Category: Diversity in Leadership

How Diversity in the Workplace Helps Businesses Thrive

Martina Winston (far right) will be leading a breakout session called “Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable.” She works as the VP & Senior HR Partner Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Leader at Protective Life.

In today’s day and age, the economy is increasingly global. Everything is easily accessible through a quick click of a few buttons and some extra-strong Wifi. With different people and cultures working together all over the world, it’s important to have diversity in the workplace. 

Traditionally, when people think of “diversity in the workplace,” they think of people of different genders and races. However, nowadays, having diversity includes employees of different cultures, different languages, and different skill sets and educational backgrounds. 

Here are three big ways that introducing diversity can benefit a company:

  1. Connect to a broad range of consumers: When businesses serve consumers around the world, having employees who can speak different languages and make connections in various global locations will make customers feel more comfortable and help to break communication barriers
  2. Greater creativity: A group of people with different backgrounds and cultural upbringings putting their thoughts together will result in new ideas and innovations that will target a wider range of consumers
  3. Different strengths: Having employees who specialize in different aspects of the company can not only improve efficiency, but it can also help to teach other employees new skills that can be beneficial in other sectors of the company

Creating a diverse group of employees is beneficial to the business as a whole in the short term and the long term as the global economy continues to grow. Not only will the company benefit internally, but they can also market to a wider range of people when selling to other businesses and consumers. 

The upcoming 2022 Momentum Conference from March 16-17 highlights speakers who focus on empowerment and leadership. Make sure to register before the deadline on March 1!

5 Birmingham Leaders You Need To Know

The history of Black History Month goes back over 100 years ago to 1915 when historian Carter G. Woodson and minister Jesse E. Mooreland started the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Their goal was to acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishments of Black Americans.  Their association started a week-long celebration to highlight the history of Black Americans. Then in 1976, President Gerald Ford was the first president to declare February, Black History Month and the month-long dedication has continued to be celebrated every February since. 

This Black History Month, we wanted to highlight five Black female leaders that are paving the way and making history in Birmingham and the state of Alabama.


left to right: Liz Huntley, Bobbie Knight, Dr. Larhondra S. Magras, Melanie Bridgeforth, and Adrienne Starks


Liz Huntley is an Alabama native who currently works as a lawyer in Birmingham, AL. From overcoming a difficult childhood, Huntley was called to advocate for the children of Alabama through her work. Not only does her experience fuel her lawyer work but she also shares her story to serve as inspiration to others through her speeches, TedTalk, and memoir, More Than a Bird. In 2020, Huntley received Momentum’s Women of Impact award at the Momentum Leadership Conference to commemorate her years of work and impact in the state of Alabama.

Bobbie Knight is a Birmingham native who was elected as the first female President of Miles College in Fairfield, Alabama. Knight is an active member in the community through her philanthropic and civil support for a variety of causes. She retired in 2016 after working for Alabama Power Company for over 37 years and now she serves as CEO of her consulting company, Bobbie Knight Consulting, LLC. Bobbie Knight was a part of Momentum’s first class and we are thankful for her continued support.

Dr. Larhondra S. Magras was born and raised in Chicago where she began her passion for helping people. She was driven by the desire to have a career that had both meaning and purpose. She began her work with providing drug prevention and parenting programs in local schools where she works with students and their parents. Dr. Magras now serves the Birmingham community as the Executive Director of YWCA. The YWCA Central Alabama’s mission is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.  

Melanie Bridgeforth currently serves the Birmingham area in the role of CEO of the Women’s Fund of Alabama which advocates for gender and economic equity in the community. Bridgeforth is passionate about this mission because she always knew that she wanted to have an impact on the world. She told a story once to WVTM 13 News that one day after class, she told her professor at Alabama that she wanted to change the world. Her teacher responded that in order to do that, she needed to focus on policy changes. This grew her passion for advocacy work and raising awareness for policies that can heavily impact not only Alabama but the country.

Adrienne Starks is an Alabama native born in Fairfield, Alabama. She developed her passion for science through her education by studying Biology at Alabama A&M and then eventually going on to receive her PhD at University of Maryland Baltimore County in Biological Sciences. From her experiences of being a minority in her schooling experience, she developed a plan of creating Stream Innovations. Stream Innovations is a non-profit that serves in the Birmingham area as they help students develop their passion for science, technology, reading, engineering, arts, and mathematics. 


