Articles Tagged with: Diversity Equity Inclusion and Belonging

Make It Happen: LGBTQ+ Inclusive Workspaces—A Recap

Sacred Fire Creative hosted an online forum on creating workspaces inclusive to members of the LGBTQ+ community. Titled “Make It Happen: LGBTQ+ Inclusive Workspaces,” guest speaker Catherine V. Hyde led the conversation.

About Catherine V. Hyde

Catherine V. Hyde, pronouns “she” and “her” (not to be confused with author Catherine Ryan Hyde), has worked in social justice for 25 years. Her personal LGBTQ+ story started when her child, then aged four, told her that something had gone wrong in her belly and that he should have been born a she. Catherine didn’t listen and didn’t understand what it meant until PFLAG educated her on gender identity.

Afterward, Catherine became a strong ally of the LGBTQ+ community. A leadership coach and a trained public speaker, she speaks and trains on transgender understanding and sensitivity. Moreover, she is focused on sharing resources that will help expand support for the community. Catherine serves on the PFLAG national board of directors. She has also testified before the US Senate LGBT caucus on safety issues facing trans youth.

Catherine stated that the single, most defining aspect of her life has been the parenting of a transgender child. Her daughter is now a 28-year-old woman, but she transitioned at 15 years old, long before transgender issues became part of the zeitgeist. Additionally, her daughter was the first child in the Howard County school system to transition openly. Catherine said this experience exposed her to her cisgender white woman privilege.

According to Catherine, society was built to make white women like her comfortable and happy. Because privilege means you don’t know it when you have it, and you only know it when you don’t, she didn’t realize that she had privilege until she came to know better. She gained that knowledge through her social justice work with Enterprise Community Partners and with the LGBTQ+ community.

To expand our understanding of the LGBTQ community and how we can build inclusive environments, Catherine set the following goals for the forum:

  • To review some basic terminology to make sure everyone is comfortable
  • To explore our own gender journeys
  • To have a quick insight into being LGBTQ+ at work
  • To identify some concrete steps that we can take to make a more inclusive environment
  • To brainstorm action steps that we can implement immediately at the office.

Basic terminologies

Catherine defined the following terms:

LGBTQ+ means lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, and beyond.

Sexual orientation doesn’t mean the same as sexual preferences. Nobody got to vote as to how their bodies were made for sexual orientation.

Lesbians are women who find themselves primarily sexually attracted to other women.

Gay is a universal term for the community and a term defining those who identify as men who find themselves sexually attracted to other men.

Bisexuals are people who are attracted to both men and women.

Asexuals are people who have no sexual drive.

Pansexual is sometimes used interchangeably with bisexual. However, the word “pansexual” gives more of a nod to the fact that gender is a spectrum, as opposed to a binary. Thus, pansexual are people who are romantically and sexually attracted to people regardless of their gender.

Gender identity is where the term “transgender” comes in. Compared to our gender assignment at birth, gender identity is how we identify ourselves on the gender spectrum. A transwoman is someone who was assigned male at birth but identified as female on the gender spectrum, like Catherine’s daughter. A transman is someone who was assigned female at birth but identified as male. The prefix “trans” simply honors their identities. And then there are folks whose gender identity agrees with the gender assigned to them at birth. A quick little caveat: The word “transgender” is not a noun. It’s an adjective.

Gender expression is a phrase not everyone is familiar with. It’s essentially how we wear our gender—our hair, makeup, clothing, anything that may trigger gender associations. Catherine pointed out that the accepted or expected gender expression changes over time and across cultures. One example she gave was when she was young, very few women had tattoos, and men don’t wear earrings. Today, many women wear tattoos, and many men wear earrings.

Non-binary are people who don’t necessarily feel like they’re all male or all female. They may be a little bit of both, or they feel like they are neither. Some feel like they’re tri-gendered, according to a study by The Trevor Project. Around 25% of LGBTQ+ youth today identify as non-binary. They’re just not happy with those clear-cut square little boxes that we’ve tried to put in place for them.

Two-spirit is used by some indigenous or Native communities in American to express their relationship with the non-binary gender system.

Catherine invited the participants to take a look at the glossary at The Trevor Project. She added that she finds the glossary fascinating. The glossary also changes very quickly these days because young people are constantly bringing in new ways of looking at the issues.

Gender-clear vs. gender-fluid

Catherine shared her own story about gender journey. She described herself as a huge baseball fan. When Catherine was six years old, she desperately wanted to be a boy. There were three very clear reasons in her mind why she wanted to be a boy. The first was her father had more power in the house than her mother did. Second, her brothers had fewer chores than she and her sisters did. Third, she knew she could have been a ball boy at Memorial Stadium for the Baltimore Orioles, which was the height of her six-year-old ambition. To do all of those things, she knew she had to be a boy, so she wanted to be a boy.

