Why Diversity Initiatives Matter to Young Professionals
Wednesday, February 26, 2014on
As chair of one of PULSE’s newest committees, I find myself struggling with the articulation of why Capacity exists. I know it inherently – it is part of who I am, how I am built, embedded in how I was raised and now a priority on how I choose to raise my own children. Diversity and inclusion are a way of life. But then again, I didn’t grow up in the South. I wasn’t exposed to racism, nor ever made to feel different. I didn’t know about racial inequalities and contention. As a first generation American, born to Filipino parents, and raised in Toronto, Canada, I didn’t think twice about how we looked or that there was another language spoken at home or that we ate rice for every meal (seriously… every meal!). Everybody I grew up with was also first generation – and held on tightly to their traditions, culture, food, and language. We all conceded to being “Canadian”, but we were Filipino-Canadians, Italian-Canadians, Croatian-Canadians, Jamaican-Canadians and so on. All of these cultures coexisted - so different and distinct – but collectively creating a cohesive community. When I moved to Greenville in 1994, things were different. I was reminded daily that I looked different, talked different, and the ethnic food that was cooked in my home was a source of curiosity for many of my new friends. Greenville was not the thriving, beautiful place it is today – but it was on its way. After graduating from high school, I left Greenville for college, then grad school, then a career that would take me back to Toronto, then Europe, then Mexico. I felt so lucky that at an early age I was able to do, see, and experience so much. I had quickly established my career and had international experience under my belt. I was grateful, as a young professional, living abroad, that I was made to feel welcome in a new environment and knew that I was contributing to the local community. I never expected to want to come back to Greenville. But as a foreigner in Mexico, a new mother, with a failing marriage – all I wanted to do was come home. And it became clear to me that Greenville was “home”. I returned and saw all the great changes, opportunities, and growth – I felt proud to live here and wanted to get involved. I wanted to be a part of the energy and positive momentum. So I did. I got really involved and left the corporate world to begin a career serving crime victims. I joined committees, began to serve on boards, and started meeting a lot of people with a shared vision and passion for making Greenville the best place to live, work, and raise a family. But even in the best circumstances, all cities have their problems – poverty, unmanaged growth, crime, limited resources for quality education, and the reality that racial, ethnic, professional, and cultural inequalities still exist. Not all feel welcome at the table. This did not sit well with me. It became a personal mission of mine to understand the discrepancies (which were unfamiliar to me), then help bridge the gaps for our international, immigrant, and minority communities – so that all sectors would feel included and invested in the Greenville we all love. To embrace each other’s differences, seeing the value added in cross-collaboration, all while becoming a cohesive unit. PULSE, a Chamber LEAD Program for young professionals seeking leadership development, took a great step forward in embracing the Capacity initiatives to ensure that we are representative of the professions, ethnicities and changing demographics of Greenville. As rising leaders in the community, this effort allows us to recognize the importance of diversity and the contributions of all to industry, local business and economy, job creation, improved quality of life, tourism, etc. As the paradigm shifts, young professionals are changing the way we do business and solve problems – we are erasing the lines of discrimination that used to define the generations before us. We are making it organic and embedded into our being – so we become conditioned to see beyond race, gender, religious beliefs or sexual orientation. We are creating an inclusive Greenville. Marie Majarais Smith is Program Manager and Bilingual Victim Advocate at SC Victim Assistance Network. Marie has two great kids, loves her job advocating for those who don’t have a voice, and is currently chairing PULSE’s Capacity Committee. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.