Category: Diversity in Leadership

Petite Can Mean Powerful

Deborah Boswell, long-time President of Professional Speech Services of Alabama, spoke at last week’s Intentional Tuesdays event about the power of your voice. As a woman who measures over five feet tall on a good day, I was ready for this presentation with my trusty pen to take notes. Deborah mentioned some key takeaways that you probably haven’t heard before. Here’s the rundown:

  • Focus on your breath. You don’t have to scream to be loud! Try to talk from your diaphragm instead of your throat or chest to command the room.
  • When you’re nervous, you probably have shallow breath. Take some deep inhales and exhales before a presentation. Personally, I listen to a Lizzo song or some words of encouragement from Brene Brown. You can view some more mindfulness resources here.
  • First impressions count. Think about your posture and what you’re wearing. I have been moved mid-presentation because multiple people thought I was breaking out in hives. Turns out, I was just nervous, so now I wear a turtleneck.
  • Be concise. No one likes a long meeting that could have been summed up in a quick email. Executives don’t have a lot of time on their hands, and the average person’s attention span, according to research by Microsoft, is shorter than eight seconds. That’s less than a goldfish.
  • BLUF. Don’t bluff, but keep the Bottom Line Up Front. Capture their attention at the beginning so they stay with you for important information.
  • Conjunction junction, what’s your function? Diluting clarity, according to Deborah. Break up your sentences.
  • If you are the expert, behave like the expert! Stay confident; you’ve got this.

Wish you hadn’t missed Deborah’s presentation? Want to watch it again? Check out our new Youtube channel for her presentation and others!

#BlackVeterinarians Initiative

Though AAC’s mission is to educate and advocate for the health and well-being of assistance animals, as a company, it is dedicated to advocating and pursuing equality and justice. 

Founder, Rhesa Houston DVM, states, “As conscientious members of society who understand the long history of racism and the value of social change and social justice movements, we support and stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement. We are committed to doing our part in educating, promoting, and advocating for social justice within Black and Brown communities as well as other marginalized groups.”   

Veterinary medicine is one of the largest fields that lacks diversity. In an effort to raise awareness of this lack of diversity, Dr. Houston began the #BlackVeterinarians initiative, where she will give black and brown veterinarians a platform to speak about their experiences and tell their stories on being an underrepresented minority in the veterinary field. She hopes to raise awareness to the younger generations as well and encourage them to pursue veterinary medicine, no matter their skin color or background. 

Assistance Animals Consulting is a one-of-a-kind consulting firm of licensed veterinarians who provide education and training on healthy, safe environments for assistance animals and their owners in order to make the animal-human bond successful. Dr. Houston founded the company after her father was prescribed an assistance animal by his cardiologist. To her surprise, he was not given education or the recommended resources needed when prescribed an assistance animal. This realization shed light on the gap that needed to be bridged between assistance animals, their owners, and doctors and thus created Assistance Animals Consulting. 

Each week, Assistance Animals Consulting will feature a different story that highlights the need for diversity in veterinary medicine and speaks to the experience of black and brown veterinarians. You can find these stories on AAC’s social media pages, as well as their blog which are linked below.

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8 Black-Owned Businesses to Support in Birmingham

One simple way to promote diversity and inclusiveness in our community is to support Birmingham’s local black-owned businesses. Here are eight businesses run by women in the Birmingham area you can support today. 

Food

Naughty But Nice Kettle Corn Co.

Naughty But Nice Kettle Corn Co. puts a fun spin on a classic snack. Tanesha Sims-Summers, founder and CEO, describes her company as being, “…known for PoPing addictive handcrafted kettle corn. All of our flavors are lightly sweet and lightly salted to give each flavor a unique and distinctive taste. We strive to create an experience that families, friends, PoPcorn and kettle corn lovers will never forget. We keep it interestingly different! We love PoPping up at community events, special events, weddings, corporate and university events, birthday parties or on your couch for a Friday Movie Night! It’s Not Just Popcorn with Naughty But Nice Kettle Corn Co., It’s FUN, FRESH & FESTIVE; from the hand crafted flavors to our commitment to PoPpin with a Purpose with our community partners, our team is always finding ways to make the world a sweeter place one kernel at a time.”

