DailyAfirmation (dailyafirmation) wrote,
DailyAfirmation
dailyafirmation

A prolific writing day, some nuanced inclusivity, and musings on corporate memories...

Today was a "dream day" for me. I spent it, almost entirely, writing.

During the day I wrote articles for my first edition of the STC newsletter:
  • Welcome!

  • Employment Opportunities

  • Networking Opportunities

  • 2006 Calendar of Events

  • Book Review — The Design of Everyday Things

  • Community Membership News

An afternoon of prolific writing at Helios, indeed. Before heading home, I had dinner at the Armadillo Grill, just up the street from Helios.

I'd never eaten there, and it was pretty good. I read a posting from the EAGLE Discussion Forum written by Sarah Siegel, which I had printed for a portable read.

I am going to include Sarah's posting in its entirety, but with a few caveats:

  1. It's long, very long. I'm posting it, though, because it shows how incredibly difficult the subject of diversity is, while uncovering some keenly observed, and experienced, nuances in what it means to talk about inclusivity when approaching diversity.

  2. This is a philosophical, intellectual undertaking. If you're looking for "fluff" reading, short on time, or just want "the bottom line," you should probably skip this read.

  3. Sarah is a white, Jewish Lesbian. (Or twice-blessed, as some in our community like to say.)

  4. Ted, the retiring IBM executive about whose retirement party Sarah is writing, has worked for IBM for 39 years. He is an absolutely astounding human being, revered not only inside IBM, but in the public sector as well. His official title has been Vice President of Global Workforce Diversity for many years. He is known for his commitment to, and successful representation of, all eight officially recognized IBM diversity constituencies: Women; Men; Native American; People with Disabilities; Black/African-American; Asian; Hispanic/Latino; and Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender employees. Ted, himself, is both African-American, and straight.

Impressions of Ted Child's Retirement Party

How could Ted Childs' retirement party be held on a Friday night? On the Jewish Sabbath? Why would the icon of diversity and inclusion let that happen? Because it's July 14th; it's Bastille Day -- the same day, 11 years ago, that Ted Childs purposely chose for our former chairman, Lou Gerstner, to launch the Diversity executive task forces, since in history, it was a day of disruption that led to change.

It has to be held then. OK. I forgo synagogue. I make that choice. Besides, if I were traditionally observant of Judaism, then I could book a hotel room, so that I did not have to drive on the Sabbath, which is forbidden by Orthodox Judaism, and if I were Orthodox, I'd also be OK, since the Rye Town Hilton, the location's, food is kosher...but I am not in any case, and so enough with the self-righteousness.

Driving to the Rye Town Hilton in Rye, New York from Armonk, a 15-minute trip, I recall being at the hotel at 13, dancing to the Israeli folk song, Erev Shel Shoshanim (Evening of the Roses), across from Adam Raff, with whom I was paired up because he was the tallest boy in 8th grade, and I was the tallest girl. My Modern Orthodox Jewish elementary and junior high private school held its yearly gala dinner fundraiser at the Rye Town Hilton and we were bused in as the entertainment. We performed and then got back on the bus and were driven home. I remember writing about this here before, but not in this context.

The rabbis who taught me in that school would not be happy at my choice -- to drive to and from this event on a Friday night....There are a number of my choices with which the rabbis wouldn't be happy. I park the car in the sticky heat. Walking some distance to the entrance, I wonder why I'm wearing a black suit, even as it seemed the most formal, respectful choice when I dressed this morning, and paired with my vivid, red silk shell and disk-shaped pearl necklace and earrings that I bought in China, it seemed festive, rather than funereal.

Oy, why am I wearing black in this blazing sun? It'll be fine once I enter the air-conditioned building. I'm steps away from relief and then:

"Sarah!" I exclaim. (My childhood friend about whom I've written here before is named Sarah, too.) Sarah's exiting the hotel with her 10-year-old daughter and mother, all of them nice and cool and in swim-coverups, having just come from the pool. Sarah's mom, who lives in New Jersey, is a guest of the hotel, visiting Sarah and her kids and their new puppy, all of whom live in a nearby apartment in Rye. Nearly 30 years ago, Sarah's mother and Sarah also participated in the gala ritual I described above; it's remarkable to run into them.

"What are you doing here?" Sarah asks.

"I just left you voicemail about getting together this weekend. I'm here for a retirement party of a beloved colleague, who worked for IBM for 39 years."

"So that's what's going on. We saw a lot of people inside," Sarah's mother says. [I know she must have noticed that a lot of them are elegant black people, and her former son-in-law would have fit in nicely, as he is black and a former, Ivy-league professor -- Sarah's former Ivy-league professor, actually, and then they got together a couple of years after he taught her, but now, they are divorced.] "What did he do for IBM?"