Ways that you can celebrate:

  1. Diversify your book-shelf and read black authors! Our favorite bookstore, Thank You Books has a great list of 25 books to check out this month. Click here to check it out!
  2. Attend Because of Them…We Can at Albert L. Scott Library on February 22, 2022 at 6:00 p.m.  Seasoned Red Mountain Theater performs and will present their showcase celebrating Black History Month. Click here for more information and register for free. 
  3. Learn more about the history of Birmingham at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institution. This February, they are focusing on the wellness of Black Americans and how racism has affected their health over the years. Can’t make it in person? No worries! The BCRI has many resources and online exhibits for you to explore. Click here to learn more. 

The Future of Work and Women

In the ever-evolving business world, it is important for women to ask themselves, “How can my skills today be leveraged in a completely different business vertical?”

Martha Underwood is no stranger to adapting to new verticals. She was recruited to work for IBM as an EDI Analyst out of college. There Underwood was able to explore different roles and learn about her strengths and interests. She learned first-hand the importance of learning how technology can be used in various industries and how to adapt to different business verticals successfully. In 2016, Underwood founded the organization ExecutivEstrogen, which coaches women on utilizing their unique perspectives into practical leadership tools.

These skills became beneficial when the world adapted to the Coronavirus-19 pandemic. Martha Underwood successfully transitioned her coaching services to online, but she did see a decline in bookings as women grew overwhelmed with work, children, and regular stress during the pandemic. Now that businesses are opening back up and individuals are returning to the office, more women see the need for coaching and are actively seeking help to gain clarity on how they fit and thrive in their careers.

That is why Martha Underwood is thrilled to be hosting the breakout session, “The Future of Work and Women,” at Momentum Leadership Conference this March. Women who attend will walk away with actionable insights on how to position themselves for the jobs of the future. Underwood will walk through examples of how they can leverage their existing talents and map them to the job market of tomorrow.

Register to attend Momentum Leadership Conference 2022 today:

Meet Salaam Green

Salaam Green was born in the Black Belt of Alabama and was raised by a family of educators and her single mother. She grew up in a poverty-stricken area because there was no industry or financial empowerment in the Black Belt region.

However, despite the circumstances, Salaam had several influential people in her life who encouraged her to read, write, and dream for a bright future. When her mom found out she wanted to be a writer as a little girl, she encouraged Salaam to read more books. Her auntie, who was also her first grade teacher, had her write for the first time in a little book. It was then when Salaam realized she could put all of her imagination into her writing. In middle school, Salaam’s mom introduced her to the University of Montevallo and she fell in love with it. Her sixth grade teacher instilled the hope inside of her that she would attend that school one day.

Sure enough, Salaam graduated from the University of Montevallo with an English degree. She soon realized that she wasn’t making money as a writer at first, and decided to go back to school to work in early childhood education. Salaam worked with babies and toddlers for years, and when she decided she was too old to work with babies and kids, she pursued a career as an administrator working for the State of Alabama.

Later in life, as she was working as an administrator, Salaam went through a divorce and a career change, and fell into a depression as so many new life changes were going on around her. 

Because of this, Salaam was able to reignite her passion for writing. She discusses a writing class that she signed up for, and for four years, she sat on a “red couch” and “rewrote her life,” which helped her come out of depression and reframe her identity.

Salaam decided to start her own business of “red couch writers” through her company called Literary Healing Arts in 2016. Her target audience is other women who are challenged by personal adversity, and she wants to help overcome the norms of corporate America. Red Couch Writers allows women to ask themselves questions like “how are you feeling today,” “what do you want to let go of,” and “what do you want to keep?” She organizes classes and workshops for organizations with hopes that they can all “write themselves back together again.”

Salaam has been awarded the Poet Award for Innovation in Alabama for writing about the place where the world comes to create. 

At the Momentum Leaders Conference in March, Salaam will be leading a breakout workshop for soul deep diving called Rewrite Your Success Story.

To hear more about Salaam Green’s story, click here to listen to her segment on our podcast.

Contributed by Maya Donaldson

Co-mentoring Through the Decades

Each Executive and Upward class is split into co-mentoring groups, which consist of a diverse selection of women leaders in Birmingham. If you are interested in finding a mentor, Momentum has a free matching program.

