Supplier Diversity: Why it Matters

Lissa Miller pic

By Guest Blogger Lissa Miller, FVP Supplier Diversity – SunTrust Banks, Inc. (SunTrust is a current unconscious bias customer of Delta Concepts Consulting)

When you shopped for the holidays in the last few months of 2017, did you think about the nuances of supplier diversity? Most of us did not, of course. Yet where we bought gifts for our loved ones — clothes, toys, electronics, books, accessories, tools, perfume, and even gift cards for massages, movies tickets or restaurants – has a critical impact on the economy. All of these items came from suppliers – the companies and individuals who sell their goods and services to organizations and retail stores.

Department stores and retailers buy from manufacturers. Grocery stores buy from farmers and food distributors. Your corporate office buys its office furniture and office equipment from suppliers. Suppliers are the backbone of commerce. In fact, without a healthy and diverse community of suppliers, our economy would suffer greatly.

So what is supplier diversity?

Supplier diversity is a proactive initiative that organizations use to ensure they are considering all types of suppliers from which to buy goods and services for their operations and customers like you and me. Diverse suppliers are small businesses and businesses owned by women, minorities, veterans, and people with disabilities, LGBT and other historically disadvantaged vendors.

What prompted the creation of the term “supplier diversity”?

The practice of supplier diversity stemmed from necessity. During World War II, Congress passed legislation to enable small manufacturing plants the opportunity to be considered to win bids to produce badly needed war products, and subsequently passed legislation that continued similar benefits during peacetime. Further iterations were created over the years, and in 1953, Congress created the Small Business Administration (SBA), which has since furnished millions of loans, loan guarantees, contracts, and other forms of assistance to small businesses.

It was not until 1969 after much civil unrest, protests and deaths of Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr. that President Nixon signed Executive Order 11458, which focused on developing a national program for federal agencies to seek to actively pursue business opportunities with minority-owned business enterprises.

It’s from that executive order that successive federal government acts were passed such as the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994, which included small businesses owned and controlled by women within the goals for awarding procurement contracts to small businesses, and the HUB Zone Empowerment and Veteran’s Entrepreneurial & Small Business Development Acts in the late 1990’s, which focused on awarding contracts to HUB Zone and Veteran and/or Service Disabled Veteran-owned companies. All of the above legislation was passed to ensure that small and diverse businesses are provided every practical opportunity to participate as viable suppliers in our government and marketplace.

Why is supplier diversity important to you and your organization?

According to the SBA, small businesses make up 99.7 percent of U.S. employer firms. They also comprise 64 percent of net new private-sector jobs, 49.2 percent of private-sector employment, 42.9 percent of private-sector payroll, 46 percent of private-sector output, 43 percent of high-tech employment, 98 percent of firms exporting goods, and 33 percent of exporting value.

Without small and diverse businesses playing an active role as strong suppliers of goods and services in the U.S. marketplace, our economy would face serious decline. The jobless rate would exponentially increase and innovation would deteriorate. Organizations that support supplier diversity and small businesses show their understanding of the great impact that these businesses have not only on the U.S. economy, but also on their organizations as a whole. These organizations are able to provide the best and most competitive products and services to their customers and improve the efficiency of their operations. They are also able to tap into and understand new market opportunities where they can promote their brand, products and capabilities.

What are some ways you can support Supplier Diversity?

You don’t have to be a corporate or government buyer to support supplier diversity. Here are some simple ways you can show your support for doing business with small and diverse companies:

  • Reach out to small businesses in your neighborhood when you’re looking to purchase items or services for your home
  • When shopping for office products from major office supply stores catalogs, look for products that are manufactured by small and/or diverse businesses
  • Publicize and provide small and diverse-owned businesses a chance to bid on your upcoming work related projects
  • Donate your time or resources to mentor small and diverse businesses
  • Ask your larger suppliers to subcontract or hire small and/or diverse businesses where possible
  • Attend small and diverse business networking events in your city to meet and engage with the owners of these businesses and learn their stories (you might just catch the bug to start your own small business!)
  • Sponsor small and diverse business events in your community
  • Create a program or process within your company to proactively provide opportunities to do business with small and/or diverse businesses

Have any further questions about supplier diversity? Please contact Lissa Miller, First Vice President – Supplier Diversity at SunTrust Banks, Inc. at

Bring Your Whole Self to Work: Cliché or Call to Action?



By Guest blogger and Delta Concepts Consulting customer, Tommi Paris, Manager of Diversity and Inclusion, Southern Company Gas


‘Bring your whole self to work’ is an invitation that many companies in corporate America extend to their employees. Every company is traveling a unique D&I journey, but common among all experiences is the belief that embracing this cultural ideal is a competitive advantage to becoming (or remaining) a top employer and industry leader. Leaders are embracing the promise that a sincere commitment to D&I can bring to creating a workplace where you are valued for who you are and the talent you bring to our business.

Why is this important?

The foundation of inclusion is authenticity. Research shows that employees invest extra energy covering aspects of themselves and their lives out of fear: fear of being judged, fear of being excluded, fear of not being heard, fear of not being valued, and even in some cases, fear of losing their jobs. Since Americans spend more time working than any other activity, it’s important that the energy we invest into our work is positive, edifying, and sets you and your teammates up for success. One thing I know for sure – fear has never produced positive results for me or my team.