Where: 5363 1st Ave N Birmingham, Al 35212

Contact: (205) 915-2528

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CakEffect

Photo by Mike Tomberlin, Alabama NewsCenter

The owner/operator and master cake artist of CakEffect, Komeh O. Davis, has a true passion for art that spills over into her cake creations. She describes her company as being, “…the little cake shop with a grand effect. We specialize in custom designer cakes for many events or occasions. With a background in visual arts, canvas art is transformed to cake. All cakes are baked to order and to the customer’s specifications. CakEffect specializes in sculpted two-dimensional and three-dimensional cakes. CakEffect provides beautiful, delicious cakes to many satisfied customers each year. We have an association of artists and bakers who are capable of meeting personal and corporate needs. Our deliciously moist, artistic, and elegantly designed cakes will be remembered by you, your family and friends as a wonderful touch to your event.”

Where: 1021 Brock’s Gap Parkway Suite 109 Hoover, Al. 35244

Contact: (205) 803-5669

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Drexell & Honeybee’s

Drexell & Honeybee’s is a donation only restaurant with the mission of, “we feed the need.” They serve hot plates to everyone whether they can afford it or not. The owner, Lisa Thomas-McMillan says that, “food is about the joy of serving others.” There isn’t a price tag on any of their meals or even suggested prices. Customers only pay what they can whether that be a small or large donation or even just a thank you. When you enter their restaurant, “you’ll walk past booths and four-tops full of cornbread, fried chicken, and collard greens.” With food this tasty, you’ll find yourself craving it every day.

Where: 109 Lee Street Brewton, AL 36426

Contact: (251) 727-2411

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Services

The Curated Arch

The Curated Arch is Birmingham’s premier permanent makeup studio. The owner, Kim Thompson, says, “my mission at The Curated Arch is to help women feel their most beautiful! I don’t take this lightly. It’s truly an honor to work with every single client.” They specialize in lashes, brows, and skincare, relying on over twenty years of experience and training. Why choose her services? Her “method and tools have been meticulously designed and redesigned to aid their trained artists in producing very precise hairstrokes, perfect symmetry, and a beautiful eyebrow shape that goes with the natural shape of their client’s face and bone structure.” They also choose to use products with great ingredients that won’t harm your skin!

Where: Inside Phenix Salon Suites at 709 Montgomery Highway Suite 101 Birmingham, AL 35216

Contact: (205) 533-1726

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SisterGolf

Photo by Eric & Jamie Gay

SisterGolf not only teaches women how to play golf, but it also instructs women on how to use their knowledge of the game to their advantage in their professional lives. The owner, Shella Sylla, says, “The mission of SisterGolf is to expose and educate female business professionals on how they can use golf as a tool for developing mutually beneficial business relationships, and creating connections for professional advancement in the Corporate workplace.” What a great way to multitask!

You can schedule your next appointment with SisterGolf here.

Where: 2539 John Hawkins Parkway, #329 Hoover, AL 35244

Contact: (205) 564-2040

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Valia Rose Events

Valia Rose Events is a full service event planning company that specializes in events from weddings to corporate functions. The owner, Joanna Sheppard, says, “Valia Rose Events creates custom, seamless and sophisticated event planning experiences for each of our clients. Because we forge a bond with our clients, The details cultivated into our designs reflect the personal styles of our clients. Every logistical element serves a purpose for a celebration that speaks to you, your family and your guests for generations to come. Valia Rose Events provides a high touch collaborative approach to the planning process. Our distinctive full service planning , design and management services guarantee a perfect event production.”

Expanding on the background of her business, Sheppard explains, “Planning an intimate event for a dear friend as a hobby later resulted in the conception of Valia Rose Events. The organic growth emerged from the desire to create magical moments, enlightened guest experiences and memories to last a lifetime. There is love poured into every Valia Rose fete that attracts clients worldwide.”

