“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” - Article 1, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948
No one knows exactly when October became Global Diversity Awareness month. Some attribute it to the adoption of the UN General Assembly’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, others to more recent efforts to raise awareness of the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) in workplaces and society at large. No matter when DE&I received the recognition it deserved, today we celebrate some major DE&I success stories because of it.
In thinking about DE&I, I believe it is important to acknowledge how gender, race, and/or sexual orientation can be barriers in our society and negatively affect employment, social, and educational opportunities. In a conversation I recently had with IMA’s DE&I Director, Darryl Jackson, he indicated that DE&I today looks at all these factors together, thereby driving conversations about intersectionality and the multiple stigmas some people face because of their gender, their race, or their sexual orientation. Darryl’s work at IMA is about bringing attention to the biases and stereotypes we all have, whether on a conscious or unconscious level, and confronting them head-on so they don’t interfere with making good hiring decisions or working cooperatively on a team.
I wanted to highlight in this blog some recent DE&I success stories which have made headlines and which are extra impactful when I think about intersectionality. They are stories of six women who have risen to senior ranks within some of the largest and most profitable organizations in the world. Their stories are different, but they all share one sentiment: appreciation for the people who came before them and who broke down barriers, giving them the space they needed to occupy the roles they hold today.
Candi Castleberry-Singleton, VP of Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Amazon
Castleberry-Singleton created The Bolt-On to Built-In Model™, “an integrated inclusion model that helps companies transition from compliance-driven processes led by human resources to integrated activities that shift the responsibility for achieving an inclusive culture to every employee.”
She was hired by Amazon in September 2021 and has some ambitious goals, namely “helping Amazon meet diversity goals it laid out in April, among them, doubling the number of Black leaders at the company from a year ago and increasing women in senior tech roles by 30%,” as reported by Yahoo Finance News.
Cynthia Sugiyama, Senior Vice President, Communications, Head of HR Communications, of Wells Fargo
In March 2020 Sugiyama wrote a piece for LinkedIn and the San Francisco Chronicle condemning the rise of hate crimes against Asian Americans that spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic. She shared very personal stories about growing up as an Asian American and being subjected to stereotyping and harassment.
She told CNBC.com that the response to the piece had been overwhelming, saying “I’ve never before felt this sense of community as much as now”… “What makes this moment pivotal is that the surge in anti-Asian sentiment on one side has been met with a powerful swell on the other side from Asian Americans who are finding their voices.”
Michelle Meyer-Ship, Chief People and Culture Officer, MLB
Following the tragic events surrounding the murder of George Floyd last year, Meyer-Ship shared with CNBC.com the important role DE&I plays in organizations. She said:
“There has been a high level of engagement around diversity inclusion in organizations at levels I have never experienced following Floyd’s death…There is a heightened sensitivity to the appreciation around the issues around diversity and inclusion…We have all sorts of issues lurking out there that have made it really clear that it is time for diversity and inclusion to be front and center.”
Anna Corrales, Chief Operating Officer, Google Consumer Hardware
Corrales grew up in Costa Rica, where she exceled at math and began her own business selling scrunchies. Encouragement by teachers led Corrales to pursue her degree in economics at the University of Washington and earned her M.S. in Economic Systems Engineering from Stanford. Today she is responsible for the roll-out and product testing of Google’s consumer hardware products.
But helping to lift others is also part of Corrales DNA. According to Hola magazine, “Due to her background and vast experience in technology, as well as her role as a mother, Ana is passionate about creating opportunities for more Latinos and Latinas to pursue roles in STEM, and she wants to help them become the next generation of leaders.”
Thasunda Brown Duckett, President and CEO, TIAA-CREF
Duckett shared with CNBC.com how her upbringing helped shape her ambition to succeed in finance. She said, “When you know what it’s like to look in the refrigerator and just see baking soda, or know what it’s like to have your lights turned off, personal finance is important,” said Duckett.
In Duckett’s previous role at Fannie Mae, making housing more affordable to people of color was a passion of hers.
Rosalind Brewer, CEO, Walgreen’s
Brewer shared her thoughts on being a Black woman in the C-suite during a speech at her alma mater, Spellman College (as reported on CNBC.com). She said, “When you’re a Black woman, you get mistaken a lot….You get mistaken as someone who could actually not have that top job. Sometimes you’re mistaken for kitchen help. Sometimes people assume you’re in the wrong place, and all I can think in the back of my head is, ‘No, you’re in the wrong place.’”
Brewer is the only Black woman currently holding the position of CEO among Fortune 500 companies. CNBC.com reports Brewer is “just the third Black woman to lead a Fortune 500 firm in history. Ursula Burns, who served as the CEO of Xerox between 2009 and 2016 was the first, and Mary Winston, who served as interim CEO at Bed Bath & Beyond in 2019, was the second.”
Reflecting on the stories of these women, I am awed and inspired by their resilience and their humbleness in occupying these high-level roles. As we celebrate Diversity Awareness Month, it is important to recognize the trailblazers and pioneers who are working everyday to make it easier for under-represented groups to make it to the C-suite.