The traditional workplace culture sends subtle messages about what’s accepted, respected, and valued. These messages come through loud and clear, especially to those who fall outside of the normative standard. Unfortunately, these cultural micro-messages usually reflect personal preference, not requirements outlined by company policy, the Code of Ethics, and company Values.

When we cover based on the preferences of others (usually communicated by people of influence and in power), we generally guard themselves against authentic human relationships that form at work, thereby keeping us at arm’s length from integrating our work lives in a way that’s meaningful, fun, and fulfilling.

People cover (or underemphasize) their family arrangements, veteran status, disabilities, pregnancy status, socioeconomic backgrounds, faith, relationships, ages, and political affiliations. They augment their hair, religious dress, accents, mannerisms, and many more aspects that make us who we are. And when we diminish these parts of ourselves, we diminish our whole selves.

‘Bring your whole self to work’ is not a license to overshare and disclose intimate details of our lives around every watercooler in the office. It’s also not an invitation to wear your tie-die shirt while meeting our customers, crochet during a meeting, or otherwise let your freak flag fly. Within our workplace, we have freedom within a framework, and that framework is important. It outlines the expectations and norms we will maintain in order to properly function as a business. It is shaped by company policy, the Code of Ethics, and company Values – the requirements of being part of any great team.

It’s the freedom within the framework where the invitation to be our whole selves is extended. We are made up of a multi-dimensional mix of passions, purposes, and pursuits. When we check these aspects of ourselves at the door, there can be real costs:*

  • Cost of Energy
    • The energy we spend trying to cover up our uniqueness is energy that we no longer have for our work, our family, our friends, or our communities. We have less to contribute.
  • Cost of Ability
    • The very aspect of your identity that you’re covering just might be your secret weapon for success and greater contribution, or it might be the key that unlocks potential in a coworker.
  • Cost of Burnout
    • Lying by omission about who you are can contribute to anxiety and a sense that your life is dis-integrated, that work is something separate from your “real” life.

The result of ‘Bring your whole self to work’ ultimately will vary from person to person based on a variety of factors: trust; relationship with leaders and coworkers; tenure with the company; age; and ultimately, the desire to accept the invitation. However, if you’re open to accepting this invitation, here are some ways in which you can bring your whole, best self to work and create an environment where others can do the same:

  • Take time to self-reflect and consider what aspects of your life and your self are fundamental to who you are. If these elements of your personality, life, or character are intentionally hidden at work, consider probing more as to why.
  • Build trust with your team by consistently responding to challenges and conflict with courage and transparency. Trust is built through positive interactions over time.
  • Practice constructive curiosity with others. Setting an example of your openness to others’ areas of difference signals to others that it’s safe for them to be authentic in relating with you, within the respectful and appropriate boundaries of a working relationship.
  • Understand the difference between support and agreement. We do not have to agree with one another 100% of the time in order to fully support one another. We tend to like and affirm people with whom we agree, and conversely, distance ourselves from people with whom we disagree.

As you contemplate the invitation to ‘Bring your whole self to work’, I will leave you with powerful insight from the book Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux:

“We are all of fundamental equal worth. At the same time, our community will be richest if we let all members contribute in their distinctive way, appreciating the differences in roles, education, backgrounds, interests, skills, characters, points of view, and so on.”

*Credit: with list of costs associated with covering.

Authenticity, Vulnerability, and Empathy: Leadership Essentials

By Guest Blogger and Delta Concepts Consulting Facilitator, Monica McCoy




Work is more often a source of frustration than one of fulfillment. In fact, 90% of the world’s workers feel disengaged or unhappy at work, according to a Gallup poll that surveyed 230,000 full-time and part-time employees in 142 countries. Those numbers are alarming! How did we get here?

For a long time, men and women climbed the corporate ladder believing that to achieve success, they had to put on their best face, manipulate and walk over others, and never, ever, make a mistake. Sadly, this belief led to many organizations creating a culture of exclusion, with the vast majority of employees feeling unsatisfied and becoming actively disengaged.

Disengaged employees are not merely just unhappy at work; they act out of their unhappiness, often undermining the productivity of engaged employees. They kill morale and have a negative impact on customers by providing bad customer experiences. This drains a company’s bottom line.

Large corporations and startups alike should be asking themselves, what can management do to transform disengaged employees into engaged employees and move their businesses forward?

How Companies Can Engage Employees

While many organizations have come to recognize the importance of diversity and inclusion, there is still a disconnection that is a drain on resources. Innovative businesses like Google and Facebook, which continue to grow, understand that diversity is nice, but inclusion is even better. However, there are additional forces that must be at the core of a company’s culture for employees to feel engaged and want to give their best. They have created a culture where their employees are not afraid of making mistakes. They don’t encourage selfishness. They don’t instill a fear of making a mistake at work.

The surprising forces that move businesses forward are empathy, vulnerability, and authenticity.

Empathy is the ability to connect with and relate to others. In the workplace, it creates an environment that encourages employees to share ideas free from the fear of rejection or ridicule. When employees feel comfortable sharing, ideas flourish, driving innovation and results. Free from the classic idea box or sporadic, unproductive brainstorm meetings, employees can be vulnerable and authentic when an environment of empathy is engrained in the culture.

Cultural Change Starts with Leadership

This doesn’t happen easily or overnight.