She later realized that what she really wanted were the privileges associated with being a boy—the access to power, the privilege of fewer chores, and access to be a ball boy. It wasn’t a gender identity issue; instead, it was more of a gender expression issue.

Catherine said this makes her a little bit gender-fluid. She’s not way over, girly-girl, gender-clear. She would have been perfectly happy if you mistook her for a boy.

On the other hand, Catherine’s husband was recreating Civil War battlefields in his driveway at the age of six. He was all Boy—girls had cooties, they’re disgusting and nasty, and you shouldn’t go anywhere near them. He was gender-clear.

Catherine said she took the time to tell this story because, in the transgender community, there are trans folks who are a little bit more gender-fluid, while there are those who are more gender-clear. According to her favorite quote about diversity and communities, there’s more diversity within any community than between two communities.

So, in the cisgender community, we have people who are butch females or effeminate males. We’re going to have those same-gender expressions in the trans community. Thus, we may have a trans woman who is kind of butch.

According to Catherine, 20 years ago, when sexual realignment surgery was beginning to be more available, Johns Hopkins in Baltimore did a lot of work on it. However, they would turn down for that surgery anyone who wasn’t identifying as a typical female. Thus, a trans woman assigned at birth as male but understood herself to be female and wanted to have this surgery to align her body with her identity wasn’t allowed to have that surgery if she happened to be attracted to women. She wasn’t considered straight enough or normal enough woman to get that surgery. There was no acceptance of diversity within the trans community.

Catherine said that was why she took some time to dwell on the issue of gender-fluidity. This is to make sure that we don’t paint the people we meet in the trans community with a broad brush, put them in a box, and then move on. That’s just not how you make an inclusive workplace.

The gender spectrum game

Catherine made the forum participants play a game she called the gender spectrum game. It involved plotting your own gender using the four separate facets of the gender spectrum:

Sex
Female Intersex Male
 
Gender Identity
Hear Me Roar Woman Man Macho
Gender Expression
Female Androgynous Male
Romantic Attraction
Masculine Sensitive Men Sporty Women Feminine

Catherine plotted herself as assigned female at birth and “hear me roar” as her gender identity (in reference to a Helen Reddy song) because she’s a feminist and an activist. Additionally, her gender expression is around female or androgynous, though she expressed herself between androgynous and male for years. As for her romantic attraction, she tends to cluster at the left-hand side of the scale.

Catherine also plotted her husband: assigned male at birth, gender identity between man and macho, gender expression male. She joked that she hopes his romantic attraction is sporty women because if it’s feminine women, he missed the mark and didn’t get the right girl.

As for her daughter, Catherine plotted: assigned male at birth, gender identity woman, gender expression is feminine, romantic attraction sensitive men.

Catherine observed that her husband tends to cluster to the right-hand side of the spectrum while her daughter bounces a little. She pointed out that many of us do cluster on one of the poles, though many don’t.

Catherine said she likes to tell people who are about to have children pretend there’s a slot machine arm at the edge of this spectrum. When you have a baby, you’re going to pull it, and that kid is going to fall somewhere on these four scales. You don’t get to choose where.

She encouraged the participants to try out the game with other people. That’s because the game can make for great conversation starters.

Again, she emphasized that gender expressions change over time. As an example, she shared that she grew out her hair after her husband asked her to. She had been sporting a pixie cut for 20 years and found that she liked having longer hair. In addition, gender expression may change depending on our environment. There will be times when we may feel freer to be creative with our expressions, and there will be times when we feel we have to conform.

We all have a gender identity. Very few of us actually have to unpack it or think about it. This is an opportunity to do so. Catherine invited the participants to think more about their gender journey and encourage other people to do so. It’s amazing how restrictive those boxes are to so many people, and it feels like it’s only been in recent decades that we’ve been even allowed to think about it or question and ask about it. It’s becoming more and more important to the kids. And they’re becoming more and more part of our workforce.

Understanding DEI

Catherine noted that the difference between diversity and inclusion is this: Diversity means “I see you, and I acknowledge you.” Inclusion means “I’m with you.” Inclusion is a far more proactive stance, and it’s far more intimate. It’s far more humane when we can be fully inclusive.

inclusive workspaces

Equality vs equity. Image by Angus Maguire | Interaction Institute for Social Change

There’s also a difference between equality and equity. Catherine used the above image to illustrate this difference. The left side shows equality, where everyone got a box for watching the game. One didn’t need their box because they’re tall enough to watch the game without it. For one, however, one box wasn’t enough for them.

