By Callie Ewing, BA '03 MH '22
On April 8, the University of Dallas’ Satish & Yasmin Gupta College of Business featured four female business leaders for the virtual spring 2021 Women in Business Leadership panel presented by the Office of Corporate and Community Partnerships. Moderated by Corporate and Community Partnerships Director Rebecca Almanza, the topic of conversation was “Elevating Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.”
A common theme throughout the conversation was the idea of the grace we give to others. When we seek an ally in times of marginalization, we should assume the ally is trying and will probably need some guidance; we should also realize that they won’t be perfect, because perfection is not compatible with being human.
“This is an opportunity to educate and help through authenticity,” said Southwest Airlines Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Raquel Daniels. “Help them get the knowledge they need to be the ally you want them to be.”
As she explained, an ally is someone who challenges and speaks on behalf of others, but allyship is a continuum, a process with multiple stages.
“Being an ally is a journey,” agreed AT&T’s Diversity and Inclusion Diversity Segment Consultant Jennifer Gamboa-Copeland, MBA '02. “Sometimes it’s hard, with new learnings and types of people you’ve never encountered before, experiences you’ve never had. The people to whom you're allying yourself are often quite confident and capable of saving themselves, but you can carry their message in your platform and give them access to those they might not have had access to. An ally serves the purpose of sharing their network and experiences.”
Wishing Out Loud President and Founder Lisa M. Ong, PCC, CPA, reinforced the necessity of “checking your cape.”
“Be curious,” she said. “Give others a safe space to share. You’re not there to be the hero to save the day. You’re there to stand alongside in unity and solidarity and amplify others’ voices.”
The Gatson Group Founder and Managing Director Felicia Johnson, MBA ’06, also appreciated the idea of allyship as a journey, with a different investment at each stage.
“There is usually a situation we find ourselves in that puts us on the journey to allyship,” she said. “Ally comes from the Latin word that means to bind to; life puts us in situations where we find ourselves bound to others. Allyship can come with a price — it takes courage to speak up and to unite with another in a common purpose.”
Ong added that there can be both grace and awkwardness in this process, and it may be a matter of simply standing alongside until you learn the song. “Sometimes you need to hear the same song from different voices to finally hear the message,” she said.
“Diversity, equity and inclusion is a journey,” said Gamboa-Copeland. “When I was working in a technical role, there were many times I was the only woman in the room; I had to have sharp elbows and speak up a lot to be heard. Moving from a technical role to the HR/people space required empathy, grace and openness; transformation for everybody is unique but universal.”
Johnson discussed her extensive travels and the many different places in which she’s lived.
“You always have to have a growth mindset — what more can you learn?” she advised. “Be open to widening or deepening your own personal exposure, whether it's with a different religion, a different country, etc. I realized after a while that my own personal experience, traveling to and living in so many different places, had given me a type of geographical diversity.”
Ong reinforced the idea of looking for situations in which you’re the only one: like traveling and increasing your knowledge about different places and cultures, seeking out experiences in which you’re the only one “builds your life hard drive.”
“Notice when you’re feeling triggered or uncomfortable, and lean into that as your growth edge,” she suggested. “As we say in the CPA world, widen your audit sample.” She added, “Also look for others who are the only ones, and learn their stories.”
Gamboa-Copeland further emphasized the importance of intersectionality and not putting people in a box, but getting to know their stories as individuals. “I may be a Latina, a Catholic, a mother, but I’m other things too,” she said. “Always come with openness, understanding and grace.”
“Seek to understand those with different viewpoints,” urged Daniels. “Say, 'Let’s have a conversation'; try to lean back and not be offended, but say ‘Could you please tell me more? I want to learn and understand where you’re coming from — and then can I share my perspective?’ Stop and think about it, and try to understand what you need to do in order to do your homework and come back and have a relevant conversation.”
As she emphasized, the first step in taking action can be active listening, and taking action “doesn’t have to be big, galvanizing movement. We can begin to think of action as one step we can take every day — little things, reprogramming the stories we tell ourselves and learning what we need to unlearn before we can act. We can’t create a huge shift, an earthquake until we have little bitty movements of things — right here, right at home, within our hearts and minds.”