It starts where every other significant shift in an organization must start: At the top. Managers and executives must show vulnerability in order for their employees to feel safe being vulnerable. They must be willing to admit their mistakes and promote the idea that no one is perfect. Experimentation must be welcome.

This type of environment also encourages authenticity in the workplace. When people feel comfortable making suggestions and bringing up ideas, they become more likely to voice their true opinions. They feel valued. Valued employees add value to their companies.

How to Cultivate Authenticity, Vulnerability, and Empathy

Cultures aren’t created by management alone. Employees must show up and actively participate to create an environment where empathy, authenticity, and vulnerability are standard.

Here are three key strategies you can take to promote and excel in this sort of environment:

  1. Be a proactive communicator. Keep your team in the loop. Proactive communicators don’t wait until smoke hits the fan. They report their progress and any setbacks so that there is plenty of time for people to either relax or move on to plan B. Proactive communicators never hide mistakes and don’t make excuses. This communication style builds trust, which is key to produce an empathetic and authentic culture.
  2. Engage in deeper conversations with colleagues. Getting to know a person outside of a business meeting helps you understand who they are and why they make the decisions they make. This knowledge will naturally help you become more empathetic to their beliefs and build a stronger, more resilient relationship. Strong relationships in the workplace make it easier for people to be vulnerable and authentic.
  3. Don’t wait for people to ask for help. When you notice a need, act on it. Being proactive, dependable, and available when help is needed makes other people feel they can be vulnerable around you and trust you.

These three strategies can help create trust amongst colleagues and encourage an empathetic, authentic, and vulnerable workplace.

Every organization wants to be the leader in its prospective industry. Managers and executives want to be known for getting results. With a culture that encourages empathy, authenticity, and vulnerability, managers can lower the number of disengaged employees and efficiently move the business forward.

What steps have your organization taken to promote empathy, authenticity, and vulnerability in the workforce? How are these effects measured?

The Forgotten Workforce: How to level the playing field on the job for people with disabilities

By Guest Blogger Jill Thomsen 


October is Disability Employment Awareness Month, a fitting time to look at the workplace issues that people with disabilities face on a day-to-day basis. This blog explores the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), current workplace standards, and how to build a more inclusive workforce to address equitable treatment of people with disabilities.

What is the American with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

Nearly thirty years ago, President George H.W. Bush signed landmark legislation designed to make the U.S. more accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities. Among other requirements, the ADA mandates both nondiscrimination and reasonable accommodation in the workplace for the roughly thirteen percent of the U.S. population who report having a disability. Since 1990, legislation, executive orders, and court decisions continue to advance the cause of people with disabilities in the workplace, ultimately resulting in a more expansive definition of disability, increased disability employment litigation, and disability utilization goals for certain employers with federal contracts. The work continues. In July, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that it would make $15 million in grants available to improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

Despite these efforts, much more needs to be done to make employment opportunities available and workplaces more inclusive.

People with Disabilities Face Excessive Unemployment Inequities

Employment is one of the greatest challenges facing Americans with disabilities. Unemployment rates for this population remain shockingly high. In 2016, more than ten percent of individuals with a disability were unemployed, almost twice that of those without a disability. (Unemployed individuals in this study were those who did not have a job, were available to work, and were actively looking for a job.)

Employees with disabilities were also far more likely than their non-disabled peers to work only part-time or become self-employed because their hours had been cut or they were unable to find full-time employment. Even those with college degrees are challenged in accessing employment as only one in four college students with disabilities can secure employment, leading to poverty rates twice the national average.

Those who do find employment also face lower earnings than their peers. When people with disabilities find work, their hourly, weekly, and monthly wages are substantially lower than those without disabilities. On average, employees with disabilities earn only 64 percent as much as those without disabilities.

Case in point: researchers at Rutgers University recently conducted an experiment by sending out job applications for more than 6,000 hypothetical accounting positions. Two-thirds of applicants disclosed a disability in their cover letters, one-third did not, and qualifications were otherwise equal. Appallingly, applicants with disabilities received 26 percent fewer responses from employers. Whether due to ignorance, stigma, or unconscious bias, employers are neglecting a vibrant, qualified, and available pool of talent.

Failure to Include Disability in Diversity Programs

Workforce inclusion efforts also tend to overlook disability. Philip Kahn-Pauli, the policy and practices director of the non-profit organization RespectAbility, states, “[Employers] think about race, gender and sexual orientation/identity . . . [t]hey do not think about disability. What they may not recognize is that disability is a natural part of the human experience and cuts across other barriers that divide us. . . . We are the only minority group that anyone can join at any time due to accident, illness or aging.”

Disbility cartoon

To combat these trends, a growing number of companies are implementing outreach and inclusion programs explicitly targeting workers with disabilities. Not surprisingly, early estimates reveal that disability-specific services are in fact delivering the results-oriented outcomes valued by employers.

Best Practices for Including Disability Services in the Workplace

How to build and implement disability-specific services and protocols in your organization:

  1. Centralize Your Accommodations Policy, Procedures, and Budget

Admittedly, the reasonable accommodation process might at times be time-consuming and complex. Managers also assume accommodations are costly and permanent even though research establishes otherwise. Given these variables and misconceptions, an internal resource specifically dedicated to disability compliance and inclusion ensures that accommodation decisions are appropriately personalized, documented, practical, and consistent.