On the right side, the same number of boxes were there. But they were distributed according to need, so everyone could fully participate as a spectator to the game. This illustrates equity.

LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workforce

Catherine noted that the youth, as they always do, are leading the way in making the workplace more inclusive. Straight Gen Z and Millennial employees deeply care about inclusion, and the work that companies do around inclusion will benefit the growing LGBTQ+ community. According to a Gallup poll of Americans, some 5.6% of Americans identify as LGBTQ+, and 16.6% of them are among Generation Z. Thus, the young people are taking permission to erase those boxes and just say who they are.

The poll also shows that six out of 10 employers say that diversity and inclusion are a priority. But only one in three have initiatives or policies created to reflect it. The rest are only paying lip service to try to be with the in folks these days. However, it’s not real, and it shows up in the workplace.

Some 40% of LGBTQ+ employees are still closeted. Some of that is by preference, but some of that is out of fear. They wish they could be out, but they don’t feel comfortable being out in the environment at work. Some closeted employees report less engagement and less productivity than those who are not closeted.

Additionally, 75% experienced at least one negative interaction related to their LGBTQ+ identity at work within one year. Some 41% experienced 10 incidents—that’s almost once a month. If you’ve ever been the recipient of someone questioning or denigrating your very identity, that blows the wind out of your sails so quickly, and it takes a long period to refill the sails. So, once a month is taking an awful lot out of our employees.

Exercising influence

Catherine names the areas where we can exercise our influence to make our workplaces more inclusive.

Pronouns

We certainly have influence over what we do and what we say. What we can do personally is to use our pronouns—by introducing ourselves with our pronouns and by adding them to our name on Zoom. It opens up the conversation and tells people we want to use the correct pronouns for them, and we’re inviting them to share those pronouns.

Gender-inclusive language

We can also use gender-inclusive language. Catherine shared that she gets tired of seeing forms that ask for the husband’s signature or the wife’s signature. Instead of identifying as husband or wife, what about as a spouse? For son and daughter, child will do. We have siblings for brothers and sisters. The gender-neutral term for nieces and nephews is “niblings.”

Identify your own bias

We also need to identify our own biases. Catherine suggests taking the implicit bias tests at Harvard’s Project Implicit, which will help us learn about ourselves. We can’t check our assumptions if we don’t know what our assumptions are. We need to take the time to dig them out and learn about them so we can check them culturally and expand that reach beyond ourselves.

Start a resource group

Catherine said if we don’t already have an LGBTQ+ and allies resource group at work, we need to start one. She learned recently that the first employee resource group created was by the LGBTQ community, and she found that fascinating.

She also recommends getting training, giving training, and getting more training. If we get trained, we take away something we’ve learned, bring it back to work, and share it. We can also bring trainers in and have people come and talk to our teams if that’s our area of influence at work.

Bringing in speakers gets us to hear different stories. The human brain is wired to learn from stories. Moreover, the more stories we share, the more stories we hear, the more we can learn.

Implement non-discrimination policies

Catherine said we could exercise influence by structuring non-discrimination policies for sexual orientation and gender identity. She noted, however, that if it’s written doesn’t mean it will be followed. But if it’s not written, you know it won’t be followed. Nonetheless, we need to make sure we have those policies in writing, and they are communicated clearly.

Catherine gave trans-inclusive health benefits as an example of policies that need to be in writing. Companies should have trans-inclusive health benefits, as they give trans-identified employees the ability to transform their bodies to more appropriately reflect their understanding of themselves. These benefits should also cover employees’ children who identify as trans.

Trans-inclusive health benefits can include cross hormone therapy or hormone blockers. They can also make room for top or bottom surgery. And because of the way we are so gendered in our medicine, sometimes a health insurance company might deny a mammogram for someone identified as male or refuse a trans-woman a prostate exam. We have to take care of the parts we have, and that’s not always done through health care.

Public commitment to the LGBTQ+ community

Catherine said that making a public commitment to the LGBTQ+ community speaks volumes. She gave Marc Benioff as a specific example. Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce and a pioneer of cloud computing, famously made a stand against Indiana when they passed a religious freedom act that codified the ability to discriminate against LGBTQ+ if it was based on your religious beliefs. He said Salesforce won’t be coming to Indiana, and he has canceled all travel there because his workforce needs to only work and go and travel in places where they are protected.

Questions asked and stories shared during the forum

Is there a third gender?

Catherine said she wouldn’t limit it to a third. There are as many gender identities out there as there are people. She said it’s great that this question comes up because it shows that people are thinking way outside the box, especially with the community’s younger members.

