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My Reality: Shanell Snyder on Simple Starts for Driving Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

“Increased perspective is how we get to real systemic change. I think there is lasting goodness to come,” said Fidelity Investment’s Vice President of HR
By |
Shanell Snyder

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].

“I am the proud daughter of a single mother, and I grew up in a house full of brothers with a lot of support from family. We grew up with modest means, but we always thought and knew we had everything we needed, seeing the ups, downs, and struggles of a strong parent holding it all together. I grew up in Dallas in a predominantly White area at a predominantly White school. At that point, most of my friends were either White or Black.”

Recognizing Differences

“An interesting experience from childhood comes to mind when I think about scenarios that indicated to me that I was different. I had a white childhood friend and neighbor, and we would play together every day. We were sitting in the front yard one day with shorts on, and she looked at my legs and said, ‘What are those black dots on your leg?’ I didn’t know exactly what she was referring to, but when we looked closely, I realized it was my hair follicle. We didn’t look at it as ‘I’m Black and she’s White’ in a derogative or negative way, but that was my first indication that we were just a little bit different.

“Right after high school, I moved to the east coast of Florida. It was a very different environment and culture that I had to get used to very quickly. When I moved there, I started working and didn’t go to college at first. I was an adult learner, went back to college in my late 20s, and got my master’s in my early 30s. About 20 years ago, I transitioned into human resources. The field and profession continued to evolve while my capability, experience, and depth of responsibility also evolved.”

Representing a Community

“I’ve been blessed to have an amazing group of colleagues and mentors that I’ve engaged with over the years and still continue to connect, network, and become personal friends with. In the workplace, I’ve experienced situations that have shown more awkwardness than any prejudice or discrimination. I’ve been in spaces where there are multiple people, but only one or two people of color—specifically Black women. There have been awkward moments where I am called the other person of color’s name, and she is called mine. It’s not something that bothers me, but it does remind you that you’re unintentionally associated with someone else who looks like you.

“Being different in any setting has a lot of benefits. It allows you to be the person who stands out. It’s all about how you seize those moments, and I think there’s power in it. When I think about often being the only person of color in the room, I don’t think it’s lost on any of us that the financial services industry is predominantly male and white. Personally, I don’t feel a negative vibe from it or like I’m the center of attention at all, but those are moments that we should all see and bring the best of who we are.

“We’re in the middle of multiple pandemics at this point. We’ve opened up the workplace for more dialogue around racial and social injustice. We’ve all had to speak for one another. Fidelity Investments has done a great job creating avenues for discussion, preparing leaders, and providing spaces for safe conversations. Many leaders and colleagues are just looking to listen and learn. In those moments, I feel like I am representing my full community. We face the challenge of humanity. Anytime I’m talking about things that impact the Black community or women of color, I feel like I’m representing that community.

“This moment is about racial injustice, but that’s not the only challenging situation that we find ourselves in. This is a humanity problem. I’ve had leaders and associates reach out to me to understand my personal experience being a Black woman. I’ve also had opportunities to listen and learn from others. Listening and learning go two ways. In the past, someone’s said, ‘I stand with you. I’m an ally to you.’ But I haven’t always been an ally to others. I’ve appreciated those moments because they’ve shown me the importance of intentionally creating spaces for learning.”

Simple Starts to Success

“I think business leaders can drive diversity and inclusion with ‘Simple Starts,’ or behavioral-based changes in how they lead an organization. ‘Simple Starts’ are simple practices leaders can undertake to drive adoption throughout the organization, whether they’re focusing on hiring practices, talent development, networking, or more. One example of a ‘Simple Start’ was when we reimagined our talent management properties in HR.

“During our talent review processes, we chose to look at our underrepresented population first because we had more attention at the very beginning of our four-to-five-hour long meetings. When you talk about your underrepresented talent first, you get the best of someone’s mind at that time, so those very intentional discussions could be had, demonstrating your commitment to diversity and inclusion. There is a whole host of other things on the spectrum that organizations can do that are simple to embrace and leave a big impact.

“There is broad interest and investment in the United States becoming a better society tomorrow. Over the past six months, when you turn on the TV, it’s been a lot about the Black community. But you don’t just see the Black community sharing their voices and supporting a better society of tomorrow. Increased perspective is how we get to real systemic change. I think there is lasting goodness to come. I’m encouraged and excited. This movement has momentum in so many different places.”

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