What Will You Decide?

Growing up, I've always admired Rosa Parks. My church would have a Black History Month program where we dress up as and speak on pivotal civil rights leaders. Rosa was always my favorite. My admiration for Rosa has grown over the years. It started just as most civil rights favorites do, through repeated exposure. Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Harriet Tubman are just a few of the names most talked about in February, history class, and black history programs. As I got older, I learned about more influential figures in history, but I still drawn to Rosa Parks. We all know that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, got arrested, and gave people the momentum to start the civil rights movement. But did Rosa start the day thinking that she was going to sit on the bus and refuse to give up her seat? She probably had that thought all the time. We all have grandiose thoughts about what we would say to our boss, our parents, or the bully in the hallway, but rarely do we act on them. We play out scenarios in our mind of what each person says and does. If you're anything like me, you have a vivid imagination and sometimes your scenarios go a little too far! But it's just that, our thoughts and imagination. Rosa's story started on December 1, 1955. She, and many other African Americans, were forced to live a segregated life. At the end of a long day's work, she would get on the bus through the front door to pay her bus fare, then re-enter through the back of the bus to find a seat. Rosa found a seat behind the "Colored Only" sign. While it wasn't law that black people give up their seat to white people as the bus filled up, it was customary for bus drivers to require it, enforce it, and make it punishable should one refuse. As the bus made its way through the city, more and more white people were left standing in the aisles. The bus driver asked the black people to give up their seats to make room for the white people and all complied, except for one. Rosa was arrested, and the rest is history. What intrigues me most about Rosa's story is that she made one decision and that one decision facilitated a major change in America. Unlike Dr. King, Rosa didn't have a platform or extensive education that propelled her into the civil rights spotlight. Rosa was an unknown woman living the segregated life like everyone else. She was just like you and me. She went to work everyday amidst the injustices that are occurring in the world. She watched the news everyday and heard stories of black men being killed because they "made eyes" with a white woman. She watched the news and heard about Emmett Till being beaten, tortured, shot, and killed at the age of 14 because he "flirted" with a white woman. Rosa was tired, both physically and mentally. She was tired of people who looked like her being treated unfairly and losing their lives over these injustices, but what could she do about it? She was a seamstress. Nobody would listen to a seamstress. Nobody would listen to a woman. Nobody would listen to a black woman. The odds of Rosa making an impact were slim. She thought like we think. She thought like I thought. I am a small, insignificant person in this world, incapable of making a difference. Rosa proved us wrong. She proved me wrong! One decision, made not that long ago, allows me, a young, African American woman to be here today, on this platform, writing to you. What decision would you make if you knew that that decision would have an impact on someone 60 years later? One small decision can start a revolution. Some of us decide to go to school for an advanced degree. Some of us decide to start a family. Some of us decide to start our own businesses. Some of us decide to speak out against injustices. What will you decide? I decided to be authentically me. There were so many times I tried to be like someone else so I could be successful. I didn't realize that the best way for me to be successful, is to be myself. I decided to use my education and experience to increase the presence and effectiveness of minority groups in the workplace. I don't know if I will make a huge difference, but I have decided to try. If Rosa had decided to give up her seat on the bus, where would we be today? What is the world missing out on, because you haven't decided? I Decide Diversity. What do you decide?

What Muhammad Ali Taught Us About Overcoming Stereotypes

"I don't have to be what you want me to be. I'm free to be what I want." -Muhammad Ali

     With the recent passing of Muhammad Ali, the world took time to remember the G.O.A.T. and all his achievements, both in the ring and in our communities. Muhammad Ali grew up as Cassius Clay in West Louisville, a mostly minority, low to middle socioeconomic, often forgotten part of town. He worked hard to achieve his goal, declaring that he was the greatest along the way. No matter how popular, famous, or rich Ali became, he never forgot about his hometown. Even in his passing, he chose Louisville to hold his historic memorials drawing thousands of people from all over the world. Muhammad Ali will be remembered for a lot of things. When he announced his religious choice and changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali, he immediately assumed a different stereotype. Or did he?

     Stereotypes are schemas that our brain has developed as shortcuts to solutions in unfamiliar situations. These schemas or scenarios are based on our personal experience or the experiences of others that we observe, perceive, or hear. In most cases, schemas are good. It helps us discern safety and risk without using "trial and error". For example, most of us have never been mugged in a dark alley, but our heart starts beating faster and our breathing shallows when we walk past an alley late at night. By reading that last sentence, you probably noticed a difference in your physiological state. That's our body's way of preparing us to fight or flight just in case we encounter someone who might try to hurt us. Sometimes, our schemas jump the gun and negatively assess situations. For example, a man in a hoodie can automatically be seen as threatening because of the schemas we have associated with men in hoodies. People who are high in self-awareness override these stereotypes once they understand that the schema no longer fits the situation, and then a new schema is formed. Just one problem, people do not always override the stereotypes they have about a subset of people or situations.

"I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was" -Muhammad Ali

     When Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali, many people assigned to him, the Muslim stereotype. You know, the one where everyone thinks that Muslims are terrorists whose only goal is to blow up buildings and kill people. But Muhammad Ali, the Champ, the Louisville Lip, the Greatest Of All Time didn't fit that stereotype. Muhammad Ali was different. He helped people in need, showed compassion to those who were less fortunate, and stood up for the rights of those who couldn't stand for themselves. Ali was a hero who wanted to bring people together, not tear people apart. How can we deal with this junxtaposition?

