I grew up in the inner city of Boston, Massachusetts and spent my primary education as part of a voluntary bussing program attending predominantly white schools through high school. I graduated one of nine black students in a class of 160. I was often the “only” in my classrooms, but I went home every day to a neighborhood where everyone looked like me. Throughout my schooling, what made me different – my appearance, my black heritage, and my urban culture were not accepted and seen as beneath that of my suburban, wealthy, white peers. As a Black woman in the finance profession, I have spent my career being the “only” in the room, and the same differences exist on some level. Being the “only” for so much of my life has driven me to be a fierce advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) and racial equality.
As SVP, CFO, and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), I can drive a DEI strategy that benefits all voices. DE&I isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s a business imperative. According to Brookings Institute, this country will be majority-minority by 2045. That means that the talent pool is changing, and companies must know how to attract and retain diverse talent. Attracting talent is one thing, but retaining talent is the challenge. That is where equity and inclusion come into play. Companies must have a culture where employees feel like they belong and are treated fairly. For many people of color, when no one in leadership looks like them, that sense of belonging can be challenging. They wonder who is representing my point of view. And the pay equity issues must be addressed. It is 2021, and women still make $.82 for every dollar a man makes. Black and Latina women are even lower at $.65 and $.59. The business case for promoting DE&I is paramount. We have to recognize that by continuing to have these conversations so we can move the needle forward to having a level playing field for all.
The summer of 2020 gave renewed voice to the racial injustice that exists in our country. It magnified the fact that all voices are not heard equally. We have to look at how racial inequality negatively impacts corporate America. And those of us at a level where we have a seat at the table and the opportunity for our voice to be heard must speak on behalf of those who do not. We can no longer sit by silently while microaggressions, exclusion, subtle and not so subtle racism and sexism dominate our workplace. We must have the courage to speak the truth even when it’s difficult and uncomfortable. Someone has to be bold and courageous enough to challenge what has been so that we can move to what must be. And yes, there is personal risk to being that voice. But to quote a passage from the Bible (Esther 4:14), “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”