Marginalization of people of color in the workplace—particularly women—is facing new scrutiny in light of national conversations about racial inequalities. But, for women who’ve born the brunt of such treatment, the issue is nothing new.
At Ellevate’s Mobilize Women Summit, which this year was held virtually, Allison Green, chief diversity officer at Lincoln Financial Group, said she has an unfortunate number of anecdotes to share about such mistreatment.
For instance, at an after-work event for a different employer a few years back, Green was the first guest to arrive so settled in to get some work done. When another women walked in, Green walked over to greet her, and the non-Black woman handed Green her coat and asked about the hors d’oeuvres; Green—in a pants suit and high heels—tried to explain she was a guest, but the other woman brushed her off and asked where the bathroom was.
“She saw me as one-dimensional: Black,” Green said on the Ellevate call. “It wasn’t possible to her that I belonged there, that I was a senior person attending the event with her. And it said to me that her limited interactions with someone like me have been that of service.”
That “wasn’t the first time and it certainly wasn’t the last,” she recalled.
Green grew up in Birmingham, Ala., at a time when schools were still being racially integrated. She remembers her second-grade teacher used to come to the car and walk her into school each morning and wait with her afterward for her parents to pick her up; at the time, she thought the teacher just really liked her, she said. She started to recognize the role of racism in her life after her parents delivered “the talk”—about how, as a person of color, she may experience mistreatment.
That, in part, inspired her to attend HBCU Spelman College.
“Having an experience where race wasn’t a factor or considered a barrier made all the difference in my life,” she said. “I knew that I was competing on merit and talent, the content of my character and not the color of my skin.”
Her time at Spelman “set the direction” for the rest of her life, which has included HR and D&I leadership positions at Vanguard and Wyeth. She joined Lincoln Financial Group in 2009.
Like many, the organization has been moved to deepen its commitment to D&I in the wake of the rising national consciousness around issues of race and racism.
“We’re learning and educating, taking pledges, giving back, leveraging our business model to focus on and serve the African-American community,” she said.
Sharing stories like hers—and the many more that other employees of color have experienced—are an important part of that work, Green said.
“We’re all listening and sharing and watching others being awakened and having meaningful conversations because of it,” she said. “When people begin to understand these experiences—to see them as we’ve all seen them over the past few weeks—it does make a difference. And true understanding can get us to a place where we’re able to take action—not just personally, but in our roles at work, in our social settings and in our society.”
Her work as a chief diversity officer, Green added, gives her a unique vantage point from which to amplify that understanding.
“In this role, this is an opportunity to give a voice to some who may not have had voices that they felt were loud enough to be heard and to make a difference,” she said. “We’re in a moment now—I don’t want to say moment; I believe it’s a movement. We’re in a movement where this country cannot afford to go back.”