In My Reality, an editorial series from D CEO, North Texas executives share their personal experiences with diversity and bias. To recommend local business leaders who may be willing to share their experiences with diversity, equity, inclusion, prejudice, or biases, please email associate editor Kelsey Vanderschoot at [email protected]
Abigail Erickson-Torres, is CEO of Bryan’s House, a Dallas nonprofit focused on providing medically managed childcare and development programs to special needs children. She shares her previous experiences in the gaming industry, the importance of having authentic conversations at a young age, and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion for special needs children.
A Woman in the Digital World
“My mother was a very strong woman. She was a single mother, and there were times when we didn’t have enough to eat and the electricity would get turned off. When I was growing up, I saw the movie Working Girl, and [the main character] got her own office. That made me want my own office, too. From the age of 16, I began to understand that I had to do what I had to so I would never have to rely on someone for my financial independence.
“In college, I had a woman tell me I couldn’t do something that I thought would be great to try. I thought, ‘Why is this woman telling me I can’t do something?’ I thought that was very strange. One of the things I strive to do at Bryan’s House is to really support women in their personal lives and careers. We need more women helping women.
“I worked in London in the gaming industry, which is very male-focused industry. It was tough. Women weren’t involved with gaming in those days. It took a long time for people to respect my opinion because I was a woman in a digital world. Now, I think women get a fairer go of it in the industry. I’m glad to see its progress, but there has not been enough.
Challenges in the Nonprofit Space
“As a fundraiser, I’ve had some challenges. I’m a woman leading a nonprofit agency, and some men are used to working with men as leaders. I’ve found myself saying, ‘I’m not in that club, but I’m still providing value. I’m just as good.’
“In my career, there has been harassment there that I’ve never reported. Most people are pretty open to that now, but it was hard early on in my career. When I was getting my foot in, I was saying, ‘Look, I’ve got something to say, and it’s meaningful and authentic.’
“I’ve come a long way in the last 22 years, and we’ve created some incredible progress here Dallas. I’ve raised more than $150 million in my first 20 years in the city. I was the first fundraiser for the Katy Trail project, while raising two young children. I needed more support and wish I’d had more support, but everything’s improving.
Having Authentic Conversations
“I think the first step Dallas companies can take is having authentic conversations. Look at your employee groups and how diverse they are. Don’t just do it for marketing purposes or to check that box. Really look at where you can make a difference in the lives of others by leaning in and saying, ‘I think I could do something amazing.’
“I think we all do better when we have emotional intelligence around diversity and inclusion. That means being sensitive to other people, looking at things in a different way, and having reflective strategies on how you would be in that situation.
“We’re all different, and we’re all human. That’s what connects us. If we’re able to be more emotionally intelligent around the topic and have those open discussions, it’s not something where people turn off and don’t want to hear about it anymore. It brings everyone together. Creating that culture starts at the top.”
Where We Are Headed
“Dallas is such a progressive city in so many ways. We have extraordinary leaders, and we have a lot of Fortune 500 companies based in North Texas. We come together as a community, often through collaborations between corporations and nonprofits. I think we’re doing well, but I think there’s always room for improvement.
“It’s going to be a while before everyone is genuinely included and inclusive. Those kinds of discussions have to happen early on, from infancy. We work with children with special needs, and we talk about inclusiveness from a young age. Time and time again, I’ve seen beautiful and amazing kindness that other children have shown.
“One time, a child was afraid because he looked different and didn’t want to cross the room. Seeing that he was afraid, another child with the same challenge came in and led the child across the classroom. It was awesome and rewarding. We’re breaking barriers for families by having discussions about equality and being inclusive every day.”