Where: 240 Oxmoor Circle Suite 106 Homewood, AL 35209

Contact: (205) 421-9656

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Retail

Yogi DaDa

With southern roots and a northern upbringing, Yolanda Carter, best known as Yogi, has been exposed to many different cultures and art forms that can be seen throughout her work. Yogi DaDa specializes in hand painted wooden earrings, but since establishing her business in 2012, her art has expanded into various forms such as canvas pieces, prints, custom ties, cufflinks and more. In addition to her art, Carter is also a poet, Emmy nominated vocalist, sign language artist, public speaker, teacher, and Djembe (African drum) player. To say she’s well-rounded would be an understatement. 

Contact: (205) 266-4921

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Janelle’s Attic Gold

The old saying that, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” was taken to heart by Janelle Sweeney as she created Janelle’s Attic Gold, a retail store where you can find all things vintage including clothing, furniture, and decor. Each item she finds has a story from the past, waiting for you to give it new life. Her eclectic assortment will add charm to any space or wardrobe. 

Do you get overwhelmed sifting through large thrift and antique stores? Janelle has already done the hard work for you with organized selections of dishware, dresses, furniture, and more!

Where: 1904 2nd Ave N, Bessemer, AL 35020

Contact: (205) 213-2858

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Women’s Resource Groups

There used to be lots of debate about the effectiveness of employee resource groups (ERGs.) These days, most HR experts and business analysts agree that ERGs, when managed correctly, have a positive net effect on the enterprise.

What exactly is an ERG? It’s a group of employees who meet in the workplace based on shared life experiences. The goal is to build their network, share experiences, exchange resources, and support each other. Oftentimes the ERG is comprised of employees who represent a minority within the enterprise: women, people of color, Latino/a, and LBGTQ. An impressive 90% of Fortune 500 companies have ERGs.

photo credit Erin Tunnell

No doubt that employees who are part of a well-managed ERG find value in the meetings. The overall organization benefits, too. As employees in under-represented groups find a sense of inclusion, belonging, and value, they are more likely to stay with the company and some will pursue leadership roles within the organization. According to the 2018 McKinsey study “Delivering through Diversity,” companies with diverse leadership are better able to:

  • Attract top talent
  • Improve customer orientation
  • Increase employee satisfaction
  • Make better decisions

ERGs are not just for the Fortune 500, either. In fact, in small to mid-size companies, an ERG can be launched very quickly. All it may require is a conversation with the CEO, HR, and an outline of why/when/where/how/who. In larger organizations it can take a little more time. Generally speaking, the larger the company, the more likely you are to need a clear charter, schedule, budget, executive sponsorship, and answers for legal counsel regarding risk management.

One sticky question is whether or not the meetings should be open to those who are not part of the group. Operating from a standpoint of inclusiveness, our opinion is a resounding YES. It’s important for all employees to feel they can participate in the discussions, benefit from training, and lend their own opinions. In groups where the meetings are closed, suspicion generally runs high.

If you are thinking of starting an ERG, one of the best things you can do is consult with others who have started down that path.

Momentum hosts quarterly meetings called the Women’s Resource Group Exchange. During these meetings, representatives from a diverse group of companies gather to share their experiences and resources. If interested in attending,  email us for more information. ERGs require some effort to do well, but the pay-off for both employees and the enterprise can be big.

 

Bring in the Men

Part of Momentum’s strategic plan is to expand our efforts to involve men as advocates for women in leadership. We call it “Men with Momentum.” Recently the committee in charge of this initiative designated two representatives from their companies to attend a work group meeting on diversity and inclusion initiatives, graciously hosted by Encompass Health and facilitated by Momentum alumnae Anne Marie Seibel and Crissy Carlisle.

During the workshop participants from BBVA, Bradley, Encompass Health, Protective Life, Southern Research Institute, and UAB shared the metrics and data their companies examine to measure effectiveness of diversity and inclusion programs. Encompass Health and BBVA Compass both presented the data warehouses and reporting tools they use to track metrics such as demographics, hiring outcomes, satisfaction ratings, and retention scores. Beyond the data, the group discussed practices that lead to better outcomes in terms of on-boarding, career advancement, awareness training, and measuring impact.

By the end of our session one thing was very clear: everyone in the room would benefit from regularly scheduled sessions to share experiences. Working together to determine inclusion practices that get results will produce far greater gains than trying get there alone. Momentum is proud to serve as a facilitator and resource for this important work. Our committee will meet again in November to discuss next steps, and you can count on seeing more news about Men with Momentum in 2019!

