We all know women who have made personal and professional sacrifices for the betterment of society. The list of extraordinary women who have stood for equality in the workplace is seemingly endless. They are our mothers, sisters, grandmothers, and, yes, even our colleagues.
Three visionary women, representatives of thousands of their hard-working colleagues, epitomize the true essence of the 2014 Women’s History Month Theme: Women of Character, Courage and Commitment.
They are our ambassadors for cultural awareness, our advocates for workplace equality and our agents for change. Every hour they clock in counts toward making the workplace better for the next generation.
A trailblazer in the mid-to-late 1990s, Jackman is a co-founding member of Pathfinders, one of the agency’s first employee associations representing people with disabilities. Today she is a National Equal Opportunity Program manager serving as the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender liaison.
Jackman says her rich career in the civil rights field isn’t an accident.
“There was something appealing about a job solely dedicated to empowering employees while influencing civil rights policies,” she said.
Early in her career, she recalls asking an acquaintance “What’s goes on in the civil rights staff?” He invited her to a meeting for an orientation…and the rest is history.
She remembers the days when federal government offices were not accessible, people with disabilities could not access public documents, and women were rarely placed in leadership positions.
“We as an agency and society have progressed tremendously since the 1980s and 90s,” she said.
Civil rights advocates have labored long hours to make the workplace more viable, diverse and inclusive. Today, federal offices ramps for wheelchair access, alternate means of communication is available for visually impaired employees and corner offices now include women who are thriving and making a difference in the workplace.
Jackman also highlighted the agency is making a concerted effort to address language barriers for people with limited English proficiency.
“I believe we can reach a more diverse population by offering our informational materials and other media in multiple languages,” she said.
Hale, an executive assistant in the Washington, D.C., headquarters, is a savvy collaborator; bridging the gap between traditional and progressive thinkers in the workplace. She serves as the co-lead facilitator for the African American Strategy Group. Building a committee of next level thinkers is her highest priority and crucial to the longevity of the group.
Hale shares that her curiosity of the group’s purpose prompted a conversation with the former Washington Office group lead facilitator.
“Hearing that membership had decreased significantly, I made a conscious decision to do what I could to reverse this trend,” Hale said.
Her highly-energized committee recently hosted three cultural awareness events: viewing of videos created by Urban American Outdoors; guided tour of the National Museum of African Art and career orientation for St Augustine Catholic School in Washington, DC.
As a young military wife, she had the opportunity to live overseas, including Turkey and Japan, broadening her exposure to cultures vastly different from her own.
Closer to home, Hale vividly recalled one of her first encounters with Hispanics during her husband’s tour of duty in California.
“Who knew my visit to the home of a Hispanic colleague, a new mommy, would result in banishing her father’s stereotypes of African Americans,” Hale said. “My colleague was quite honest in telling me her father was so impressed with my disposition, he’s now questioning all the myths he heard growing up.”
Having worked in different geographic regions and volunteered with multiple non-profit organizations, Hale will draw upon those invaluable experiences to further advance the agency’s Cultural Transformation mission. Most recently, she was instrumental in hiring two culturally diverse employees.
She says since taking the helm of the African American Strategy Group, membership has increased.
“But this is a result of dedicated committee members… and the best is yet to come,” she said.
Diaz is a true champion for equal employment opportunity in the workplace. She is the recruitment liaison specialist with the agency’s Intermountain Region, which covers a large part of Idaho, Nevada, Utah and the far western portion of Wyoming. She trains local high school students to help them compete for federal jobs through the Pathways Program. As a first-generation college graduate, she’s acutely aware of employment challenges faced by youth in urban and rural communities.
Diaz affectionately shares her first cultural awareness encounter, which may have steered her career choice.
“As a young Hispanic woman, who had friends from all walks of life, I unknowingly offended an older African American friend,” she said. “It was lovingly explained that referring to her as ‘colored person’’ was a derogatory term. It was an awakening for me as that very moment I realized that my skin had color, too.”
Diaz often reflects back to help her develop recruitment and retention strategies in support of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s efforts to be more culturally reflective of the American public.
She has a varied portfolio, including running the Student Diversity Hiring Program and special observances for Hispanic, Native American, Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage events.
“My most rewarding assignment was having a lead role in the ‘on-the-spot’ hiring at the Society for Range Management Conventions,” she said.
This was made possible by the agency’s former Multicultural Workforce Strategic Initiative.
Diaz said that staying connected to many of these employees has positively affected their work experiences. She encourages other recruitment liaisons to do periodic ‘sensing check-ins’ to improve the retention rate.
These three women are making difference in the workplace — in their own way leaving an indelible footprint for the next generation.