  1. Hire a Specialized Disability Recruiter

Increasingly, companies recognize the intricacies involved in successfully recruiting, hiring, and onboarding people with disabilities. An internal company recruiter or external community organization dedicated to workers with disabilities not only helps to fill the employment pipeline with qualified talent, but also provides customized guidance and coaching to both applicants and hiring managers throughout the selection and new hire process.


  1. Develop a Disability Network or Dedicated Employee Resource Group

Approaches are varied, but most corporate disability networks count workers with disabilities and caregivers of those with disabilities amongst their membership. The types of disabilities represented run the gamut, from blindness, epilepsy, and autism to diabetes, cancer, and anxiety. Not only do disability networks provide both professional and personal support to their membership, but these groups also assist with larger corporate efforts on outreach and recruitment, mentorship, accessibility, and social responsibility.

  1. Assess Your Disability Inclusivity

To truly understand a company’s culture of inclusion – strength of current practices and ideas for improvement – a disability survey is imperative. A few national disability organizations have created and currently employ such tools, some of which are free of charge. In addition, these organizations provide expertise on implementing recommended next steps and developing successful inclusion programs in a practical and cost-effective manner.

In celebration of Disability Employment Awareness Month, I hope you are encouraged to strengthen disability inclusion at your own company by improving the way you engage workers with disabilities. Employment enables all of us to lead full and productive lives. Given nearly thirty years of ADA legislation as well as the currently competitive landscape in the war for talent, it is high time to incorporate innovative and proven methods of disability inclusion into corporate practice.

Jill Thomsen is principal and founder of the Equal Opps Collaborative, where she builds partnerships, programs, and policy recommendations for employers, community organizations, education professionals, unions, and government agencies to establish pathways to in-demand, meaningful, and sustainable careers for underutilized populations.

Smooth Sailing?

Screen Shot 2017-10-03 at 10.57.26 AM

Smooth Sailing. My alarm does its thing this morning at 5:45 am. Loving that coffee pot timer that has already done its thing and filled the house with the aroma of Starbucks Morning Joe. Enjoyed a peaceful warm yummy cup, since Mom was nice enough to take the dogs last night until I return tomorrow.

Smooth Sailing. Showered…dressed…and in the car and off to Hartsfield Atlanta Airport by 6:30 am. No traffic, if you can believe that…in ATLANTA. It keeps on being a smooth sailing morning with a great parking space and shuttle to pick me up, like clockwork.

Smooth Sailing. I love CLEAR: two fingers down on the piece of glass, scan my boarding pass and shuttled to the front of the TSA Pre-Check line.

Smooth Sailing.

My sailboat is ready to crash, and this is hard to write. I wasn’t going to write it. I didn’t want to even think about it. But I have to. I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t. I’d love to pretend that this stuff only happens to others, to people who attend our unconscious bias training classes. But this is ME.

I chose a luggage X-ray line from the 3 available. I waited…kept waiting…for a spot to open in the new conveyor belt/grab a bin/put stuff in bin/push bin forward into an open spot system that Hartsfield is using.

I timed my push between two bins moving on the moving conveyer belt and when I did, created a jam. The TSA agent pushed my bin back and said, “I just announced to wait for me to tell you when to push your bin.”

I said, “Sorry!”

The black woman who had admonished me then said, “No you’re not.”

My sailboat crashed.

I said, “OH!

Just one word, but if you could have heard my inflection, my righteous indignation, my mental vibration that was behind that one word, this is what you would have intuited.

How dare you! Who are you to scold me? Who do you think you are? I’m the customer, the Diamond Medallion, Two Million Miler. If you were really doing your job you would have managed the flow of this line much better and I would not have had to wait 60 seconds to get a spot with a bin to go through this stupid system.

Yes. If you could have recorded my thoughts that burst from my brain in that split second response, all of that was contained in my “OH!

AND…her gender and color were in the formula too…OF COURSE…because they always are. My fast burst of superiority did include a fast and, usually, unexamined racial and gender based positioning on the ladder of societal pecking order.

Have I said this is hard to type? I’m carefully choosing each word now, unlike when I was engaging with the TSA Agent.

I can acknowledge what my ego/(me) blurted out this morning when a women doing her job decided to let me know that she didn’t think I was sorry; that I intentionally was rushing and being, perhaps, inconsiderate and pushy/entitled. Its much harder for me to acknowledge, that, on analysis now, sitting in my upgraded seat flying to NYC that I know my reaction would have been different if she was male and/or she was white. It’s impossible for me, right now, to play it out in my mind exactly to know what my reaction would be, but I know it would be different.

In that moment of her scolding of me, I looked down on her. I converted my slight shame of being “busted” for being pushy into a lightening fast judgment of her job, her authority and of HER…her humanity. That’s so hard to acknowledge.

My fingers are freezing up between each sentence.

I’m ashamed that my embedded privilege and nearly-always-unacknowledged-white-male-sense of superiority came flooding out of me in that moment of truth…that moment when my smooth sailing day was interrupted by a woman calling me on my obvious rude behavior.

And, I’ve been educating our workshop participants for over 3 years now that, it’s natural. To be human is to be biased. We see the world through a set of lenses that are uniquely ours, developed by our life journey, our background. We make sense of the world through pattern recognition. If we are not mindful, our conditioned patterns of implicitly biased associations, learned from our families, media, stereotypes and significant emotional events….our reptilian or “fast”/automatic pilot part of our brain pushes out a reaction and we say, “OH!”….or worse…when a black woman at the airport calls us out for not following instructions.