Identifying female

One of the participants shared that she wished she was a girl when she was growing up. She felt really embarrassed talking about it because she was never really open about it. She also hid it from her family because she grew up Catholic, and she was afraid they would judge or disown her.

But she always played with girls’ stuff like Barbies and makeup, which she said is why she’s so good at makeup now. She also realized that she was depressed a lot, and the reason for that is she was identifying as somebody else. Then she moved out, became a little more comfortable with her surroundings, and began identifying as female. She’s so happy about it, and she feels blessed that she has a family who accepted it.

Didn’t like to be called “tomboy”

One of the participants shared that she always thought she was a girl and identified as a girl. However, because she specifically liked sports, her family and peers always told her she was a tomboy. She didn’t like it and found it frustrating to be called one.

A father’s challenge

A participant shared that he’s the father of two daughters and is trying to be conscious about possibilities. He said he’s working hard to bring the work to his parenting. Additionally, he acknowledged that while it was tricky, he doesn’t really have a choice when it comes to his daughters’ gender identities.

Catherine replied that he, as a parent, indeed doesn’t have a choice, and neither do his girls. She said she likes to remind parents that the only option they have is whether or not they’re going to accept and celebrate their child. She shared that in her work with trans-people and trans-kids, she has never met a trans-child who said upfront that they are trans. It’s more like they get uncomfortable, afraid, and depressed until they can acknowledge and be who they are. A gift that a parent can give their children is absolutely unconditional acceptance and love, which can help with the acknowledgment.

Uncomfortable with attention

An audience member shared that around the age of eight, she became more interested in sports. She grew up with a father who was very focused on sports, and she played soccer instead of her brother. The more sports she played, the more competitive she got. However, she noticed early on that whenever she came out to play, she got more attention because she’s female and has always identified as so. The attention made her very uncomfortable.

A girl who loves playing with boys’ toys

Another audience member shared that one of the things she noticed as a kid was that she was always gifted with girly toys and dolls. However, she thinks dolls are terrifying and still do to this day. All she wanted were matchbox cars and comic books, but of course, they weren’t considered proper for a little girl to play with. So she would steal her brother’s toys because they were more fun.

Made him a feminist

A participant related that he grew up in a small town in the 1960s. It was a gendered time, and as a boy, it constantly reinforced his discomfort with it. He saw how his younger sisters and other girls were not treated the same. They were booted from sports and other activities and often segregated from the rest. This experience, he said, made him a feminist.

A non-inclusive workplace experience

Another participant shared that at her former workplace, she worked with four other people. Two of these co-workers asked her not to share her LGBTQ+ status with another co-worker, who was a religious, black-and-white thinker—a white Christian male. He didn’t understand anything beyond his whiteness. He didn’t even acknowledge Black Lives Matter.

He would bully everyone whose behavior was unacceptable to him. So he won’t give everyone else a hard time, the other co-workers asked her to keep quiet about her status. The participant felt it was unfair because the others could bring their wives to work, while she couldn’t bring her female partner. Eventually, the white Christian male co-worker found out anyway and became hostile with her about it. She thought, if the company would keep that co-worker despite his behavior, then she could not stay. And so she left.

Catherine said this is a poignant example of what we had been talking about in this forum. By not being inclusive, you will lose a good portion of your workforce. It’s not just people who identify as LGBTQ+, but also those who want to be in a place where everyone is welcomed. Bullying is bullying, whether you’re bullying someone in the schoolyard because they have the wrong haircut or you’re bullying someone because of their different abilities or their identity. It’s insufferable, and it should not be tolerated. And that is why DEI work is so important.

Sacred Fire Creative continues the conversation on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity. Check out these scheduled events and join the conversation: https://bit.ly/3bC6fV7.

 


Diversity and Inclusion in Business: A Look at the Wedding Industry—A Recap

On March 8, 2021, Sacred Fire Creative explored another avenue in the conversation on diversity, equality, inclusion, and belonging with the forum “Diversity and Inclusion in Business: A Look at the Wedding Industry.” Writer-turned-wedding planner Elisabeth Kramer led this particular discussion.

About Elisabeth Kramer

Elisabeth Kramer is an award-winning journalist and former magazine editor. She stumbled into a career in wedding planning after helping a friend with her own. But beyond coordinating these dream events for couples, she has made it her mission to, in her own words, “tear down the wedding industrial complex.”

Elisabeth came up with this mission after talking to clients about their weddings and her own interactions with other wedding vendors. As a feminist, she often hears issues that to her seem like total red flags. These red flags often indicate that something is going on and is usually part of a larger issue—that couples are being actively harmed or attacked by the wedding industry.