     There was research conducted on stereotypes where a group of participants were told the typical stereotypes of a cohort of people. Examples include white men as leaders or asians as mathmatically intelligent. Then, the group of participants were told that the stereotype has changed. White men are no longer seen as leaders, asians are no longer seen as mathmatically intelligent, and so on. The point of the experiment was to determine how easy it is to change stereotypes once they are formed. The researchers found that when the stereotype change is minor such as asians being perceived as scientifically intelligent instead of mathmatically intelligent, it is believable. But when the stereotype change is drastic, people have a hard time believing and accepting it, but it is possible.

"If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it, then I can achieve it" -Muhammad Ali

     We love Muhammad Ali and what he stood for. We followed the life of Muhammad Ali and determined that he was different. We took the time to assess the individual, resulting in our brains creating a new stereotype specifically for Muhammad Ali. If we can overcome stereotypes about the G.O.A.T., we can overcome stereotypes about the kid from the West side of Louisville, the Muslim who lives down the street, or the victims of the mass shooting in Orlando.


Diversity Means More Than Race

          For as long as I can remember, I have been "the only". In high school I worked at Sonic Drive-In and was the only African American employed. In college, I majored in Chemistry for two years and was the only African American in many of my classes. In many of my retail jobs, I was the only African American in management. To this day, I can list the vast associations and organizations in which I am the only African American. As the token African American woman, I am looked upon to represent the thoughts, beliefs, and actions of African American women. In the eyes of the law, I represent diversity. I filled the quota, but due to my experiences in corporate America, I have realized that diversity is more than an influx of people who look different than the majority.
          An article at Fast Company states that millennials have a different outlook on diversity than previous generations. The author says millennials consider a difference of thought, experience, and background a valid definition for diversity. As a millennial, I think I can explain why this is the case. Affirmative Action was enacted in 1961 to ensure employers do not discriminate against qualified individuals due to race, ethnicity, creed, or national origin. In 1967, gender was added to the list. People of color and women were fighting for jobs. Certain jobs were characterized as agentic, or requiring male attributes, such as manager, sales person, or firefighter. The jobs that were characterized as communal, or requiring female attributes, such as secretary, were set aside for women. Then, there was a third set of jobs, such as cleaning person, seamstress, or factory worker that were set aside for people of color. Affirmative action ensured that people of color and women who were qualified to be managers, sales people, or firefighters were given an equal opportunity of employment. Fast forward to today, where hiring of people of color and women in organizations has improved, the modern day social equality fight has expanded to include more facets of fairness and equality.
          Affirmative action is considered a success once the minority individual has been hired. Then what? The characteristics and qualities of the minority individual that mirror those of the majority are acknowledged and celebrated. Phrases such as "you sound so articulate"or "you carry yourself so well" are a few examples of the microaggressions congratulating people of color and women for assimilating. There's just one problem, when people display characteristics outside of the stereotypical social roles assigned to them based on race and gender, they are viewed as being less authentic, and as a result, less trustworthy. Alice Eagly, a social psychologist, has conducted research on the consequences of social role incongruity, or the mismatch between how a person behaves and how we think they should behave. Eagly is most notable for researching men and women in leadership positions and how their followers perceive their competence based on their gender. The Social Role Theory also explains how attributions based on race and ethnicity can affect perception.
          After Affirmative Action, comes diversity and inclusion. Diversity means more than race! Organizations must allow people of diverse backgrounds to bring their entire selves to work, not just the parts that meet the majority's expectations. Diversity means accepting people who come from a different background or have a different set of experiences, and encouraging them to express their opinion, suggest ideas, and speak up when processes or procedures do not make sense. Diversity means appreciating cultural norms and creating a safe atmosphere for cultural conversations. Diversity means pushing aside stereotypes to learn about the person. Diversity means more than race and organizations will either adjust their culture accordingly or watch their competitors welcome diverse talent with open arms. 

Decide Diversity- 3 Ways You Can

           As a child, to celebrate MLK Day, I recited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech to a congregation of family and friends. I stood behind the podium and echoed Dr. King's iconic mannerisms and intonations that he used to incite crowds. I felt powerful. In that moment, I felt as though I could accomplish just as much as Dr. King. I was intrigued by his confidence and sureness in making difficult decisions, even if it resulted in his death. Dr. King decided to stand up against segregation, discrimination, unfair pay, and other social injustices.

          As we return to work after the holiday, we often think about what we can do to make Dr. King proud and forward his mission. One thing you can do is Decide Diversity. We spend at least 2080 hours at work a year, where 91% of all executives are white, 88% of all operations managers are white, and 83% of all human resource managers are white (DOL, 2014). We have an uphill battle in getting more people of color, women, LGBTQ, disabled, and veterans into leadership positions in the workplace. But why? Why is diversity in the workplace important?

Diversity leads to higher innovation. People from diverse backgrounds have different experiences and perspectives that they bring to the workplace. These ideas help teams think outside the box to develop new and improved products and deliver top quality service.

Diversity leads to better customer representation. Organizations have the opportunity to genuinely reach more people when their workforce is representative of the customer base. How logical is it for an organization to market to African American men 24-40, yet not have any African Americans on staff? This isn't to say that one African American can speak for an entire race, but he can bring a different perspective to the table that can make marketing to the target group more effective.

Diversity is the right thing to do. 50 years from now, our children and grandchildren will look back and be disgusted by the demographic makeup of organizations that we created and allowed, just as we are disgusted that people of color were treated as they were 50 years ago.

          Decide Diversity. Decide that you will be aware of issues affecting communities of people other than your own. Decide that you will speak up for workforce diversity. Decide that you will not accept workplace injustices. Decide that you will do what is right. No matter what position in the organization you are in, you can make a difference. Decide that you will make a difference today. Decide Diversity.