Or fill in the blank on what the incident is:

*a woman speaks confidently about her accomplishments in an job interview

*a person with a “thick” accent speaks up with an idea in the meeting

*a person of a different ethnicity moves into your lane without signaling or waiting their turn when you’re in a hurry

*a younger person keeps looking at their device during the meeting you’re running

Humans are biased. From those biases, we project assumptions, judgments and even characteristics onto others, often with little or no knowledge about that person’s motives, story, values, morals…or consideration of their humanity. (There’s that word again.)

Humanity. That’s the word I’m going to focus on today now that I’ve taken the time to write this down. For a few seconds, I forgot that word during my peaceful, smooth sailing morning. If I could replay it, I would said: “I need to slow down, I’m sorry.” Or “ Thank you. I apologize, I wasn’t listening to your announcement.” I would have smiled and sent her love for a smooth sailing day of her own.

A tip from our workshop is to catch yourself in the act of judging, projecting or taking a superior position toward someone who is “different” and THEN tell someone you trust what you did. The teacher is still very much a student. Thanks for reading my story if you made it this far.

A man opened fire on concert-goers in Las Vegas as if they were soda cans on a country fence,  two days ago. I feel angry, helpless, and deeply sad, if I allow myself to think about it long enough. I condemn violence. We need more love and compassion.

I’m going to be the change I want to see in the world and carry the TSA agent’s face in my mind today as a reminder that SMOOTH SAILING is my wish for every human on the planet.

You Don’t Look Latina! Blurring the lines of ethnicity, race and nationality


By Guest Blogger, Delta Concepts Consulting Senior Consultant, Josy Laza Gallagher 

Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 4.14.45 PM

Being Black and Latina is a beautiful and unique experience. My heritage runs deep. It’s also challenging.

I’m Cuban-American. Both of my parents were born in Cuba. My mother was mulata and my father was Black. That’s who I am. I am not one or the other. I am the best of both worlds and I am proud to be both. My Cuban roots and my African roots intermingle and reside in me.

Hispanic Heritage

My Latina Heritage

I love being Latina. The Cuban culture is very rich, and I proudly display the Cuban flag and my “cubanismo” – pride for Cuba — in all that I do, even in my email address, josy4cuba, and my car plates, 4Cuba!

Being raised in a Cuban family meant that I grew up dancing to the music of Havana-born Celia Cruz, eating rice and black beans, roast pork and plantains. We celebrated saints in the Orisha religion, a blend of native African religions and Roman Catholicism. We belonged to the Cuban Social club in New York where I danced at my quinceañera, which in Latina America and among Latinos is the celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday and her transition from childhood to adulthood.

In New York, I grew up in an Irish-American neighborhood. There were only three families of color in the neighborhood and I went to the local Catholic school where there were only two children of color in the entire school, including me. I tried my best to fit in.

Shifting Between Cultures

It was when I read Our Separate Ways: Black and White Women and the Struggle for Professional Identity by Ella L. J. Edmondson Bell and Stella M. Nkomo that I understood the term “shifting.” After conducting an eight-year survey of more than 800 black and white female managers, Bell and Nkomo explained how we all engage in some form of adjusting who we are depending on our environment. Some of us feel that we must engage in shifting more than others.

For example, I can still remember in school enthusiastically singing the song “Molly Malone” at a St. Patrick’s Day event. The nuns thought that it was so cute to see this black child singing this song that they had me sing it to a group of nuns visiting the school. I did not think anything of it then, but it stands out now in my memory as an example of feeling separate and apart from my schoolmates.

When I started my career in corporate America, I learned that there is negativity associated with being Black and that sometimes being a Black Latina made it easier for others to accept me. I was often surprised that when some people learned that I was Latina, they would say that I was a “different” type of Black and more readily accepted me.

At first glance, I am always categorized as Black — until I speak Spanish. I am met with astounded faces. “Wait, are you Black?” people ask. (Why yes, the last time I looked, I am Black!) They ask, “Where did you learn to speak Spanish?” And my personal favorite, “Oh, you’re Latina? Then you must be Dominican.” Latinos are more familiar with seeing Black Dominicans than in other Latino groups.

I’m used to these reactions, because in the eyes of many I don’t look Latina because of the color of my skin.

But what’s a Latina supposed to look like? And why is there only one image of such a diverse culture? The truth is that Hispanic is my ethnicity, Black is my race and American my nationality.

Blurring the Lines of Ethnicity, Race and Nationality

The truth is, I am not easily categorized, and I’m not often “seen” in the media. I am not surprised that most people do not see a Black person as a Latino. The media does not represent us. If you turn on the Spanish-speaking channels Telemundo or Univision, you do not see an Afro-Latina as the main character in the soap operas, variety shows or as news anchors. Occasionally we are featured in the soap operas as the maid or the healer. We even have our own Oprah — her name is Cristina — and she is blond and blue-eyed! Spanish magazines rarely showcase Black Latinos. And yet, there are more people who look like me in the Latino community than not.

Crossing Over Made-Up Boundaries

As a Black Latina, I have struggled with a constant struggle to gain acceptance from both groups.

You speak Spanish but may not be fully accepted in the Hispanic community. You are brown, but you speak Spanish, and may not be fully accepted in the African American community.