 

 

 

 

Equality on Independence Day

Photo courtesy of Ishtodo

Reflecting on our celebration of independence on this 4th of July holiday, let’s remember that the Declaration of Independence is predicated first and foremost on the premise of equality.  Now in our 242nd year since that declaration was signed, many groups of people in this country that should be governed “for the people, by the people” are still woefully under-represented in public office, still suffer social injustice, and experience profound economic inequalities. That said, our history shows progress. Among the legislative milestones:

  • Abolition of slavery, 1865
  • African-American (male) right to vote, 1870
  • Women’s right to vote, 1920
  • Civil Rights Act, 1964
  • Equal Rights Amendment, 1972*
  • Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990

Of these milestones, it is worth noting that only the Equal Rights Amendment, which guarantees the “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex,” has failed to become law. The ERA was reintroduced before Congress in 1982, and has been introduced again every year since then. Passage of the ERA requires a 2/3 majority vote in Congress and ratification by at least 38 states.  In May of this year, Illinois became the 37th state to ratify the ERA, although five states who previously ratified it have rescinded their ratification. The struggle is real!

Opposition to the ERA is largely based on the argument that the proposed language would eradicate much of the “protection of women” under current law. Chief among these, and the most inflammatory in our political climate, is the argument that passage of the ERA would be used to roll back current restrictions on abortion, the role of women in combat, the separation of public restrooms/locker rooms, etc. Each of these is political speculation, but certainly effective in suppressing ratification.

Some believe that the protection of women is already guaranteed under the 14th Amendment. Whether you agree with that or believe that the ERA should be ratified and signed into law, the debate underscores the great extent to which men in power, whether for or against ratification, are still making the decisions on what women can and cannot do for their livelihood, their families, and their health.

Evidence that women are far from equal in this country abounds:

We clearly have a lot of work to do to advance women in leadership and to shape policy that will protect women, their families, and the economic outlook for our country. In the next month, Momentum will present a new three-year strategic plan to our Board of Directors. Together we can greatly improve conditions for the women in our state through engaging men in determining policy, developing leadership in emerging women leaders, collecting the data to show our problem areas and progress going forward, and unifying our strength as women leaders in service to our communities.

Happy Independence Day.

 

The ABCs of Breaking Bias

I recently attended a lecture hosted by the Athena Collective entitled the ABCs of Breaking Bias. The guest speaker was Dr. Stefanie Johnson, from the University of Colorado at Boulder. This is such an important topic, because understanding unconscious bias, and how we can keep it in check, is fundamental to getting the best talent to take on the challenges in our companies, organizations and communities.

I was glad to see that the audience was made up of men and women of many ethnic backgrounds and ages. Dr. Johnson helped us all to see that unconscious bias is in all of us. It is primal, rooted in the tendency of humans to observe the world around them and unconsciously use the data collected to make thousands of micro-decisions every day–decisions that may or may not be sound, depending on that individual’s experiences. Women exhibit gender bias just as men do. Minorities make biased decisions based on race each day. No one can be totally free of unconscious bias, but Dr. Johnson presented four easy ways to rein it in with her “ABCs” of breaking bias:

A is for Admit it. As mentioned above, we all exhibit unconscious bias, so let’s just admit it without blame or shame. I would add to the A-list two more words: raise awareness when you observe unconscious bias and address it.

B is for Blind it. The Boston Symphony became the poster-child for blinding unconscious bias when it began using blind auditions in an effort to test gender bias on its hiring of musicians. They started by holding auditions behind a curtain, and even went so far as to have musicians remove their shoes, since the clicking of women’s heels even tipped off the hiring committee as to their gender. The result ? The blind auditions increased a woman’s chances of moving past the first audition by 50%, and accounts for 30% of female new hires, according to a research study in the American Economic Review. Similar “blinding actions” can be taken by companies, educational institutions, and healthcare professionals by removing names and other bias-tipping factors from resumes, reviews, records and recommendations.

