Have you ever heard the song Walking in Memphis? It was written by American singer-songwriter Marc Cohn about a trip he took to the city that he says was “one of those trips where you’re different when you leave.”
I had a similar experience in Memphis – not while walking in my own shoes, but while walking in the shoes of others.
I was heading up the compensation team for a national retailer and was invited, along with other company leaders, on a cultural immersion trip to Memphis organized by the Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) team. Over the course of three days, we visited the National Civil Rights Museum, watched films on racism and had raw conversations about discrimination, privilege and the importance of making sure all voices are included in our organization.
One of the facilitators, a district manager from North Carolina and an African-American mother of two teenage boys, shared portions of “the talk” she regularly had with them: “You are young black men and oftentimes the world doesn’t treat black men well. Always make sure you do what the police tell you to do. And if you’re in a department store, someone is going to follow you. That’s just how your life is going to be.” She also shared her painful decision of sending her sons to live in California with their father after two separate gangs tried to recruit them. For their safety, she had to let her sons go.
That was the moment I recognized the completely unearned privilege I had as a white male. Sure, being part of the LGBTQ community, I have different things to deal with. But the advantage I have as a gay man is that I don’t have to come out to people. Her sons are black – they can’t not be out.
Experiencing my own reaction to her story and seeing the mind shift of the other leaders in the room is what drew me in and, ultimately, led me to a career in D&I.
Levi Strauss & Co. – a Pioneer of Diversity & Inclusion
Now that I’m one year into my role as the Director of D&I here at Levi Strauss & Co., I’m gaining a deep appreciation for the full impact the company has had historically on diversity-related causes. We integrated our factories a decade before it was required by law, we joined the fight against HIV/AIDS early on, and our president and CEO, Chip Bergh, was one of the first company leaders to join the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion™ and has been on the front lines of efforts to protect Dreamers.
We also rolled out Unconscious Bias training, sponsored global D&I events, and are in the process of planning two women’s conferences for our employees – one in San Francisco taking place this week, and another in Europe.
Our company value of “Profits through Principles” – doing the right thing over the easy thing – continues to be as much at the fiber of our company as the cotton in our blue jeans.
As the birthplace of the blue jean, originality is at the core of this company. And part of being an original is feeling you can bring your full self to work – regardless of race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, nationality or religion.
I love that the work I do is focused on making sure our employees feel like they belong and can do their best work here. And I appreciate that LS&Co. recognizes it’s not just good for business, it’s good for humanity.