Women are you invisible in the boardroom and have no say? Do men listen when you speak? If the answer is no, then find out how to get, a seat at the table.
In this episode I interview Kimberley Bussey Lewis, Author of , A Seat At The Table, Or Part Of The Meal: Creating A Culture Of Diversity
How did you come to become passionate about, diversity and inclusion, for women of color?
I first really started thinking about, a seat at the table, when I was a very young reporter in Charleston, South Carolina. I was the only female reporter at the time within this 600 person company. And what I was struck by is that there were so many decisions that were being made that we would complain about; but none of us had, a seat at the table, to help make those decisions. I realized that if I didn’t have a place in the room that I was both invisible and silent; so it didn’t matter how much I complained or how much I didn’t like what was going on or simply just didn’t understand it because I was not part of the discussion; I needed, a seat at the table.
So that’s where my passion for, diversity and inclusion, was born.
CNN wrote a column on getting, a seat at the table, for women. They were discussing congresswoman Harris, basically what they’re saying was that
women are invisible and they have no say. When they speak no one listens. So I understand what you are saying.
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I stayed in that company as a reporter without, a seat at the table, about 12 years. It took me that long to get that awakening. Sometimes we think that we are fortunate to have a job so we don’t want to stir the pot. I just increasingly became more and more of a little rebel challenging the status quo. Eventually I left and ventured out to write my first book. I was scared to death. Because here I am I’m going to write a book, I’m going to leave my job. I took a leave of absence to write the book; but it was really a step of faith and in writing the book and doing the research.
I became energized when I interviewed older relatives, my mother and great-aunt who were already in their 80s and 90s at the time. I became energized by their tenacity as, Black women. I knew that we had a lot of strong men in my family, but my eyes are really flew open at the strength of the, black women, and how they held businesses up, they held a family up and the men of the family up, and brought us all together.
I stumbled into the nonprofit arena by my volunteer work. I was volunteering and working on writing the book and one thing led to another. I got to a small job at an organization that was run by a black woman who became my mentor. She took me under her wing and even though I was just volunteering she taught me so much about strength and tenacity and making your voice count.
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Her company was called Family Assistance Management Services
And she was the first black female insurance broker in SC. She had been a full time teacher before she built quite a nest egg with her husband. They owned several pieces of property in Charleston SC. She then became a broker and started several businesses, an insurance company, a computer training clinic all kinds of other businesses, because she had a passion for helping people.
You got your feet wet on the nonprofit arena and but it sounds like you have, a seat at the table, at Goodwill Industries. Why you write the book, “A Seat at the Table or a part of the meal?”
I was born in September 1964 a month after the discrimination Act, and my parents had not long moved to Charleston, SC. All of my siblings, I have one brother and two sisters, they had all been born at home in the country by a midwife so since it was now illegal for place public places to discriminate my father thought, well I will take my wife to this nice Hospital for my fourth child to be born. So my mother was in labor he rushes her down to this hospital the Medical University of South Carolina and by this time she’d begun to hemorrhage as I was a breech baby. It was pouring down rain and he got my mom into the emergency area into the lobby and he started screaming for the doctors to come and help they turned looked at them and turned their backs right away. All the white doctors and nurses ignored them, so he ran up to them and screamed my wife is bleeding you got to help her and someone told him to just sit down we’ll get to you.
So he scooped her up, put her in a wheelchair and ran with her down the street to the black Hospital. McLennan banks Hospital in the pouring rain with my mom gripping for life on that wheelchair. He pushed her up into the emergency area and as soon as they saw that she was drenched in blood they rushed her into the emergency room and delivered me. The doctor who delivered me was from South Africa and he named me Kimberly after the Kimberly diamond mines.
It sounds like you were born in to do this work!
I was tried of being the only Black woman in the room. I felt we as, Black women, have to do something to get , a seat at the table. If anyone was going to wave that flag of, diversity and inclusion, equity and of diversity, it should be Goodwill Industries. So it really began then. We started a task force with a group of CEOs and started to study, diversity and inclusion, and equity programs with fortune 500 companies and fortune 100 companies and other nonprofit organizations. We studied who was doing it well, what were they looking at, what were the metrics and how do you build that diverse pipeline. We came up an implementation plan.
We were really intentional about attracting, maintaining and keeping a diverse workforce. Whether it is individuals who are Hispanic or individuals who African-American or LGTBQ or disabled. We recognize that all of that build a table of diversity.
The first time that I heard the phrase, a seat at the table, was from one of my coaching clients and I’ve heard it several times since. I heard Gabrielle Union say it that she’s just gonna make her own table because you know the black actresses in Hollywood are still working to, get a seat at the table. They go through the same discrimination with, diversity and inclusion. It’s not just in Corporate America or in the board rooms.
Kimberly you have, a seat at the table, what advice would you give to women who are hitting the glass ceiling and get, no seat at the table.
African-American women unfortunately have been absent from the room! We have not even been invited into the room much less have, a seat at the table, for quite some time. Women in general have been hitting the glass ceiling for quite a long time. I’ve heard that men are hired based on what their hiring manager or that supervisor thinks that they can do while women are hired or promoted based on performance. it is that way because the majority of the, seats at the table, are already held by men. Predominantly white males and they look for men who look like act like they came from where they come from.
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So Black women in order to get, a seat at the table, have to do 3 things:
- They have to network. It’s all about relationships. Else there is, no seat at the table. Everything that you do is about relationships and it’s about networking. If you didn’t grow up playing golf, learn. Go around places and do things that make you feel uncomfortable. But you must be part of the conversation. Go to the theater, go to the Opera, you could serve as an usher and get free tickets.
- Get a mentor – All women should have a mentor.
- Get a Sponsor – a sponsor and a mentor are two different people. A mentor is someone that you can talk to about your fears and your aspirations. A mentor can give you sound advice and can talk you through some of the issues that you’re having and help you create a plan a plan of attack.
A sponsor on the other hand is going to be that person who’s going to make sure that you’re invited to that meeting. They’re going to take you under their wing. They’re going to make sure that there’s a place for you in the conversation and that there is, diversity and inclusion, that you are a part of the discussion. Sponsors are usually white males.
Have you ever wished that you had the information to elevate the conversation at work on how to build a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion? Well, now you do; with my newly published book A Seat At The Table or Part of the Meal, by Kimberly Bussey Lewis. This book will give you examples of intentional efforts that will level the playing field and yield dividends for your career and your company. The book can be found on Amazon – A Seat at the Table Or Part of the Meal, by Kimberly Bussey Lewis or on www.motivationalmuse.com, so get your copy today and your seat at the table.
Additional Resources, A Seat at the Table