Be the light – Accepting the call to become the change we seek
As Black History Month comes to a close, global communities and companies alike are left reflecting on recent historical events with shock, awe and a commitment to drive change. We find ourselves faced with the unhealed wounds of our past, a defining moment for our future and an opportunity to become the change we seek as citizens and professionals.
On one hand, we are shocked by the culminating events caused by the murder of George Floyd, which led to a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement; the revelations of systemic inequality through COVID-19; and a historic insurrection of the U.S. Capitol, reminding us all of the racial injustice that still persists in this country.
On the other hand, we’re awe-inspired by the historic events of Black Americans that ushered us into this month such as Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett – a key scientist for the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine; The Honorable Lloyd Austin – the first Black Pentagon Chief, US Defense Secretary; and Amanda Gorman – the youngest inaugural US Poet Laureate who reminded us in her inauguration poem, The Hill We Climb, that “there is always light…if only we’re brave enough to be it”.
In the face of these dueling realities and the broader challenges with global racism, we’re faced with an opportunity to accept the call to action; to become the light, an active advocate for change, for others to model.
Accepting the call
Last September, my last grandmother passed away of natural causes and I was blessed to sit with her in her final moments. She grew up in the Jim Crow South of Selma, Alabama so I asked her how she felt about being alive to witness the first Black woman Vice Presidential candidate. She told me that she couldn’t believe it, recalling the many times she had to hide under her bed from the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) as a child. She said, “I’m proud of this progress, but we have to ‘keep going’ no matter how difficult the journey.” She joined the heavens shortly after that talk, but she lives through me as I attempt to embody her guidance today.
Her message resonated with me because I realized that I am now a leader the next generation looks up to and I carry the responsibility of moving this work forward, just like those who came before me. As a Black (racism) bisexual (homophobia) millennial (ageism) woman (sexism) with a southern Baptist (legalism) upbringing, I’ve always been told to adjust my identity to be accepted. You can’t be what you can’t see and today, I am proud to lead authentically as I am, representing a symbol of hope for future generations struggling to be seen and included for who they are.
The corporate dilemma
Research shows that COVID-19 has exacerbated previously existing challenges for diversity and inclusion progress, especially for the Black community. Now, more than ever, companies are scrambling to implement initiatives and programs to respond to racial and social injustice, but at the risk of excluding the very groups they are trying to attract. At the same time, we have this incredible opportunity to build upon this momentum and activate company, industry and nationwide transformation. Not only is this the right thing to do, but it just makes “cents”.
Stated commitments without a formal plan make it difficult for employees to trust their organization’s intentions and values. Now is the perfect time to restate your organizational goals and the impact you seek to achieve in order to inspire your workforce to come along with you. Executives represent the core principles of the company and by acknowledging employee sentiment, it can help to eliminate barriers towards progress. We don’t want to check the box with performative acts, we want to transform the box with intentional outcomes.
While data provides insight, it doesn’t make the decision to act – this is where business leaders can lead the way.
Cloudera in action
Like most of the tech industry, Cloudera is on its own journey towards a fair and equitable culture. I’m proud to say that I am a product of the swift actions that have taken place to further our commitment as an organization. Those same bold steps attracted me to the company.
Thanks to our CEO’s commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive culture, we hired our first Chief Diversity Officer; built our first diversity, equality and inclusion team (where I sit in the business); we’ve launched internal trainings like inclusive leadership and allyship; we have external partnerships with organizations like the Boys N Girls Club of Tennessee; we’ve launched a sponsorship program for women and underrepresented minorities, we’re optimizing processes to better support our employee resource groups (ERGs) and so much more.
While this is just the beginning, Cloudera is laying the foundation for the future of workplace culture where anyone can join and be successful as their authentic selves. As we close Black History Month, we prepare to welcome International Women’s Day on March 8th, bridging the gap among our intersectional identities through cultural moments.
In the words of James Baldwin, “not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” While this work can be uncomfortable, it is necessary for the long-term prosperity of our country and our organizations. If you haven’t already, now is the time to accept the call to action and “be the light”.