We have all learned over the last couple of years, many of you well before then, the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. Some credit unions are fortunate enough to have the means to hire employees who oversee DEI efforts as their sole role at the organization, while most do what they can to incorporate the principles of hiring and supporting a diverse team.
I recently had the pleasure of being asked to participate in a mentoring program that partners women executives with up-and-coming female minority credit union employees. The program is called “1to1Woman” and was initiated by the fabulous Shellee Mitchell of Sapphire Dimension, LLC. As part of the program, Mitchell provided mentors with a copy of the book The Memo by Minda Harts.
I am embarrassed to admit that The Memo is the first executive leadership style book that I have read from the perspective of an African American woman. I suppose if I had seen the book on the shelf that, on its cover, purports to tell women of color what they need to know to secure a seat at the table, as a white woman, I may have not picked it up. That would have been my mistake. Not only is the book helpful to women of color in developing their career, it offers a lot of insight into what their experience is like, which can, in turn, really help all of us understand hurdles or barriers that we may not have faced in our own careers.
Reading The Memo and working with my amazing “mentee,” who has likely taught me more than I have taught her, has confirmed for me that I have a lot of work to do on the inclusion part of DEI. Part of the book talks about what happens “After 6” and the social part of the workplace where people gather for cocktails and after hour events. The author recounts that countless women of color she has talked to just want to do their jobs and go home. Harts encourages women readers to put themselves out there and interact and get to know their white colleagues in a casual setting. In talking with my mentee, she confirmed also that social situations outside of the office were a challenge for her.
We know that in our industry, sans a pandemic, social time happens on a regular basis! As a former credit union vendor, I know all about the after conference social time. After reading The Memo and engaging with my mentee, I will look at these events differently going forward. Not only will I observe who is at the social events, but I will also consider who is not, and what I can do to try and encourage people of color to attend. This is a reminder to me, a reinforcement to focus on inclusion. The “I” in DEI takes more time and thoughtfulness than the other efforts. Focusing on what we can do to encourage people of color to network and engage after hours is one small part. To really get to know our teams and make sure they are all included is something we should all be striving for.
I still have so much to learn in this space. But learning is a lifelong pursuit. It is not just reading a book or putting out a statement about commitment to DEI. I do not claim in any fashion to be a leader in this space and know that I can do much more. But I can say that I am committed to not letting the topic of DEI fade into the background. I encourage you to pick up a copy of The Memo and share it with your team. I know my mentee really found a lot of value in the book as she is navigating her career in our industry as a woman of color. If you are still looking for a New Year’s resolution, maybe this article can help.