Thus, she has made it her goal to change the wedding industry, and she does it in two ways with her business. One is through her work with couples as she plans their weddings. The other is by actively collaborating with other vendors.

Elisabeth has a podcast called “The Teardown,” where she interviews couples and vendors about their experiences within the wedding industry. In this podcast, she tackles how diversity, inclusion, Black Lives Matter, and other similar issues affect the industry.

Moreover, she is the co-founder of Altared, a Portland-based event for wedding vendors. Altared holds classes where wedding vendors can learn and share ideas on making the wedding industry a more inclusive, sustainable, and mindful place to work in.

Questions Raised during the Forum

What does “changing the wedding industry” actually mean?

Elisabeth explained that the term “wedding industrial complex” is a shorthand she uses. Still, it’s not a term that she invented. The phrase has been around for a while now. It refers to the many nasty “isms” we encounter in our lives as human beings, but specific to the wedding industry. These “isms” include racism and ageism, as well as non-isms like homophobia and fat-phobia. In other words, it pertains to the toxic things we deal with in society.

She feels that these isms manifest strongly in the wedding industry. However, in some ways, they are all wrapped up in tulle. That’s because weddings are supposed to be happy spaces—about the joy of the couple to be married and about making people feel good.

Elisabeth used race conversations as an example. The word “race” is loaded right now because it’s political. She said she really tries in her work to talk about it. That’s because she thinks the issue manifests a lot of stress, anger, and pain, not just for couples getting married but also vendors in the wedding industry.

She points out two resources that help address this issue. One is Vendors of Color, a Pacific Northwest-based community of exclusively BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and/or People of Color) wedding vendors. The other is Rad Wedding, a Slack group born out of Altared. The group has 150 members; they share leads and support fellow members who are part of the LGBTQ and BIPOC communities or attend classes on inclusivity.

Can the wedding industry change without the service industry changing first?

During the forum, a participant pointed out that the service industry, which covers hotels and restaurants, is not a very inclusive one. Given that the wedding industry is interdependent with the service industry, can the wedding industry change without the service industry change first?

Elisabeth thinks the wedding and service industries have to change together. She believes that changes in the wedding industry can affect the service industry. However, she stated that this is part of a much broader discussion. It’s part of a deeper systemic issue that needs to be addressed, not just in the service industry or the wedding industry but also in other elements of our society.

What steps has Elisabeth herself taken to make her business more inclusive?

Maricella Ehmann, a Vermont-based wedding planner, as well as Elisabeth’s friend and collaborator, shared that Elisabeth has done quite a bit to help small businesses over the years. She asked her to enumerate some of these steps.

Elisabeth replied that, because of capitalism, the first place to start helping others is with money. Thus, she:

  • Donates 5% of every booking to one of six non-profits, a model that she borrowed with permission from Portland-based photographer Marissa Solini.
  • During the pandemic crisis, put up a donation form on her website for wedding vendors in need. This project, however, was short-lived, and Elisabeth shifted back to donating part of her proceeds to non-profits.

Additionally, she put up an anti-racism action plan on her website that she constantly updates. She also takes classes outside of Altared and recommends the LGBTQ+ inclusivity course developed by Kirsten and Maria Palladino of Equally Wed.

What steps can wedding vendors take to make their businesses inclusive right now?

One of the forum participants asked Elisabeth for examples of steps wedding vendors can take to make their businesses more inclusive that they can do right after the forum. Elisabeth responded by demonstrating representation, which can be done by:

  • Being sensitive about language and pronouns. Not every couple who is getting married is a bride and a groom.
  • Making the vendor’s website less bride-centric. Many wedding vendor websites feature couples where one person is white, cis-hetero, and a woman.
  • Including more photos of POC and LGBTQ+ couples on the website.
  • Including the vendor’s own pronouns in their email signature.

Elisabeth reiterated taking classes on inclusivity, as well as mentioned making friends with other wedding vendors. She stated that businesses in the wedding industry run a lot on referrals—vendors referring other vendors, couples referring vendors. Having a referral list is common in the industry.

She shared that she has her own referral list on her website. But she actively makes sure that her list isn’t just a bunch of white people referring white people, with a few Asian-Americans she found off Google thrown into the mix. Instead, she tries to have conversations with them to find out their goals and how she can support these goals with her own business.

Elisabeth remarked that venues are potentially powerful when it comes to referring vendors. That’s because couples often have venues as their first touchpoint in the wedding industry. She thinks that there is a lot of power in venues being really thoughtful about directing people to places like vendors of color.

