As many of my clients know, I am an education researcher as well as photographer, spending the majority of my time consulting on behalf of children most at risk when schools and systems fail them. With photography, I'm passionate about highlighting and advancing the opportunities afforded through education and effort, especially for women of color who are systemically the most underrepresented and underpaid group in corporate and nonprofit leadership positions. Social justice and advocacy are at my core, from my formative years growing up in Arkansas. Arkansas was where I first heard civil rights icon Dick Gregory (prayers for his family in their time of bereavement), where I was first called a nigger, and where I first realized that "to whom much is given, much is required."
This week, I was training a new portrait artist so that I always have two fantastic female artists on hand to finish clients' already beautiful portraits before they receive their galleries. I sent this very talented artist a set of five images of women of different ages, sizes, and ethnicities, along with directions for what I'd like to see enhanced for each image. I used lots of words like "subtle" and "slight." When the first draft was returned, I was extremely disappointed. All of the character and uniqueness in each woman's face had been "perfected" into faces that looked plastic and emotionless, even when wearing a smile. I wrote back and asked the artist to go back and re-read my original instructions, and ensure that the women were, "polished, not perfect."
As women leaders in any field, we often feel the need to be perfect. Don't say too much. Don't talk too little. Wear the right clothing. Wear enough makeup but don't overdo it. Speak up for yourself, but don't come off as aggressive. It can be so exhausting figuring out how to do or say something just so that we end up doing or saying nothing at all. And, guess what? Male leaders increasingly feel these same pressures (yay, kind of :-)).
A week removed from the horror of #Charlottesville, and on the day we've lost another of our country's civil rights champions, I'm writing to ask that we all take time to polish our messages -- to clients, to funders and investors, to staff, to community stakeholders -- but that we not allow perfect to be the enemy of good. Today, we need business and moral leadership to shepherd our country toward a more perfect union.
I'm writing from Germany, where ironically swastikas and Nazi salutes are illegal. Last night's CNN European edition asked a question very similar to this one posed by CBCRadio - "Is America on the verge of a second civil war?" I do believe that Charlottesville was just a test...of our government, of our civic and religious leaders, of our everyday citizens' reactions and responses. They were taking our temperature, and I believe they've found too many of us lukewarm.
But, it's not too late. We can still stand up, speak out, and resist the hatred and bigotry from last weekend, and in all its forms. And, we #CSuiteChicks can do this wearing our highest heels and our brightest shade of lipstick (smile). The more we practice talking about uncomfortable things, the more uncomfortable we will make those who perpetuate discomfort, and worse, on others. So, in the wake of Charlottesville, which was just a snapshot of our nation's long history of racial inequality and inequity, let those of us to whom much has been given use our gifts to give voice to the voiceless. Let's say something, even if imperfectly.
#StandUp #SpeakOut #Resist #TogetherWeRise