C is for Count it. What gets measured gets done, so if we can quantify how unconscious bias negatively affects our workplaces, we can make the case for change. For example, tracking metrics on the diversity of candidates before and after implementing blind screening practices can be a great way to demonstrate that unconscious bias exists. It’s equally important to show data to motivate policy makers to  invest in a more diverse talent pool. Fortunately, an increasing number of reliable research studies point to strong correlations between diversity positive key performance indicators.

S is for Support it. Humans find safety in sameness, so human nature causes us to surround ourselves with people like us. Yet we know that it’s the diversity of any ecosystem that defines its strength and longevity. Workplaces, educational institutions, and communities are no exception. One of the most frequently cited studies supporting diversity is Why Diversity Matters from McKinsey & Company. While the study asserts that the link between diversity and high performance is a correlation, and not necessarily causation, there is a very strong, logical case that diversity gets more talent to the table and helps teams avoid “group think” in important decisions.

Even if we stop short of making sweeping organizational changes to address unconscious bias, each on of us can check our own biases on a daily basis. For example, when describing a person, how often do you include details about gender, race, or age, even when they are absolutely irrelevant to your story? Double-check that you are not somehow implying something unintentional. Consider the images conjured in your mind when you read the following:

  • I was behind this old guy parking his car.
  • I was behind this woman parking her car.
  • I was behind this black man parking his car.
  • I was behind a business man parking his car.

Based on the fact that the speaker qualified who was parking the car, we immediately form a stereotype of the story to follow. Having qualified who was parking the car may reinforce the unconscious bias that an old person, woman, or black man would not park a car as well as the business man, when in fact, those things have nothing to do with that individuals ability to park a car. Why not simply say, “I was behind this person parking their car and noticed that the gas cap was open.”

Admit bias, blind it, count it and support efforts to counter it. Dr. Johnson’s “ABCs” for breaking bias are great building blocks for more diversity in our workplaces and communities.

 

 

 

Women’s History Month

Today marks the first day of Women’s History Month. I have actually been asked by my own son why we need a whole month dedicated to women’s history or black history? Why don’t we just have a history month? Deep breaths. “We celebrate women’s history month and black history month because history, as we have learned it, is white male. It is written by white males and documents the achievements of white males. The contributions of minorities like black people and all women, who often achieved great things despite their repression, are rarely noted or celebrated. Having a dedicated history month helps to rectify that.” He seemed satisfied enough with that answer.

During the month of March we’ll post on the achievements of women, particularly right here in Alabama. At each biennial Momentum conference, we recognize women leaders who have made a significant contribution to community, business, culture or politics. The 2018 awards were held this past Wednesday and honored six new women with a Woman of Impact award. You can meet the new honorees, and each of our past honorees, here.

Last year we interviewed five of our sixteen honorees to get their stories and advice on film. Here are a few inspiring clips from that project.

 

 

Celebrating Careers of Women of Color

In honor of black history month, and on the cusp of women’s history month, we salute the women who overcome a long history of bias, prejudice, and discrimination to succeed in their careers. According to a 2015 study by the Center for American Progress, a stunning 70% of mothers in black families are the main bread-winner for their families (compared to 24.7% of white mothers and 40.5% of Latina mothers.) At the same time, black women experience a wider pay gap than white women compared to white men (black women earn 63% of when compared to white men, where white women earn 75% of what white men earn.)

To level the playing field, much has to be done to raise awareness and train employers on the gaps that exist. Those cultural shifts can take a long time. Updating workplace policy is the other piece in the engine of progress. Ensuring that employees have access to paid sick leave and family leave has shown to increase participation in the labor force and reduce reliance on public assistance for women who still carry most of the burden of caring for children and aging parents. We also need employers to regularly educate management on unconscious bias in hiring, managing and promoting minorities.

In the 2017 Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey and the Lean In organization, women of color are the most underrepresented group in the corporate pipeline. The study asserts that gender and race are inseparable, and that companies need to dig deeper into the experiences of women of color when shaping their unconscious bias training and employee management policies.

Rosilyn Houston, BBVA Compass

Rosilyn Houston is Senior Executive VP and Chief Talent & Cultural Executive for BBVA Compass and a Momentum alumna. She had these thoughts to share for this post:

“The stats McKinsey recently released are undeniable truths. Now that we know the facts what are we going to do about it to bring about change? Black women have to jump multiple hurdles and run through walls that may not exist for non-blacks as we face both unconscious and conscious bias in the workplace. 

