Yesterday, I had the privilege to attend the City and State NY Conference on Diversity, courtesy of One Girl! The conference featured ways to ensure the inclusion of marginalized groups in the private and public sector. The panels featured important figures as Congressman Hakeem Jeffries from the 8th Congressional District of NY and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito from the New York City Council. The panelists offered some crucial insight on how to uplift people of color in business and STEM, particularly through supporting M/WBEs: Minority- and Women-owned Business Enterprises.
Much of the language and discussion was geared towards pushing for diversity in corporations and businesses by enforcing existing state legislations. This was especially apparent in the “Creating a Culture of Belonging, Inclusion, and Diversity” panel. However, one of the key issues brought forth by Jeanne Mullgrav, Executive Vice President of Capalino & Company, was that she does not want to stop at feeling “tolerated” or “invited” in a company’s diversity campaign to meet a quota. Rather, she wants to feel respected and integrated as a meaningful member of the team. According to Letitia James, Public Advocate for the City of New York, private and public sectors have a responsibility to promote diversity and create opportunities for W/MBEs. The key to diverse recruitment, then, is retention - creating a hospitable atmosphere in which women and minorities do not feel encouraged to leave the workplace due to discrimination.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing discussions unfolded during the panel, “Breaking Through: Women in Government, Advocacy, and Public Affairs.” As a young woman looking to engage in international politics, seeing panelists like Assemblywoman Nily Rozic of District 25 elucidated the issues women face in this field. Upon election, Rozic was the youngest woman in state legislature. She is also currently the first female to represent District 25 in Queens.
While she has many accomplishments, Rozic recalled many instances of ageism and sexism in Albany. She was assumed to be a staffer or another assemblyman’s girlfriend because, by no fault of her own, she was concurrently young and a woman. The discussion on paternalism also highlighted work atmospheres in which men will impose themselves onto their female colleagues as a father or boyfriend figure - even though they were never invited to play such a role.
This was a clear indication of what my future may entail (or rather, currently entails). Women experience discrimination on racial, class, and gendered lines in and out of the workplace, and it is crucial to center these stories and voices. These experiences are valid and worthy of recognition. They reflect a culture in which women (and women of color in particular) are assigned subordinate gender roles - remain demure, compliant, in the background, and aim high, but not high enough to threaten a man’s success.
The panelists did, however, offer some respite from these troubling experiences. When asked what women can do going forward, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Speaker at New York City Council, responded that we must continue to challenge a patriarchal system. Vocalizing our opposition to sexism is an uphill battle, of course, considering many are accused of “playing the race/sex card.” However, as Viverito stated, “we as women must engage in the struggle.”