I'm hot and wanting to go inside to be on time for the event and to cool off, but I can't rush away. "Oh. Well. Ted Childs was the head of our Global Workforce Diversity organization. He was really the best in the world at it. The 'Harvard Business Review' wrote an article on him and what he did at IBM. I remember, the first time I contacted him was by phone and we talked and he was great, but I hung up thinking, Ted Childs, terrific. They gave the Diversity job to a white man, but he wasn't white. He was black [and as I say this, I look at Sarah's young daughter, who's biracial, of course, and her face is impassive, and I'm a bit ashamed that I hadn't made much eye-contact with her till I said the word, "black"], and I just didn't know that he was black until I met him in person."

I'm also ashamed to admit my reaction to speaking with him on the phone. In fact, my reaction was even less inclusive: I thought, because of his WASP-y sounding name: Great, they've got a WASP doing the diversity job....I've seen my non-gay colleagues Doug Elix and Kevin Myers in action now long enough to know that our physical packaging, heritage and sexual orientation do not necessarily determine our soul and commitment to inclusion, and yet...and yet, my visceral reaction 13 years ago was what I've admitted here. It's a classic case of wanting respect from others without recognizing my own need to be respectful of others and to assume good will on their part. And I'm not cured. I am more self-aware than ever, but still can slip back into a strange, but perhaps natural -- at least to me -- brew of righteous indignation and bias.

I've written about this here before, but I'm reminded of being invited by Steve Basile, a former, openly-gay VP of Tivoli, to present "Sexual Orientation as a Dimension of Diversity" at the Diversity conference of the United Auto Workers and Delphi workers several years ago in New Orleans. I walked into the reception the evening beforehand and was among the only white people in the ballroom. It was then that I realized what I think is most people's definition of Diversity: "My environment is sufficiently diverse and inclusive, as long as I'm included." That is, for once, perhaps, the people of color in the room felt at home, and yet, having a Diversity conference, where the majority of the people were people of color struck me as less inclusive than it could have been...and of course, it was healthily uncomfortable for me to feel in the minority for my race, since that happens to me fairly rarely.

And that's what's so heroic about working in the Diversity and Inclusion arena for 39 years, let alone 39 minutes. It's filled with endlessly individual, visceral reactions to it. Recently, I admitted to my manager Paula, whose maiden name is German, that I grew up with a prejudice against people with German backgrounds because my parents were so Holocaust-oriented and paranoid (almost understandable, since they were of that era) about anti-Semitism, and that I needed to acknowledge to her that people who have been among the most positively influential to my career have been of German heritage, including Paula and Doug Elix. It's like God's trying to teach me a lesson over and over, not to be prejudiced against Germans.

Sarah, her family and I say goodbye and I walk into the hotel, feeling that there are no coincidences. I'm returning to the scene of where she and I were paired up with Jewish boys to Israeli folk-dance for our parents' pleasure, and we, who were Rabbi Kosowsky's favorites, turned out to be choreographable, but ultimately, needed to dance to our own favorite music with the partners of our choice.

Right inside the entrance, Ted is greeting a line of people. He is wearing a classic-Ted outfit: tan-khaki summer-suit, white shirt and a maroon rep tie with diagonal white stripes, and his purple Omega fraternity baseball cap. I have no time to recover from running into Sarah before I need to compartmentalize and be sociable with the others who are waiting on line to touch Ted with a handshake or hug. He hugs me hard and I tell him how glad I am to celebrate him tonight, nice and poised, but then he greets Tom Fleming, the head of Software Group HR, and Tom asks him a question I don't recall that makes him respond, "It's just been so busy," and I feel awkward suddenly, and interrupt them in the middle of Ted's response to say to Ted unnecessarily, "I'll see you inside," and then I walk away.

Down the hall, I register. The former Diversity Communications director, Jim Sinocchi's, assistant, who I worked with when I was in the GLBT Sales mission, says, "Hi, Sarah," and looks me up on the list of RSVPs. How nice to be recognized. "Thank you for remembering me," I say and walk toward the ballroom entrance -- the same ballroom where I performed at 13, and where I never could have guessed then that I'd be again nearly 30 years later to honor an industry icon for all he did for my GLBT people and others.

My dear friend and mentor Carol Vericker is standing by the door. She is in a summery skirt ensemble with white, turquoise and other blues. She is refreshing visually and a relief to come upon, since the plan was to see each other at the event and I'm not yet seeing many familiar faces. Carol retired five years ago, having been among the original members of the GLBT Executive Task Force -- among the people who helped Ted establish Domestic Partner Benefits for IBMers' same-sex partners. It is thanks to Ted that Carol and I ever met.