This is not just a black woman challenge, it is a challenge for all of us. Just as we need white men to be interested in gender equity in high places in our organizations, we need all men and women to recognize the struggles of women from all cultures and do some things differently. 

I propose the following:

1) Hire a talented and qualified black woman to lead on your immediate team. 
2) Mentor and/or sponsor a black woman leader.
3) Advocate for and introduce a talented black woman leader to your network. 

All talented and hardworking women deserve the opportunity to bring her best into the workplace and to impact an organization’s bottom line. Black women need the support and opportunity to work on high risk projects, be exposed to key leaders, and mentorship. In my opinion, working together to take tangible steps to change the status quo is what we need to to close the gap and walk the talk.”

Deb Grimes, UAB

Working women of color especially benefit from the support of other women to embrace who they are. Momentum alumna Deb Grimes, Chief Diversity Officer at UAB, offers this advice: “Being a women of color is not about comparing yourself to others, it’s about focusing on your uniqueness and encouraging others to do the same. Always remember, you are too awesome to just fit in…dare to be different!”

The upcoming Momentum leadership conference is focused on the theme “Better Together, Uniting Leaders.” To make real progress toward workplaces that reflect the diversity of the population, we have to come together to champion the advantages. We need men to support the advancement of women. We need white women to support the advancement of black women. We need black women support the advancement of Latina women. We all need to triple-check our unconscious bias and commit to supporting top talent in leadership roles.

 

Women on Boards

April Benetollo, CEO Momentum

One of the goals on my personal development plan when I was in Momentum was to serve on a nonprofit board. I had no prior board experience, but with the encouragement of my co-mentoring group and a little networking I easily found my way. I realized within a few board meetings that I could have, and should have, pursued the board opportunity earlier. Nonprofits, schools, universities and small businesses can all benefit from a diverse board to advise, strategize, and get things done. The board members benefit too. My board service at Children’s of Alabama committee for the future, TechBirmingham, TechAlabama, UAB’s Collat School of Business Sales and Marketing, and UAB’s School of Engineering IEM board, has enriched my life in three ways:

  1. Expanded my network. Through board service I’ve gotten to know close to one hundred local professionals. I make a habit of connecting with them on LinkedIn. I can rely on this network as a sounding board for new ideas, make connections between people with similar business interests, and get feedback when I have a particular issue or question.
  2. Gained confidence. No matter how confident I think I am, I still can have that little voice inside that wonders if I really know what I think I know. Testing your ideas and strategy at the board level is very validating, because your fellow board members are smart, they are equally committed to the cause, and more objective than traditional co-workers.
  3. Made great friends. By volunteering for projects and committees I have gotten to know quite a few fellow board members on a personal level, and those friendships live on. My career and family do not leave a lot of time for forging new friendships, so uncovering these as a result of board service has been a real bonus.

One thing I have noticed is the lack of women on boards. I’ve also noticed that sometimes the women at the table do not volunteer their ideas as often as the men, particularly if there are a lot more men than women at the table. I’ve read a lot of studies and stats on women and board service and it boils down to this: women are half the US population, women earn 57% of bachelor’s degrees, 62% of masters degrees, and 53% of Phd, medical and law degrees. Representation by women on boards in the United States–whether you look at public, private, nonprofit, or particular industries–is generally below 20%.

There are many reasons behind the gender gap at the board level. Board seats usually go to individuals who hold top positions in their organizations, the positions just beyond the proverbial glass ceiling. Unconscious bias (something men and women have) in hiring, managing and promoting women throughout their careers is a primary contributing factor. Women are also tapped out, since they often have to work harder to be recognized at work, and also carry more of the load at home, particularly working mothers.

The good news is that we see a lot more data in the last few years about the benefits of a diverse board, including gender diversity, for boards of directors. We’ll be exploring this topic during our “Women on Corporate Boards” session, with facilitator Major General Lee Price and four outstanding panelists at the  Momentum Leadership Conference in February. I look forward to posting some insights from that panel in March. Stay tuned.