Some of our groups have been connected for over a decade.  Tricia Kirk, Katherine Bland, Connie Pruett, Rusha Smith, all from class 6, and Katherine’s wife Peggy Vandergrift. According to Katherine, “We are family. We celebrate life’s blessings and we lift each other up through difficult times. My Momentum family has supported me and inspired me, especially when I was diagnosed with Ovarian cancer.”

Alumnae with similar profiles will not be put together. For example, there will never be a group with 5 lawyers or accountants. What’s surprising about the group?

“You would never put this group together. We come from different walks of life, career paths, rural and urban upbringing, ideologies, and so much more. But, we respect and embrace our differences,” Katherine Bland.

Others are newer but just as engaged. Mo Shorts, Alaina Ploski, Carly Miller, Danielle Hines, Efstathia Andrikopoulou, and Felicia Pike are in a group from the Upward class. Their advice?

“Be intentional. It is worth it.”

“All members need to be equally invested for this to work.”

“These women are unbiased third parties and they can give you great perspective on the challenges you face. Even if you are nervous, you will feel better putting it out there for consideration.”

Both of these groups remained consistent throughout the pandemic. How was this possible? The Upward group stayed connected through a daily group text. They also had virtual meet ups until it was safe to meet in person. One participant shared, “I am geographically far from my family and friends, so having this group has been a true gift – knowing I have friends close by and people to reach out to if I need. Simply by existing, the women who make up my group have supported me through what has been a very strange time.”

Having a strong group of supportive women means you can call someone up for a drink or a walk at any time. “What seemed so big, with them, is now so small. They have a way of putting things in perspective.” Momentum’s mentoring program pairs mentees and mentors who share a specific goal or skill they want to work on together. Although you are only required to have a six month relationship, many pairs stayed connected beyond that time period.

The Executive group had even more ideas for connecting through COVID. “We continued our gatherings through Zoom. We even bought the same appetizer tray from the grocery store so we were still ‘sharing’ our appetizers. When it was safe, we had a gathering outdoors and recently moved to outdoor dining in restaurants,” Katherine Bland.

Despite a bizarre year, we are thrilled to hear of moments of support and encouragement. Women need true connection now more than ever. Reach out to Mindy Santo, Mentor Coordinator, for more information. Here’s to a better 2021!

Defining Intersectionality

The Case for Intersectionality

Intersectionality has been a commonplace phrase in the feminist realm since Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term in 1989. Essentially, it refers to the notion that the combination of different identities – age, race, gender, class, sexuality, nationality dramatically influence the way people experience the world. The intersection of these identities contributes to the obstacles and/or privileges that those who share some but not all identities may experience.

Too often, human resource stakeholders fall into the trap of the one size fits all approach. Its appeal in simplicity sacrifices efficacy. These one size fits all approaches for women in leadership aim to solve the challenges for white, middle-class, cisgender women. The Western default. Which leaves out doubly or triply marginalized women as a result. As organizational demographics evolve, they leave out more women than they aim to benefit.

According to research conducted by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co. in 2019, women make up 38 percent of frontline leader-level positions in the United States and Canada. White women hold 27 percent of these manager roles and women of color only hold 12 percent. The disparity is even greater at the executive level. White women hold 18 percent of roles while women of color hold 4 percent.

These discrepancies are due to a large disfunction of systemic and cultural barriers, not just failed women advocacy programs. Infusing intersectionality into policies and practices aimed at advancing women in leadership can help.

How can we do better?

Embracing intersectionality means embracing variety which adds an element of complexity. To ensure an environment where everyone can thrive because of their differences, follow these three steps:

1. Ask the Experts

The ideal approach is to have a diversity and inclusion expert with a focus on human-centered design to solve persistent and painful challenges with an empathetic perspective. Applying these principles to intersectionality and women’s advocacy efforts ensures the correct focus. The women leaders that are the goal are experts in their own experiences and challenges. Opening a dialogue creates space for these women to tell you exactly what they need without any guesswork.  

2. Diverse Populations Deserve Diverse Solutions

It is necessary to tailor approaches to fit different populations to achieve satisfaction. Equality is about giving everyone the same level of support, but equity requires different supports for different situations.

3. Use Multi-Dimensional Metrics to Track Multi-Level Impact

Lean on metrics, track engagement, retention, promotion, salary, and representation to measure the success of empowering women leaders. It is important to look at the data from a demographic perspective to see if the efforts positively impact all women. If efforts to advance women leaders are working for certain groups disproportionately, it is important to investigate and reevaluate accordingly.

