, black man Trayvon Martin, Barack Obama encouraged conversations about race, including informal discussion in “Families and church and workplaces” (Foldy, 14). These meetings can be difficult to endure and they usually start in silence and end in tears. Every one leaves with a better understanding of each other and the struggles of others. It was clear in these department wide meetings that privilege is blinding. When one is blind, other senses should be heightened. Listening to victims of oppression should be a responsibility of privileged persons.
Currently, I lead a diverse team at NYU Langone health and I work hard to ensure everyone feels like they are working in a safe environment. I intentionally instill an atmosphere of trust, respect, dignity and honor by encouraging an open and inclusive environment where we can freely discuss race, religion, politics, and other topics that most would consider difficult. These discussions have enabled employees to feel like they can bring their whole selves to work. There is no shame in our diversity and we truly embrace our differences. It’s my hope that everyone is this department feels seen, heard and valued.
No matter what environment I find myself in, I hope to build employee morale by encouraging colleagues to be themselves and to listen to others’ stories and experiences no matter what environment they find themselves in. Most of us minorities have experienced some type of adversity in the way of race and identity in the workplace. My goal is to encourage my coworkers to be confident in themselves and in everything they do, in addition to, healthy levels of self-esteem and self-worth. By focusing on these areas, I believe we have truly created an environment of excellence.