In 1994, I ask Ted to meet with me, when I am still part of Advantis, the joint venture of IBM and Sears. At this point, I know only one other person who is gay at IBM, Rob Shook, and just electronically, as I'd found Rob through the members list of NOGLSTP. When I meet Ted, I propose that IBM go to the Gay & Lesbian Business Expo at the Javits Center in NYC, which we do the next year, and toward the end of our meeting, I tell him I feel lonely in Schaumburg, Illinois, not knowing anyone else in Advantis who is gay or lesbian, and might he know someone I could contact at IBM, to feel less on my own? Ted gives me Carol's number in Sterling Forest, New York.

Carol is kind when I call her, and then we meet face-to-face at the Expo in New York several months later. She is the first lesbian IBMer that I know and I'm embarrassed at my excitement when we meet. This is in the days before Blue Pages and so there is no picture of Carol to preview prior. Pat is with me. We agree on Carol's appeal. Carol would have been attractive no matter her appearance, since she was so kind, but I haven't bargained for being moved by her looks. On Friday night, I ask about Carmen's and her recent, first-time trip to Ireland and learn it's meaningful, since she feels she has returned to her ancestral home. Ah, she's Irish like Pat, and around Pat's age. No wonder!

"Come inside. I want to show you this before it's too crowded," Carol says, and ushers me into the ballroom, over to a table, where I can sign a foam-backed poster for Ted. It features a photo of "Super-Ted," where it's Superman, but with Ted's head replacing the traditional Superman's. I sign it by his left bicep: "My hero! Love, Sarah Siegel"

A favorite saying of my father, may his memory be blessed, was, "K'neh l'chah chaver"/"Buy yourself a friend." The saying is from the Jewish book, *Ethics of the Fathers* and the idea is that friendship is so valuable, and it is so important to have friends, it's even worth paying money when necessary to sustain and increase friendships. There is a fee to come to Ted's retirement party, since the company doesn't spend money on retirement parties currently, but it was worth it to me, to demonstrate the value of Ted's ultimate friendship to me, and to be able to be at such an event with Carol.

There's so much history after the initial call to Carol, where Carol mentors and encourages me, and Ted enables good things to happen for our community, and then after Carol retires, Doug Elix becomes a super-powerful champion for our community. We're walking around together and run into Ron Glover, who is replacing Ted. He says hi and I introduce him to Carol and Carol says something along the lines of what a great opportunity for Ron to do this work.

Ron responds that he will need help to be successful. "Ron," I say, "I pledge to help you be successful, and I know you'll help me be successful as a lesbian IBMer."

"We'll be talking, I'm sure," he responds, and I feel bound to be encouraging. It *is* a big job he's taking on, and I need for him to succeed at it. And Ron needs to feel at home and welcome by us and all of the other stakeholders. It's all about friendship. I've always felt that Ted understands the power of friendship in all this work. Of all the things he has done for our community at IBM, for the United States, and for the world, I am also deeply grateful at his simple act of human kindness in providing me with Carol's contact information.

Carol and I mill around some more and EAGLE - Tri-State member and now, Software Group HR Partner Jeff Ehrenberg comes over. Jeff just completed an assignment for Ted on looking at Faith as a dimension of diversity and I feel that I'm standing with three generations of people who have made and are making a difference. Jeff joined IBM upon grad. school graduation fewer than five years ago. The three of us are talking about the Faith project, and I don't get to tell Jeff that Carol's a former nun because Doug Elix approaches.

I introduce Doug to them, saying, "These are really a couple of the people who have done and are doing the most for IBM in the Diversity realm." And then I remember who I'm talking to! "And of course, *you*'ve done so much for us." It was sort of funny, as faux pas go.

"Have you heard from your program yet?" Doug asks, changing the subject. I'm endlessly amazed by Doug's menschlichkeit(humane-ness). He is aware that I'm applying to the Adult Learning and Leadership Masters program, and how kind of him to ask me about it in the middle of the tribute to Ted, to continue to care about my individual-, as well as so visibly for the whole GLBT community's-, advancement.

"I haven't yet heard. They were waiting for my transcripts, and they called on Thursday to say that they had the transcripts and that I'd be hearing shortly. Thanks for asking. Of course, I'm planning to let you know as soon as I know."

Jeff and Carol ask me what Doug's talking about after someone else comes over to speak with him. Both are happy for me that I've applied to pursue the education no matter the outcome of the application. I feel sweetly supported. Jeff then excuses himself to say hi to a bunch of people he hasn't seen in awhile and Carol and I go get dinner from the buffet. The room is probably almost half-filled with black people and the rest are senior execs. of all races and genders, and people I recognize from the other constituencies, plus two of the execs. I admire most from my own Learning organization, both of whom say hi to me warmly, which makes me feel further good about the mission I'm part of now.

