In 2020, as the world turned on its axis, we all held on for dear life. Businesses, non-profits, government organizations, and entrepreneurs all braced for a new normal, not sure what it would mean, what would come next, or if we should be excited or terrified. At the same time that everything is shifting, being put on hold, or expanding, companies have to evaluate current talent needs, empower their teams to work from home, discover new ways to care for clients from a distance, and navigate new levels of uncertainty in this unfamiliar environment. Through it all, civilians are being encouraged to lean into concepts like "resilience" and "courage" and "commitment," sometimes for the first time.
I've worked in Human Resources for nearly a decade, and throughout all my roles, I've passionately incorporated diversity initiatives to help make companies more inclusive. Recently, many businesses have made public pledges around diversity in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests. Statements are one small step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done.
COVID-19's impact on the world economy was virtually impossible to predict and fully prepare for. Governments balancing citizens' immediate health and safety vs. their financial needs resulted in emergency regulations that have hurt businesses world-wide. Today, the cannabis industry is considered essential, but as we entrepreneurs know, operating any business is a challenge. The entrepreneurial spirit burns brightly in tough times as we constantly look for ways to survive and improve our business while overcoming hardships
When I was growing up, there was a local furniture store that my family and I would go to. We would walk in, and one of two things would happen. First, we would be ignored and not acknowledged or helped. White families came in after us and were immediately greeted with big wide smiles. They were offered sparkling water and ushered to see the latest living room set. Or second, we would still not be greeted and would be followed around at a distance, as my younger brother and I sat on couches and explored furniture sets. I distinctly remember a white associate with a fierce brown ponytail wrinkling her nose at us, asking us to keep our hands off the couches. Meanwhile, little white children jumped on a myriad of mattresses, squealing loudly and proudly in the other section.
Our world has changed so much these past few months. But Fresh n' Lean, the pre-prepped organic meal delivery company I founded in 2010, has remained open during the coronavirus pandemic after being deemed an essential business. Operating amid the spread of COVID-19 has been a humbling, challenging and profound experience. We've ramped up our safety measures in order to protect employees.
As the Vice President at Natalie's Juice, it's been a challenging process navigating these times of uncertainty, but I've learned a lot and wanted to share these tips for others.
A few months after I left my corporate job as the Head of Merchandising for Old Navy Online, I walked into the Everlane concept store in preparation for an upcoming meeting at their corporate office. As I looked around trying to find an outfit, a feeling of alienation came over me. From the perky twenty-something sales associate that looked at me askance when I walked in, to the array of androgynous, box-llooking, nondescript apparel, it was clear that I didn't belong. I finally landed on a streamlined navy dress that was seemingly appropriate for my meeting — a nothing special, medium quality, basic dress that felt like a millennial uniform. I never wore that dress again.
A message to CEOs, business leaders, and white people in general. For the past five years, I have worked with a grassroots organization, I Grow Chicago, to heal the root causes of trauma and violence in Englewood, a neighborhood that is 95% Black and 100% low-income. As I've engaged with this work, it has become increasingly clear that the root causes of trauma and violence in our community boil down to racism and white supremacy.
The first pic you see of me here is from November 2018, roughly 3 weeks after having brain surgery. It all started one morning in January of 2018. I flew from LA to San Jose en route to Santa Cruz for several meetings I had set for the day. I was driving on Highway 17 heading to Santa Cruz from the San Jose Airport. I was on the freeway for all of 20 minutes, and out of nowhere a car comes out from a residential area to the right of me, attempting to make a left turn onto the freeway where there was a concrete median divider — making it impossible to turn left. The car stops literally in the middle of the highway — in my lane! I was going over 60 mph. Beginning to slam on breaks, I attempted to jump in the right lane but there were cars coming, so I couldn't make it. At that moment I clenched hard because I knew I was gonna have to hit this car!
Melissa "MJ" Jacques is the Director of Human Resources at Mustache Agency, a Brooklyn-based full-service creative content agency. Since joining Mustache in 2019, MJ has spearheaded Mustache's first-ever intern program, "Content-oisseurs," and promoted various internal and external diversity, inclusion, and company culture events that have bonded Mustachers. More specifically, MJ created Lunch and Learns focused on embracing Black History Month and Pride, as well as supported black-owned businesses for event specific needs. Additionally, MJ has established relationships with various companies with aligned missions, partnered with Sparked for multiple agency networking events (with diversity at the forefront of recruiting), and worked with Cutter for women-driven screenwriting and networking events.
Dr. Mary Beth Wilkas Janke is a former United States Secret Service Agent and current consultant in the fields of forensic and clinical psychology and professor at George Washington University, where she teaches Abnormal Psychology and the Psychology of Crime and Violence. Mary Beth holds a Doctoral Degree in Clinical Psychology, a Master's Degree in Forensic Psychology, and a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. She is also the author of " The Protector: A Woman's Journey from the Secret Service to Guarding VIPs and Working in Some of the World's Most Dangerous Places"
Aji Oliyide is a Senior Program Manager at Google who has worked on a number of projects related to product launches, and mergers and acquisitions. Aji sits on the board of directors for San Francisco CASA, a San Francisco non-profit devoted to supporting youth in the foster care system. In addition to board service, she enjoys volunteering and travelling. In 2011, she traveled to Nepal to participate in a charity trek to Mt. Everest Base Camp resulting in over $5,000 personally raised for a local Nepalese non-profit. In her spare time, Aji explores her creative side through her blog (Pivot Points) and her podcast Eat.Plank.Live. Her blog is focused on sharing insights from the decisions and events in people's lives that have influenced their path and how they interact with the world. Her podcast focuses on the role that food and fitness plays in our lives and is now live on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Stitcher. Aji holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) and an MBA from Duke University's Fuqua School of Business.