Then there is what you look like. Skin color, facial features and hair texture constantly comes up during conversations within the Latino community. You are considered pretty if you have “good hair” (straight and long) as opposed to “bad hair” (tight curls, kinky). The beauty ideal is to have thin lips vs. thick lips and a straight nose vs. a wide nose. Lighter and brighter is constantly being reinforced in the Latino community. We hear it growing up: “To improve our race, you should marry someone lighter than you,” “Stay out of the sun or you’ll become black like tar.”

Are You in the Right Place?

As much as I love being who I am, being a Black Latina can be overwhelming. It seems like there’s not a day that I don’t have to explain myself. A few years ago, I attended a luncheon for Hispanic professionals in D.C. and was questioned if I was in the right conference. When I approached a few tables to find a seat and asked if the seat was available, my Latino colleagues told me that it was saved for a friend. I finally found a seat at a table where non-Latinos welcomed me to join them.

Another time, I was co-facilitating a session for professional Latinas/Hispanic women at a Working Mother conference for multicultural women, and as I greeted the women entering the room, they were confused and asked me if I was in the right place. There was another session for African-American women across the hall and they thought I should be in that session. My co-facilitator was a light-skinned Latina and no one questioned her right to be in that session.

You Belong

Here are a few tips that help me navigate these situations.

  1. Bring your whole self to work. Although it might sometimes make a colleague feel more comfortable to be able to identify you as one type of race or ethnicity, don’t fit yourself into a box. Be yourself.
  1. Share your experiences and thoughts about being a Black Latina. By doing so, you can not only inspire other Black Latinas to be proud of who they are, but you can also educate other people and open their eyes to bias.
  1. Show commonality. There are multiple ways that our cultures crossover to one another. People often connect over food, music, dance and family stories. Although our cultures are different, we can acknowledge the similarities in our traditions. It helps us be able to better see each other.
  1. Be open to listening. It can be difficult to deal with stereotypes. If we want to be valued and respected, we need to value and respect others who may not understand that their words are offensive, or that they have an unconscious bias driving their behavior.

I am proud to be a dark-skinned, Spanish-speaking Cuban-American woman. When I show up as who I am, share my story and question biases and restrictive boundaries, I make the world a more beautiful and culturally rich place to be.

You can do it, too.

How to Be an Ally When You Witness a Micro-Inequity

By Brad Wilkinson, Guest Blogger and Delta Concepts Consulting senior consultant

Screen Shot 2017-08-01 at 6.07.00 PM

My 83-year-old mother is a creature of habit. I know where I get it from. It’s our habit to go out to dinner once a month in the small town she now lives in just a few miles outside of Atlanta. We always go to the same place and order the same things.

One Sunday when we entered “our place,” there was an African-American woman, probably my mom’s age, already standing at the host stand – and no host. Within a matter of seconds, a very energetic young woman arrived, looked directly at my mother, who is white, and asked, “table for two?” Imagine my pride when Mom said, without missing a beat, “Yes, but this lady was here when we arrived.” The host then turned, warmly acknowledged the other woman, and ushered her to a seat.

It may seem like a small moment in time, but these things matter. Knowingly or not, Mom used her “white privilege” and exhibited ally behavior. Perhaps the host, who was white, attended to the white party before the African American woman out of simple confusion, but this dynamic is worth exploring.

What is an Ally?


Allies are those that support others, even when it comes to micro-inequities –seemingly small and perhaps unintentional slights. Mary Rowe of MIT is often credited with creating the term “micro inequities,” building on the work of Chester Pierce on “micro aggressions”. Rowe defines micro-inequities as “small events which are often ephemeral and hard-to-prove, events which are covert, often unintentional, frequently unrecognized by the perpetrator, which occur wherever people are perceived to be ‘different’.”

In my example above, the noticeable difference was skin color. Other examples of micro-inequities include:

  • Introducing one colleague with glowing accolades, the other with just a name;
  • Typing away at a phone while someone is trying to have an important conversation;
  • Leaving someone out of social gatherings;
  • Cutting someone off in mid-sentence;
  • Saying things like, “what she’s really trying to say is,” or, asking someone who has an accent, or another physical difference like skin pigment, “No, where are you really from?” after the other person answers the first time, “From Atlanta.”
  • Expecting others to accommodate your time zone;
  • Calling someone by a nickname that makes them feel uncomfortable;
  • Making dismissive facial expressions, or sighing heavily or rolling eyes;
  • Omitting someone from an important communication;
  • Using acronyms others don’t understand;
  • Being impatient because of an accent;
  • Speaking fast or not enunciating with someone in a language not their primary.

I’ll never know for certain if our host simply didn’t see the other woman standing there or was operating out of an unconscious bias, but Mom’s pointing out the fact models a tool anyone can use when we witness these small slights.

How to be an Ally

First, POINT IT OUT. Describe what you just saw or heard, using non-judgmental, behavior-based language. In our case, this step was enough to handle the situation. Sometimes, you’ll want to be prepared to do more.

Second, CHECK IT OUT. Ask or invite the micro-offender to interpret their own behavior. You can ask, “Did you notice?” or “I was wondering what was going on for you?” or “Were you aware?” These questions are designed NOT TO BLAME OR SHAME, but rather to engage the person in noticing.

