For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to serve and improve the lives of others. I was a pre-med student in college, I studied public health in graduate school, and I’ve worked at organizations that sought to make the health care system more effective and affordable for everyone. I’ve researched psychosocial factors that affect maternal and child health, including support for families and health care providers throughout the nine-month gestation period. Two years ago, my partner and I welcomed a beautiful, healthy baby girl into the world. If my daughter’s birth didn’t ignite my passion for making the world a better place, it certainly stoked it in a big way.
As a Black woman, when I walk into the workplace, I initially feel as if I don’t belong. I feel as if I have to prove myself on project teams and within my general role at the company. I don’t fault any specific person or employer in my career. It’s just that when I walk into a professional setting, most of the time, I’m one of the only Black women there. Most of the time, I see no one in senior leadership who looks like me. That can be a little intimidating. Does it mean I will stall out at a certain point in my career? Given what I see at the top, will I ever be able to meet my career goals? I’m sure my mother and grandmother had similar questions throughout their careers. Unfortunately, that’s the reality of where the world is, especially for the Black community here in America.
I joined Mathematica in April 2019 as a health program analyst. I manage federal projects that uncover insights about how Medicaid could more effectively address the social determinants of health and improve patient health through focused incentives for providers. I also provide technical assistance to state Medicaid agencies as the Center for Medicaid and CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) Services releases new and updated tools to support Medicaid Managed Care. Within a month of my start date, I became a member of our internal Black Employee Resource Group (ERG). Joining the group was a way to build a sense of camaraderie with my Black colleagues as a new employee of Mathematica. It turned out many of its members were alumni from historically Black colleges and universities, including my alma mater, Spelman College. Soon I was a co-leader for the group.
The past year has been whirlwind. Between the impacts of COVID-19 and the protests against racism over the summer, our Black ERG has had to be more active. We’ve been supporting our fellow Black employees at Mathematica and providing input to senior leadership. Everyone from peers to senior leaders have wanted to know how Black staff were feeling and what they could say or do to comfort and support their Black colleagues. I appreciate that my colleagues value my perspective and opinion, but I’ve had some harsh days when I didn’t want to engage. I just wanted to get online and do my work.
After George Floyd’s death, in particular, I had a rough time focusing on my work. I began to informally write out my feelings and how I was processing everything at that time. I shared my feelings with my fellow Black ERG leaders, Shaun Stevenson and Zaire Graves, and we all continued to express ourselves through writing. It was therapeutic. We developed our written feelings into a statement that we shared with Akira Bell, the executive sponsor of the Black ERG and Mathematica’s chief information officer. Akira encouraged us to share the statement with everyone at Mathematica. This felt like our opportunity to do something positive for ourselves and our fellow Black employees. So many of them had told us that they didn’t want to keep answering questions about how they were feeling. The statement, which was shared in an email to all Mathematica staff and published on the company’s internal site, summarized our emotions and helped our colleagues better understand how they could be supportive.
I don’t want my daughter and other Black girls in her generation to feel as I have, to question whether they belong in their place of work because of the color of their skin. I imagine a future for my daughter where she knows, without a doubt, that she was hired based on her qualifications and the merits of her work. I imagine a future where she looks at the leadership demographics in her industry and doesn’t have to wonder whether there’s a ceiling for Black women.
I hope that by advocating more for myself and my Black colleagues now, I can help make things better for future generations. I hope that when my daughter walks into the workplace, she’ll see Black people in whatever role or field she wants to join. I hope that when she walks into the workplace, the only thing she’ll have to prove is that she can do her job effectively.