International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global celebration of the amazing accomplishments women have made to advance change socially, economically, culturally and politically. The first IWD gathering took place more than 100 years ago, and today it is supported collectively by organizations, groups and countries across the globe. This year’s IWD theme, #BreakTheBias, centers on unpacking the causes of and solutions to racial and gender inequality by breaking bias and challenges us to break the bias in our schools, colleges, universities, workplaces and communities.
To commemorate IWD, I honor and recognize the influence my maternal great-grandmother, Mrs. Mamie Rhodie Miles (lovingly referred to as Grandma) had on forming my worldview and influencing my passion to imagine and create a world that is diverse, equitable and inclusive. Grandma lived to be 100 years old and was one generation removed from slavery. Grandma and my great-grandfather were the proud parents of 13 children; the youngest was my grandmother Mary Rose (Miles) Hardin.
I spent countless summers as a child with Grandma and relished the fact that I had her all to myself for weeks on end. Every morning for breakfast she prepared a full spread including her homemade biscuits that melted in my mouth and all the trimmings. What I enjoyed most about our breakfasts: 1. She allowed me to drink coffee (now that I think about it, I believe it was one part coffee and nine parts milk but hey, for a little girl between the ages of four and eight, it was a big deal…LOL); and 2. We discussed local, national and world events. Although I don’t believe Grandma ever stepped foot out of the state of Kentucky, she was attuned to what was happening in the world and helped me appreciate how interconnected we are across the globe. Also, Grandma opened her home and table to everyone in the Bardstown community. We often spent time and shared meals with people who did not look like us. Observing my grandmother during those exchanges helped me to understand the importance of valuing and celebrating differences. Grandma was different!
Later in my career as the global continuous improvement director at a prominent paper and printing manufacturing company, my team of Lean Six Sigma Black Belts and I had the awesome responsibility of supporting continuous improvement projects for 70+ facilities in North America, Europe and Asia. I often thought about time spent with Grandma when I traveled to meet with team members and colleagues outside of the United States. When designing content, conducting training, leading a meeting or facilitating a continuous improvement event, I was careful to look for ways to be inclusive and value the diversity in thoughts, cultures and experiences of everyone I met. As a result, participants were engaged and responsive even in environments where English was not the first language.
It’s amazing how those warm childhood memories have shaped the person I am today. It is my desire to continue Grandma’s legacy, and I hope when people meet and interact with me, they walk away saying, “She’s Different!”
Who are some of the great and memorable women in your life who have helped to shape your worldview on the importance of overcoming bias and valuing differences?