True inclusion starts with understanding the realities of others. It moves ahead by focusing on outcomes. As part of D CEO’s special report on diversity, equity, and inclusion (click here to read the print article), area business leaders talk about their backgrounds and the paths they’ve taken that have led them to where they are today. Read more stories in our My Reality series here.
“I was born in Hong Kong, but I moved to the United States with my family when I was 8 years old. We settled in Houston, and I’m now a Texas girl, through and through. When I began my law career, there wasn’t much of a focus on diversity. It was the 1990s, and women were kind of pigeonholed. You had to be very mindful of wearing the black or blue suits and white blouses. Now, there is a lot more acceptance, and people can really embrace their whole selves. Being a woman was never the impediment for me; it’s the Asian aspect of it that has been more challenging. There’s this model-minority myth out there that Asians don’t need additional help. There are certainly Asians who are refugees and have challenging backgrounds, but when you lump them all together, that dilutes the impact and the need. There also is a perception that Asian women are quieter, more docile. So, when you speak up, people are sometimes shocked that you’re doing so. Speaking up and showing up are critically important. Do not allow the doubt or that imposter syndrome to keep you down. Trust that there are other women behind you who will help you, and just believe in yourself.”
“My mother grew up in North Carolina. One day, she and her siblings attempted to access a local public library that was segregated at the time. Upon doing so, she was antagonized and beat up. That story informed my life. My mom always stressed the importance of using education to improve outcomes—not just for yourself but for others. As a child in New York, I remember we didn’t have access to a car. I would walk more than 2 miles to and from the local library in the summertime to get books and discover the great canon of literature. In elementary school, there weren’t many students who looked like me—African American students or students of color. My mother ensured that I was challenged academically. That advocacy paid off and stuck with me throughout undergrad and graduate school.
I’ve been in Dallas for about a decade. I started out in the K-12 education space. After some time, I began to see the intersection between educational outcomes and attainment with social determinants of health. As more students and families wrestled with a fragmented healthcare system, I became cognizant of the fact that there was a broader and deeper scope of work that I was called to do. From an external standpoint, gaps in individuals’ perceptions remain, particularly for those in positions of power deciding who should sit at the table. I’ve had to work to create counter-narratives to indicate that I deserve to be at the table. My presence at the table is important because it helps shift conversations and action. I stand as a proxy for many individuals who may not be in the room but who benefit from the decisions and discussions being had.
The goal is for us to be in a society in which individuals, regardless of background and ZIP code, have an opportunity to realize their full promise and potential. Diversity and inclusion are inextricably linked to achieving the success that we want to see. As trusted individuals in the community, we have the resources and platforms to marshal attention and action. Now more than ever, we need to recognize the opportunities that we have at our disposal. There are many challenges that exist, particularly for those vulnerable communities across Dallas County. It is incumbent upon us to take a different, concrete approach to address those challenges. If not us, then who?”
“I grew up in Santa Barbara, California. My parents are immigrants from Mexico who came to the U.S. to pursue the American dream. I witnessed them experience discrimination in their lives and in their careers. This taught me early on that the world may not be fair to everyone. I learned that I might have to work harder and jump over some hurdles to get ahead, but that I could aspire for more. That helped me later as I experienced my own version of unfairness and bias. Today, I’m the senior managing director for Accenture, serving as one of the senior-most leaders in our 500,000-person company. I’m privileged to be in a position where I can address some bias or ignorance head-on as it comes. Leadership begins with commitment and communicating, but that is not enough. You must be bold and take action to solve existing gaps. Figure out where you are and measure the organization’s progress to get to where you want to be. Leaders have a personal responsibility to bring others along, take specific steps toward progress, and hold people accountable. I believe, fundamentally, that everyone deserves an opportunity to succeed. I know that if we give people a chance, great things can happen.”
“I chose to hide my sexuality in college, for many of the same reasons other young LGBTQ+ people do. But eventually, it broke me down mentally to portray myself as someone I was not. I was desperate to become my authentic self and jumped at the opportunity to move to Dallas and join Balfour Beatty, first as an intern and later as a project engineer. I knew it was a great company to work for, but I was still hesitant to reveal my sexuality in the workplace. I thought that moving to a new city with a fresh start would solve my problems, but I had just inherited a new set of very real fears shared by many members of the LGBTQ+ community. I also found myself wondering if my benefits would extend to an LGBTQ+ family or if I’d face bias and be passed over for opportunities because of my sexual orientation. These are all everyday worries that many LGBTQ+ people feel.
For most, coming out in the workforce is a difficult and very personal decision. I struggled with it for a long time. But ultimately, I knew that I couldn’t be the best version of myself at Balfour Beatty until I felt comfortable in my own skin. This led to my ‘rip the Band-Aid off’ decision to bring a date to our company Christmas party. To my surprise, I was welcomed with encouraging words and excitement—an experience that changed everything for me. This released so much pent-up anxiety and fears seemingly overnight. I started focusing on what I loved about my job and why I chose to pursue a career in construction. It meant a lot to me to be recognized solely based on my work ethic and merit.
Last year, Balfour Beatty accomplished a DE&I milestone when it launched the Building PRIDE employee affinity group, representing the LGBTQ+ community and allies within the workplace. It was a true highlight of my career when I was asked to join the inaugural team. There is no doubt my journey is a success story. It’s also important to acknowledge that I am the exception, not the rule. Many stories of harassment and discrimination in the workplace often go untold because of the fear of retaliation or losing one’s job.
I want to encourage employers to look in the mirror and ask themselves if they’re doing everything they can to listen to those with experiences and perspectives that may be different than their own. Change starts at the top.”
“I’ve been blessed to have an amazing group of colleagues and mentors that I’ve engaged with over the years and with whom I continue to connect, network, and become personal friends. 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. Racial injustice is not the only challenging situation in which we find ourselves. 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.”