Elisabeth added that couples themselves have a lot of buying power. Thus, they should think about who they’re employing for their wedding. On average, couples spend $34,000 on their wedding, which is a huge amount of buying power.

What are things in the wedding industry that are considered or accepted as traditional but are actually discriminating?

Elisabeth mentioned walking a bride down the aisle is one that comes up a lot as traditional. However, rather than cherry-pick examples, she said she encourages couples and vendors to talk about prioritization. Prioritization answers the “why” of the wedding—why have a wedding, what parts of the wedding are meaningful to the couple. Those things have meaning, and they come from a place of inclusivity to begin with.

Elisabeth said she could have a whole list of all the “traditions” in a wedding, and all of them are kind of horrible in a way. But that’s because the way we think of weddings and marriages in the US is rooted in a very patriarchal system. She notes that it can seem a little funny when she talks about these topics because they sound so anti-wedding industrial complex.

Can wedding vendors reflect their inclusivity through their pricing?

One of the forum participants shared that, as a new wedding vendor, they’d like to make their decisions about pricing more inclusive. She asked Elisabeth how she would potentially see that happening.

Elisabeth responded that the question about money in the wedding industry is a totally loaded one. She shared that when she started her business, she made less than minimum wage. She does not recommend doing this today. But that’s what she offered because she had a full-time job and was only testing out wedding planning as a career. These days, however, she charges between $1,800 to $2,300 for her services. That’s about $50 an hour, an amount that can be entirely cost-prohibitive for many couples.

What can be done for couples in such a situation? Elisabeth shared the following suggestions:

  • Offering a discounted or free rate for fiscal for, like, every fourth couple booked. Elisabeth said she knows some vendors who do this.
  • Providing free wedding planner resources for couples who want to do it themselves or have a friend who can do it.
  • Making themselves accessible. Elisabeth says she tries not to put her information in an ivory tower that people can only get to if they pay her.
  • Offering straight-up discounts for couples in vulnerable communities.

Sacred Fire Creative continues the conversation on diversity, equality, inclusion, and belonging in its series of free online forums. Check out the schedule of these events here: https://bit.ly/3bC6fV7.


Kamala Harris – A Woman of Many Firsts

The year 2020 has been historic in more ways than one. Despite being a year that many people would like to forget, it was also filled with remarkable firsts. It was the first time the US elected a woman to the second-highest position in government. Vice president-elect Kamala Harris made history and has become a bright light in these dark times. Not only is she the first woman vice president, but she is also the first African-American and first Asian-American to occupy this esteemed position. 

She shattered the infamous glass ceiling for women by being elected vice-president. More than that, she also broke through the “concrete ceiling” – a term used to describe the obstacles women of color particularly face. She went through it all with positive energy and a smile on her face. Kamala is a beacon of hope for women around the world, as she herself said during her victory speech, “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last, because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.” 

Her early years

Kamala Devi Harris was born in 1964 to immigrant parents, her mother Shyamala Gopalan Harris from India, and her father Donald Harris from Jamaica. Both her parents migrated to the United States to study for doctorate degrees at the University of California, Berkeley. This is where they met, got married, started a family, and continued pursuing their own careers. It would be natural to assume, and rightly so, that the environment that Kamala and her sister Maya were exposed to at a young age helped shape who they are today. With both parents being accomplished in their own fields and active in the civil rights movement, it was inevitable that these factors would influence Kamala and Maya in their own career choices. 

Kamala has said, “My parents marched and shouted in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. It’s because of them and the folks who also took to the streets to fight for justice that I am where I am.” 

Her parents divorced in 1971, and Kamala and her sister were mostly raised by their single mother. They moved to Montreal, where Kamala finished high school before going back to the US to study political science and economics at Howard University. She, later on, obtained her law degree from Hastings College. 

Her mother Shayamala had a huge impact on Kamala’s life, and she often mentions her even today. In her own words, “There is no title or honor on earth I’ll treasure more than to say I am Shyamala Gopalan Harris’s daughter.” Sadly, her mother passed away from cancer in 2009 and is not here today to see how far her daughter has come. Despite this, Kamala never fails to mention just how much influence her mother had on her life and accomplishments.

A woman of many firsts

Throughout her life and her career, Kamala has been breaking barriers. We all know that she’s about to become the first woman Vice President, but she had many firsts even before she made her presence known on the national stage. She was also the first woman, the first African-American, and the first Asian-American woman to become the attorney general of California. In the Senate, she is the first Indian-American to serve as Senator while also being only the second African-American woman to hold this position. She is also the first Vice President to graduate from a historically black college, Howard University. 