The Kids are Alright


In July 2020, Harvard Business Researchers surveyed a group of 2,500 working parents to assess the importance of the (declining) childcare industry in supporting the reopening economy, following the Covid-19 outbreak. The study held by fellow professionals and mothers – Alicia Sasser Modestino, Jamie J. Ladge, Addie Swartz, and Alisa Lincoln – aimed to examine the impact felt by the 50 million parent U.S. workforce with children under the age of 14. The results presented that 20% of working parents across low and high-income brackets had to leave work or reduce their hours because of the lack of childcare. Of them, nearly a third claimed it was down to the “more capable parent,” while less than a quarter decided based on income bracket.

Why is this an issue?

The survey displayed a heavy lenience towards traditional gender roles, and found that 26% of women surveyed were expected to step-down from their work roles. In addition, the expectations of the role of an active mother and breadwinner have only surmounted for single mothers and women of color. The survey showed that women were more likely to reduce hours at work if they were Black, or if they were single, divorced, separated, or widowed. The report subsequently argued for businesses to assume the responsibility for arranging childcare, as opposed to individual employees. Seeing the weighted and incredibly meaningful contribution of women in the workforce – plus, the possible addition of 5% to the U.S. GDP – it is crucial for companies to address these inequities for working women parents.

Temporary Solutions

In September 2020, the Birmingham Business Alliance compiled a list of resources to support parents managing their work and homeschooling pressures, including YWCA’s School Support Program, The Levite Jewish Community Center Day Camps, and YMCA and similar community center services. Wyndy offers an app to connect local nannies and sitters to parents in need of childcare services. Additionally, Childcare Resources’ is a Central Alabama agency connecting families to over 700 childcare programs that fit their needs.

Be S.M.A.R.T.

What are your goals for your career?  For your life? We like to use the S.M.A.R.T. method to break down large goals into smaller pieces. As you check off each shorter goal, they begin to snowball and eventually you have attained the larger one!

Here’s a great example from Mindy Santo, our Mentoring Coordinator, who wants to promote our mentoring program.  Her goal:  Increase awareness of Momentum’s mentoring program by featuring topics on our social media platforms reaching readers within and outside our network to help women progress toward their goals of skills development, like; leadership, professional presence, or entrepreneurship within their organizations.


Mindy’s SMART goal breakdown:

S-pecific increase awareness of Momentum’s Mentoring program through our social media platforms

M-easurable reach goal by end of Q1

A-ttainable increase our Mentor and Mentee pool of candidates by 20%

R-elevant reach readers within and outside our network to help women progress toward their goals of skills development, like; leadership, professional presence, or entrepreneurship within their organizations

T-ime-bound feature one topic every Thursday on the benefits of mentoring


By defining Mindy’s mission, she is able to tackle her goal one piece at a time and hit her target.


“Mentoring has touched me in so many ways. From the gift of personally being mentored so I could do my thing, to connecting with courageous women who want to be mentored because they want to do their thing — no matter if they’re moving up, out, or laterally — and finally to the exceptional Mentors who are willing to help their Mentees accomplish those things (who may surprisingly get something in return!). All of these people have special meaning.”


Mindy Santo, Mentor Coordinator

Mentoring is:

A gift


The courage to show up, open up, and give yourselves grace during the moments of discomfort

Setting expectations AND meeting them

An unexpected mutual exchange between Mentee AND Mentor

Bringing you’re A-game to serve AND be served

A selfless act of generosity

Fulfilling and SO worthwhile

Paying it forward


Realizing you are a step ahead of someone with your life experience, and that you all have skills and talents in certain areas that can be beneficial to someone else


Have you challenged yourself to reach a goal?  Do you need a little guidance?  Momentum’s Mentoring Program may be a perfect fit for you to help you climb to your highest potential.  Check out our website or reach out for more information!

Gender Wage Gap: Fact or Fiction?

“Women earn less because they take time off for motherhood.”

The census data collected by the National Women’s Law Center in 2019 calculated that women lose an average of $16,000 a year due to the “motherhood penalty.” Mothers in the U.S. earn 24.8 percent less than their paternal counterparts. Mothers also have to deal with employers that harbor certain biases. Employers have stereotypes about the value of mothers as employees. They are perceived to be less committed to the job, less dependable, and more emotional. This discriminatory thought process plays a significant role in the limitations for working mothers.

