Five years in, and in most ways, there was not much to complain about while working for my company. I had flexibility, work-life balance, and a manager who was committed to my professional development. In the wake of COVID-19, I had grown to love our leadership and my team a bit more. Thoroughly impressed with the empathy, understanding, and accommodations made for its employees, I bragged to friends that I might retire with the company after all.
Then came Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd.
One hit after another, each death was a blow that left me breathless and afraid. As a daughter, mother, wife, and sister, I had never more clearly related to Fannie Lou Hamer's well-quoted notion of being so tired of being sick and tired.
Tears streamed down my face as I worked out to keep from punching a wall, collapsing or doing both. "He called for his mama," I said. Shock to my core by the one-second thought that this might one day be my son. Thoughts of Trayvon came next. I wondered if he too had thought of his mother in his last moments here. It was too much to bear. I let out a grunt, hurting for them and for all the black women that carried the burden of loving black men and black boys.
Helpless – the word that best describes what went unsaid between each pant I released to catch my breath.
Thankful – the sentiment that overtook me when I realized I still had the ability to catch my breath as did my husband and my son.
Furious – the rush of anger that overtook me as I realized how often I cried because we wanted to live.
Rest eventually found me, and I slept, but the feelings followed me into the next day, calling me to action. I logged into work, acting as expected while hurting within. I thought about how strange it was that everyone else seemed to be in a silo, unaffected by the happenings of the outside world. No one said anything to acknowledge how it must feel, how I must be coping with it all. No one uttered a word.
As if God knew I needed it, the CEO sent out an email blast acknowledging the slaying of George Floyd, imposing a call for empathy, and noting the mental health of black employees. I felt a bit seen in that moment, taking a full exhale to release the tension that had built between conference calls, emails, and chats. His message would have been enough had I not thought more about my hurt and my experiences.
A few years prior, I cried at my desk. I was mad at a racial comment made by a colleague and mad that I did not say anything for fear of being shamed because of my legitimate anger and being dubbed an angry black woman.
Those tears had been the last straw. I vowed that I would never again shrink myself or be silent in moments that mattered.
These thoughts in mind, I wrote an open letter to my CEO expressing my experiences and asking for his help activating change. In it, I petitioned for increased diversity and inclusion efforts resulting in a better show of African-American leadership throughout the company.
Before pondering too long, I hit send with conviction in my spirit and confidence in my value-add. I was not sure what the outcome would be, but I knew I had to do my part. A part for which I am still committed to do.
In preparation for a response or an invitation to meet, I was sure to jot down instances that clearly spoke to my experience as a black employee and why it mattered. Next, I brainstormed key ideas and solutions for improving diversity and inclusion. Finally, I crafted a detailed explanation of how I could personally help with diversity efforts. It was important that I intelligently speak, not only to the issues, but the solution. Where I was unsure, I surveyed friends in the HR industry and reached out to leaders of more diverse organizations. Equipped with an action plan, I waited for a response.
"I know you are not the only person to feel this way, but you are the only person that took the time to express these concerns to me directly." These are words from my CEO that keep replaying in my mind.
Absent these set of circumstances, he would probably never know me by name. Yet today, he has a clear view of my company experiences, my suggestions for change, and my willingness to help steer this change. For more than an hour, we discussed ways to effectuate measurable outcomes for the benefit of African-Americans. I walked away with insight into his proposed next steps and reassurance that my black voice matters.
A day later, he shared action steps with the entire company. I beamed, feeling proud that I had beat fear and experienced a small victory. In addition to his email, the CEO connected me to the VP of Human Resources, recommending me for the diversity and inclusion team.
Some are afraid that change will die out as the hot topic of social injustice and diversity dies down. What I know for certain is that advocacy is a lifestyle for those who truly believe in a cause.
In my case, I will continue to fight for increased diversity and inclusion at work. I will not quit, give in, or get comfortable. Wherever I am in my life, I will stand up for what is right.
My challenge to you is to stand in your power and be bold in your approach. Take up space, trusting that regardless of the outcome God will honor your faith. If you are feeling inspired to initiate change in your workplace or perspective organizations, I have created an email template to help. I have also crafted an example list of ideas and solutions. Click here to get them. You can also follow my journey to initiate change on Instagram @kandiceguice, DM questions, concerns, and fears.
Know that I am willing and ready to put my hand to the plow by being a part of conversations, committees, and think tanks that address diversity and social justice concerns. Call on me. We are in the fight of our lives, but together we will win.
Featured image courtesy of Kandice Guice