Her husband Doug Emhoff also contributes to her string of firsts – he will be the first second gentleman and the first Jewish spouse of a US Vice President. Kamala didn’t set out to become the first in all these things – she accomplished them by following her own path and working hard towards her goals. Something we can all learn from. Kamala serves as an inspiration to women all over the world. She also shows that women can truly be trailblazers in any field.

Her love of cooking

For all her professional accomplishments, Kamala has also become famous for one more thing – her love of cooking. She is a self-professed passionate home cook and has shared a few of her personal recipes on her social media accounts. Recently, she shared a step-by-step recipe of her family’s favorite cornbread dressing for Thanksgiving. “During difficult times, I have always turned to cooking,” Kamala has said. Cooking is a source of comfort for her, and this passion started when she was a young child watching her own mother in the kitchen. 

“One of the things that I do to relax at the end of the day is I read recipes,” she shared in 2018, something many people can relate to. Now, we can all imagine her flipping through her favorite cookbooks after a long day at work. This open love of cooking is another thing that makes Kamala stand out from other career politicians. Her willingness to share snippets of her personal life with others is a wonderful way she connects to people. 

Kamala Harris and the future

The past few years in the US have not been easy, with racial and political divisions growing and becoming more evident in everyday life. Kamala Harris winning as vice president is a much-welcome change and a refreshing breath of fresh air. She serves as an inspiration to both women and people of color everywhere. 

We can all learn a lesson or two from Kamala and her journey — the importance of family, the influence of a mother’s love and example, and the greatness you can accomplish when you combine hard work and heart, no matter your circumstances. It will take many years to overcome the negativity and discord that have been sown in the US landscape. However, when there is someone like Kamala Harris helping lead the way to heal these wounds and to create a more equitable and just society, we can allow ourselves to envision and believe in a better future.


Developing Allies and Advocates for DEI with Latonya Latamore, Ph.D.: A Recap

Sacred Fire Creative continued its virtual forums on diversity, equality, inclusion, and belonging on February 8, 2021. For this specific forum, guest speaker Latonya Latamore, Ph.D., led a conversation on developing allies and advocates for DEI.

About Dr. Latonya Latamore

Dr. Latamore is a Fairfax, Virginia-based educator and founder of Harmony Strategic Solutions, LLC. While her organization is still in its infancy, Dr. Latamore said she has personally encountered racism professionally and in her day-to-day life.

The insights she imparted to the group included the way holidays are celebrated in the US. She said holidays in the country are primarily based on Christianity. Christian Americans don’t have to use their paid time off to enjoy a Christian holiday. On the other hand, Americans of different cultures or religions will have to use their earned vacation days just so they could celebrate what they believe in.

Dr. Latamore also shared her daughter’s experience as a figure skater. Her daughter has been criticized and overly judged because she’s Black. Moreover, she doesn’t look like a traditional figure skater who is white and of a certain height and build.

Points to understand about conversations on race

Dr. Latamore raised the following points about open conversations on race:

  • It may not always be the most comfortable or pleasurable conversation to be in. That’s because the journey for allyship and advocacy isn’t the same for everyone. Everyone is in a different and unique area of the learning curve.
  • Conversations on racism are forever evolving. Once we believe we have found the solution, some other element or variable will surface.
  • It’s important to continuously analyze and monitor goals and projected outcomes. This will ensure that we are diligently helping to eliminate the inequities that racism causes.
  • We can achieve these goals by continuing to self-educate through attending webinars and talks and reading published materials on the topic.

Defining allyship and advocacy

Dr. Latamore defined the terms “allyship” and “advocacy” using the book Allies and Advocates: Creating an Inclusive and Equitable Culture by Amber Cabral.

Allyship

Allyship is when someone with privilege and power seeks to learn about the experiences of a marginalized group of people, develops empathy for them, and identifies ways to extend their own privilege to the marginalized group. Allies are identified by their ability to apply what they have learned about a group of people and find ways to transfer the benefits of their privilege to those who lack it.

Allyship requires taking the time to become invested in and have an emotional connection to marginalized people who are different from you. The part to zoom in on is the labor part of allyship. An ally seeks to learn and do the labor of understanding so they can connect and build empathy. To be an ally, you have to do the work, and most of the work is on yourself. “Ally” is not a title; it is a verb.

Advocacy

Advocacy is defined as the process where someone with privilege and power is willing to take steps to protect, publicly support, and dismantle systems against a marginalized group of people. To be an advocate, you have to be willing to do additional work beyond getting familiar with the nuances of marginalized groups and developing empathy for them. It is about taking action to change how others experience the world. Similar to allyship, advocacy is not a title. It is a verb.