This bias includes these mother’s coworkers as well. A 2018 study conducted by Bright Horizons, which operates over 1,000 early education childcare centers in the United States, found that 41 percent of employed Americans perceived working mothers to be less devoted to their work than single women. Over one-third judge working mothers on their inflexibility. The number of women worried about announcing their pregnancies bosses and coworkers has nearly doubled from 12 percent to 21 percent since 2015.

“Women choose lower-paying careers so it makes sense why men make more money.”

Women do choose lower-paying careers in comparison to their male counterparts. Those careers being paid lower is part of the problem. Young girls are steered away from certain subjects from childhood by their parents, teachers, and peers. From a young age, boys are expected to be better in math and science. These fields typically result in higher pay. Girls are encouraged to enter into “traditional” careers as a result of this bias.

Women don’t choose low-paying jobs. Society values women’s work less. Job industries dominated by women pay less than those dominated by men. For example, teaching, especially early childhood, is a field dominated by women. The work is insanely hard and demanding, it requires certain skills and educations, and the success of future generations depends on their shoulders. Yet, because these teachers are mostly women, the pay is not proportional to the demand of the job.

“Saying a woman makes 77 cents for every dollar a man makes is an exaggeration!”

Comparing the difference in annual earnings between men and women finds that women make about 23 cents less per dollar than men on average. These statistics are even less favorable for women of color who on average earn significantly less than their white coworkers. Looking at weekly earnings between men and women, the figure is a little smaller, around an 18 cent difference.

When the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1959, women were only making 59 cents on the dollar. That figure rose to 77 cents by 2004 and has increased by less than half a penny annually.

At some point or another, every woman has heard these three statements in her career. The issue with these statements is that they make women intentionally feel like second-class citizens in a patriarchal society that perpetuates fictional beliefs that harm women in the corporate sector. 

Breaking Down Focus 2021 – What Comes Next?

We are still on cloud nine from last Wednesday, March 31st, presenting the Momentum Conference, Focus 2021. Our goal: to combat the physical and psychological toll from 2020 through a more positive focus in 2021. The multifaceted conference featured inspiring keynote speakers, Momentum Lessons in Leadership, and messages from our sponsor partners. We explored our strengths in innovative teamwork, work-life management, making bold career moves, and supporting inclusive cultures.  


A main highlight was the return of our fabulous keynote speakers from Vision 2020, Risha Grant and Robyn Benincasa.


Takeaways from Risha Grant (Learn about her here)

Speaking on her experience trailblazing diversity and inclusion practices at Regions Bank, she urged us to “turn our brains off auto-pilot” to identify and address our biases.  To focus on equitable change we have to understand we have to understand how our individual behaviors, actions, support for certain workplace policies, and attitude to change hinder or support our efforts to social progression. 

Click to see her additional tips for carrying this internal reflection in a mindful way and more about sustaining personal progress on the Focus 2021 Resource Page.


Takeaways from Robyn Benincasa (Learn about her here)

Robyn shared her iron approach on how leaders should carry courage and guts through their journeys “adapt, overcome, and win” against tough challenges in their environment. She related this to the motivation necessary for her to continue to ascend the 19,000 ft. summit of a volcano. 

Remember, GUTS means:

Go the distance, quietly persevering

Unwavering in patience and faith

Taking calculated risks

Shattering the norm


How Can We Keep the Fire?


#1: Continue to encourage self-exploration through journaling 

There is no feeling freeing than the flow of unprovoked thought. To meaningfully access to our subconscious beliefs and attitudes, we must first displace the filtering, perfectionist monitoring of even the things we write to ourselves. Personal journaling can help us address the start of a negative thought and pull it out from the root.


Helpful Journaling Guides:

A Journal Prompt for Every Emotion You Feel

Start a Work Diary And Leverage it for Career Growth


#2: Fuel respectful discussions with others

The key to communicating is first and foremost active listening. We do this by tuning our attentiveness, our patience, and our receptiveness of what others confide in us. This should be a mutual practice among the members of a discussion group and should reflect a bare foundation of respect and empathy. It is challenging to engage in conversations about inclusion that might have never been confronted before, but if we are patient with others and ourselves it will empower us to have brave conversations.


#3: Give yourself some grace

We must understand that we do not all innately hold the perfect solutions to the problems we confront in our 3D world. We are positive people, passionately moving forward, building on our knowledge and reflecting that personal growth outwards.