I think it helps here to remember the words of Mary Rowe, that the offending behavior is often “unintentional and frequently unrecognized by the perpetrator.”

Finally, if the relationship is an ongoing one, it may be helpful to WORK IT OUT – determining how to handle similar situations in the future.

Of course, not every situation you witness may be a micro-inequity in action. And, as a member of dominant groups – white, male, person without a disability – I can use my power & privilege to draw attention to these types of behaviors, without non-dominant group folks always having to be the “angry one”. So, I invite my dominant group brothers & sisters to be aware, pay attention & look around you. Think how you’d like to receive feedback if you were the one offending, intentionally or unintentionally.   I draw inspiration from Ta-Nehisi Coates, national correspondent for The Atlantic and author of Between the World and Me. When asked by majority group folks, what would you have us do? Coates offers, “I’d have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.”

The Power of Business Resource Groups (BRG’s)

By Monica McCoy, Guest Blogger and Delta Concepts’ Consultant

Monica McCoy head shot

When I graduated from Emory University and started my corporate career with The Coca-Cola Company, I was so excited. This amazing company would open up so many opportunities for me. I quickly learned that one of the best ways to grow as a leader, expand my skills and widen my network was to participate in the company’s Business Resource Groups.

When going through my new employee onboarding and training, I was fascinated to discover the variety of Business Resource Groups that were available to employees. They ranged from the Women’s LINC (lead, inspire, connect) Business Resource Group, geared towards developing women personally and professionally, to the African-American Business Resource Group, and a host of others. Among other benefits, the groups promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Each group sets objectives and connects employees to individuals outside our day-to-day job functions.

What’s a Business Resource Group?

BRG image

The official definition from Catalyst for an Employee Resource Group is “a voluntary, employee-led group that serves as a resource for members and organizations by fostering a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with organizational mission, values, goals, practices, and objectives.”   From a historical perspective, the first BRG was formed by the CEO of Xerox, Joseph Wilson, after the 1964 race riots. Today, more than 90 percent of organizations offer groups like this for their employees.

I knew immediately that I wanted to join a Business Resource Group. I knew it would help to develop me as a leader through its programs, help me to network across business functions, and assist in aligning my professional goals with the organization’s overall business goals.

How BRGs Can Benefit You

Here’s an example of how a BRG can enhance your career: An employee looking to transition from finance to marketing can take on the leadership role of co-chair of the marketing committee for their respective Business Resource Group and learn the skills necessary to make a career change. From a programming perspective, it’s an opportunity to advance or participate in areas of passion. For example, if you are a member of the Asian BRG and you would like to introduce Asian cuisine and culture to the organization, there could be an opportunity to participate. BRGs also offer the opportunity for individuals to learn more about other parts of the organization due to the diverse membership base.

BRGs Bolster Diversity and Inclusion

Another benefit to being an active leader and member of a Business Resource Group is to help identify high potential diverse talent. As a former board member of The Coca-Cola Company Women’s LINC Business Resource Group, I believe that half of my promotions within the company can be traced back to my active involvement in the women’s LINC organization. When companies can tap into the talent of their respective BRGs, it allows for leadership to truly discover and appreciate the talent pool of the organization.

Stay Focused on Priorities

It’s important to consider some best practices for participating in BRGs. Don’t overcommit yourself when taking on a contributing role in your BRG. Joining is something that you do on top of your regular full-time job. It is about making a commitment and honoring your commitment. Another consideration is to join a BRG that might be out of your comfort zone – for example, as an ally. It provides you the benefit of expanding your perspective, network, exposure, interests and knowledge.

Four Ways to Promote Diversity and Inclusion through BRGs

  • For your next major business project, consider partnering with your BRG to gain focus group results.
  • Make an effort to participate in the BRG networking events, conferences, and lunch and learn series to develop personally and professionally. These events are an opportunity to learn from dynamic internal leaders or from external guest speakers.
  • Be an ambassador for BRGs in the workplace. Every BRG provides an opportunity for us to learn more about our respective colleagues and promote individuals working together to help the business meet short and long term strategic business objectives
  • Finally, share feedback to your Office of Diversity about your experience with Business Resource Groups. As the consumer base for Fortune 500 companies becomes more diverse, it’s going to be critical to not only attract the talent that reflects the evolving consumer demographic, but more importantly to retain the talent.

Why I’m Proud to be an LGBTQ Ally

By Guest Blogger, Jorge Manjarres, Group Vice President, Commercial Real Estate Banking at SunTrust Bank

I consider myself to be a strong and proud ally to the LGBTQ community, both here at work and in my personal life. But I can’t say I was always conscious of my own biases. For many of us, we aren’t awakened to our own biases until we’re confronted in a deeply personal way.

When my cousin came out to our family, I was flooded with memories about my past misconceptions about gay people. I’ve realized that being a true ally often begins with examining our past and present beliefs so that we can make changes in the right direction. To be a good ally, you have to look inward at your own biases. Sometimes those biases confront you head on.

That’s what Héctor did for me.

My Cousin, My Teacher

Last year, my cousin Héctor became the first openly gay member of the family. Héctor and I had grown up together in my grandfather’s house. While I wasn’t shocked to learn he was gay, his words made me take a hard look at my biases. I’ve since realized that there was a lot of homophobic talk in our house. As much as I idolized my grandfather, during our childhood he would often use a Spanish slang word that meant gay when we did something wrong. I can only imagine how that affected Héctor.