At the end of the evening, Carol and I run into Scottie Ginn and her partner Pat Tivnan and the four of us get the photographer to take a photo of us with Ted. Also, earlier, just before the lights flash for us to sit down to dinner, Carol and I go over to the video camera and speak to Ted through it. Carol thanks him for encouraging her to ask to be on the Task Force and I thank him for introducing me to Carol and for all he has done for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. We follow right after the charismatic, black, female president of Bennett College, if I remember the name correctly, which I believe is an historically-black college, but I think we manage to hold our own through our sincerity and love. I'd *love* to see that videotape, to hear all of the great messages to Ted.

A number of people are invited to say remarks to Ted from the stage for 60 seconds each and the Work Family Directions (WFD) leader (an external vendor, I think), speaks of how Ted is so terrifically inclusive, naming race et al, and including different "lifestyles." And then one of our program managers of one of the eight constituencies comes onstage and says, "At 5 pm, I was asked to represent all eight constituencies in thanking Ted..." and then she compliments Ted for being so great, no matter peoples' "...color, creed...preferences...." I am struck that if she, who has always acted as a terrific, supportive ally in all the years I've worked with her, refers to "preferences," our work is not yet done.

Bill Zeitler tells the story of sitting at a dinner party recently and being asked about his work. When he tells the other guest he works for IBM, the guest asks, "Do you know Ted Childs? He changed my life." Then he tells Bill that he was the contractor who built Ted's house, and how Ted wouldn't go along with the suggestion to build the ramp anywhere other than leading directly to the front door. "I don't care how it's going to look. Anyone who comes to my house is going to come through the front door," Ted told him.

In his praising remarks about Ted, unlike any of the other speakers, Doug Elix refers to "gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender" IBMers and how Ted has said that the GLBT struggle is like that of black people for civil rights, And just as I'm feeling so, so good to have two such powerful, eloquent champions, two black men sitting in front of me look at each other with distaste as Doug's referring to Ted's equating the GLBT human rights struggle with that of black people [of all sexual orientations]. And then Doug disarms me from my visceral anger, if not the men in front of me, by concluding his remarks about Ted with, "And I love him."

It's endlessly complex, this diversity and inclusion stuff, as prior to Doug's remarks, I am admiring one of the two black men for his courtesy in standing up as one of the women at his table excuses herself for a minute and leaves their table. How extra-gentlemanly and respectful, it strikes me. I like seeing such courtesy. And then the disrespect he doesn't even know he's showing to a different woman, me, as he smirks and whispers during Doug's remarks!

The evening's done and I find Doug Elix, who is talking with Randy MacDonald. I wait till they're finished and Randy moves to speak with someone else, and then say to Doug, "You love Ted and I love you! Unlike the other speakers, who referred to 'lifestyles' or 'preferences,' you actually referred to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people."

"You taught me that."

I look at him with surprise.

"You taught me, 'Just say the words.'" It's true. Doug's right. I did teach him that, and he listened. When we first met, I told him that the most powerful thing he could do when speaking in our behalf would be to say the words, "gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people," since tone from the top is so key. And I think that any time we can reverse-mentor any of our colleagues and particularly senior leaders, it pays to give them that advice. It is so powerful to hear our people referred to by name, rather than just by insulting buzzwords, e.g., "lifestyle." Ted is retiring, and yet, we do still have Doug, and now, more than ever, it's up to us to make more friends among our leadership and colleagues, helping them be champions for us.

On Sunday morning, I tell Sarah that I'm still waiting for my stitches to come out -- a set from each arm for the two moles that were removed last week, and so I cannot swim with her kids and her. Instead, we talk for an hour by phone, including my debriefing her on highlights of Ted's retirement party. I tell her about my disappointment with the reaction of the two guys sitting in front of us, when Doug spoke of Ted's comparing the GLBT struggle to that of black people for civil rights, and we discuss homophobia among black people and anti-black discrimination among non-black GLBT people and I say, "It's like the dog, who kicks the cat, who kicks...."

"Yes," she agrees, "And also, why do you think it says over and over in the Bible, 'For you were strangers in a strange land?'" We're never supposed to forget the pain of feeling like outsiders, so that we take care not to treat anyone else like outsiders. She says, "The other night, what struck me, just at a glance, was the variety of people of different races that all were there for the event. Just walking by, I saw Asian and black and...you don't often see people of so many backgrounds coming together."

"That was what Ted Childs enabled, that's what he did."



This evening, I spent the night writing that short story of mine, "Corporate Memories: Who owns them? Who wants them?"

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