Points to understand about the allyship and advocacy process

When it comes to starting the process of allyship and advocacy, Dr. Latamore raised the following points:

  • We need to understand where we are right now. Racial situations are occurring and in public, and even racial scarring from past government administrations.
  • We need to be honest with ourselves about what happened historically. We need to understand the different types of legislation that have been developed to protect certain classes of people, and why different legislative initiatives have been developed for marginalized people.
  • We need to start conversations about allyship and advocacy, not only in our individual groups but also within an organizational structure. All of this should begin at the executive level or with the people who actually make the decisions within the organization. These decisions can include providing additional training for line-level staff and mid-level managers.
  • It’s important that the right people are doing the work of allyship in the organization because it’s not easy work.
  • Change management, continuous auditing, open lines of communication, and transparency are necessary.

Questions to discuss

The forum participants were then divided into breakout groups to discuss the following questions:

  1. Where are you positioned with power and access to make change?
  2. Where do you have influence?
  3. Where do you have privilege, and who developed the standard that you are using?
  4. Is that standard necessary? Why does that standard exist? Is the standard preventing other cultures to participate?
  5. Have you considered how you’re limiting yourself and missing out on resources, opportunities, talent, and relationships because of unreasonable standards?

Sacred Fire Creative continues the dialogue with its lineup of DEIB virtual forums. Check the schedule of these events and join the conversation today: http://bit.ly/3bC6fV7.


Introspective Dialogue on Racism and Equity-Based Interventions with Nathan Baptiste: A Recap

On January 11, 2021, Sacred Fire Creative hosted a virtual forum entitled “Introspective Dialogue on Racism and Equity-Based Interventions.” The purpose of this forum is to provide a safe space for professionals and business owners to have a relevant discussion on diversity, equality, inclusion, and belonging, collectively known as DEIB. The forum also recognizes a strong need for employers to create meaningful change in the workplace through DEIA-based interventions.

For this online event, Sacred Fire Creative invited Nathan Baptiste, the founder and principal of EDI Mindfulness Consulting.

Nathan’s story

Through EDI Mindfulness Consulting, Nathan helps various organizations in developing inclusive and equitable work environments. Before he got into consultancy, he served as Oregon Metro’s diversity program manager. His work there included launching an equity, diversity, and inclusion professional development training plan. He also has experience in the academe, leading the diversity programming at the Lewis & Clark College.

Nathan shared a personal encounter with racism during the forum. He grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and attended a mostly white high school in Oregon. As one of the few Black students in the school, he experienced bullying, especially during his sophomore year. His schoolmates made a game of throwing rice at the back of his head to see if the grains would stick to his afro. Some of them even called him the n-word.

To address the issue, Nathan went to see his school’s assistant principal, to whom he suggested including Black history and literature in the curriculum. However, the assistant principal’s response was colorblind—that if the school started offering classes on Black history and literature, it would have to do the same for the Asian and Latino students. This caused Nathan to feel withdrawn. He knew that the bullying he experienced because of his race was wrong. But at the time, he didn’t have the language to process it. So he internalized it instead.

This changed during his junior year. In that year, Nathan’s classes included a political action seminar. One of his projects there was organizing a dialogue on racism and the prison system. It turned out successfully, as did his later projects for the class. He found it encouraging because it sowed open-mindedness about race discussions in a less diverse environment.

The need for explicit dialogue on racism

Nathan raised the following points during the forum:

  • The event is timely, as it came at the heels of the rioting that occurred at the US Capitol on January 6.
  • There’s a need to define what white supremacy is, as well as its effect on individuals.
  • Racism is both internal and interpersonal, and it has become systemic in society. It’s so laced into our institutions and our culture that even people of color have internalized it.
  • Racism is not a competition; instead, it is intersectional, as we don’t live one-cause lives.
  • We need to have explicit conversations about racism. We need to raise awareness of how racism manifests systemically and allow ourselves the space to reflect on it.
  • Any conversation on diversity will fail if racial equity is left out of it.
  • The more diverse a workplace is, the more innovative it becomes and the better it would be for the organization’s bottom line.

Questions to discuss

The forum participants were then divided into breakout groups to discuss the following questions:

  1. How do you define white supremacy?
  2. How may you define anti-racism, and what principles help you to define it?
  3. Going beyond simple statements of condemnation or support, in what ways does white supremacy and anti-racism show up or not as influences in your life?

The participants agreed that this conversation about racism isn’t going away anytime soon and must be continuous. Many suggested gaining others’ perspectives on the issue, calling out racism instances on the spot, and watching who you vote for.

Sacred Fire Creative continues the dialogue with its lineup of DEIB virtual forums. Check the schedule of these events and join the conversation today: http://bit.ly/3bC6fV7


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