I remember in college a fraternity brother I was close to asked me what would happen if I found out he was gay. I made horrible jokes and told him that I would feel betrayed, in essence making it clear that it would not be acceptable. I feel terrible about that. He started to isolate himself, and eventually left the fraternity.

Since then, many family members have been supportive of my cousin, others less so. I’ve had conversations with Héctor about his experiences. He’s helped me realize how much unnecessary pain we can cause LGBTQ teammates, friends, and loved ones through careless words. He opened my eyes to the importance of supporting the LGBTQ community and being an active member of my corporation’s teammate network, sometimes called an ERG or BRG.

Ally image

What does it mean to be an ally?

Being an ally means that you help people feel safe. At work, it means fostering that safe space so that all of us can bring our “whole selves” to work, without fearing that we will not be accepted. Allies have the opportunity to make LGBTQ teammates feel welcome, heard, and supported.

But being the best ally you can be means acknowledging and understanding unconscious bias. Your beliefs affect your decisions and the way you communicate. I make an intentional effort to understand my beliefs to prevent causing unintentional hurt.

I display the rainbow flag in my office, and it leads to a lot of conversations. Some of the interactions are positive; others less so. I embrace all of them as an opportunity to share the good work that the teammate networks (BRG’s) are doing and SunTrust’s inclusion efforts.

5 tips to being an effective ally

My recent involvement in the Atlanta LGBT Teammate Network (BRG) has also given me the opportunity to assist with our blossoming ally initiatives. Here are a few guidelines to being a great ally:

  1. Instead of using the term boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife, use the term partner or significant other. For example, ask your colleague to bring their partner to the company event.
  2. Know the difference between sexual orientation and sexual “preference;” the latter is often perceived as offensive. Preference implies choice. Model the awareness and language of sexual orientation and gender identity.
  3. Speak up when you hear bias, inequities, or aggressions regarding orientation or gender identity. Sometimes these statements are on a “micro” level. Those micro-aggressions can be just as hurtful.
  4. Understand that “straight” and cisgender people have blind spots. Know that even the most well intentioned ally can make hurtful statements. If you do so, it’s an opportunity to learn where you have those blind spots and make things right.
  5. Show up, volunteer and attend events at your company that are sponsored by your LGBTQ colleagues. You will likely be glad you did.

The views and opinions in this Blog are those of Jorge Manjarres only and should not be interpreted as the views, positions, or opinions–expressed or implied–of his employer.


Managing Accent Bias and Working with Multilingual Individuals

By Guest Blogger Luciana C. de Oliveira, Ph.D.

Recently, while travelling for work, a driver took me from Boston to Dartmouth for a presentation on immigrant students in the U.S. He asked me a simple – but interesting – question that touches on a topic I’m very close to: being inclusive with people who are multilingual.

He asked me where I was from. I told him that I live in Miami.

“Is that where you are really from?” he asked.

I answered, “No, I’m originally from Brazil but have lived in the U.S. for 20 years.”

“Wow!” he said. “And you still have such a strong accent?”

I don’t usually get comments like that anymore. I was nearly fluent in English when I moved to the U.S. at age 22, and I don’t think my accent is that obvious. I said to the driver, “Have you heard your accent?”

“Good point!” he said.

It was indeed a good point. Sometimes so-called “native” English speakers notice multilingual individuals’ accents more than they recognize their own. The reality is that everybody has an accent! Sometimes the accent is associated with prestige, other times with being from specific regions in a country (any country), and yet others with being international.


What is Your Accent Bias?

Accent is defined as “a distinctive manner of expression . . . a way of speaking typical of a particular group of people.” Notice that it is not particular to multilingual people or so-called “non-native” speakers of a language. However, it is typically associated with such individuals.

How do we deal with accent bias in our lives as multilingual individuals or people who interact with speakers of other languages? First, we need to be aware that we all have accents – and that an accent is not something unique to just bilingual or multilingual individuals. It is actually a common aspect of any language. Even people who only speak one language have an accent, as my driver in Boston did.

Here are a few tips on managing bias and working with multilingual individuals.

  1. Refrain from telling someone that she has a strong accent, especially if that person is a speaker of multiple languages. Why even make such a comment? My advice would be to appreciate the other person’s abilities and skills. After all, that person has had to learn more than one language. In the United States, being bilingual or multilingual, unfortunately, is not the norm, as it is in many other places around the world. So people may notice accents more often here than in countries in Europe, for instance, where being able to speak three or more languages is the norm.
  2. If you sense that a person is multilingual, please don’t shout to be understood. It really does not help and can be seen as an insult. Please be patient and do not get upset yourself. Keeping calm can go a long way towards better communication.
  3. If you are unable to understand what someone is saying – for whatever reason – ask that person to repeat what they said, but never blame the person for it! You can say, “Could you please repeat that? I’m not sure I understood what you are trying to say.” Politeness helps. Put the burden on yourself to understand the other person. Don’t say, “Your accent is making it hard for me to understand you,” or comments like that.

These tips are not just for speaking with multilingual people. As I mentioned before, monolingual speakers have accents too.


Luciana C. de Oliveira is Associate Professor in the Language and Literacy Learning in Multilingual Settings program area in the Department of Teaching and Learning at the University of Miami in Miami, Florida.