The Quiet Giant Who Left a Monumental Impact

It is 2020…100 years of women voting in this country.  As we look back to notable moments like this in history, we celebrate women leaders and acknowledge that the path to gender equality has not been inclusive and we are still on it.  For that reason, the Change Matrix team is beginning a series of personal essays about women.  They might be women we know who were models or mentors and influenced us as professionals.  They might be women whose work we have loved and integrated into our own.  They might be about our identification as women through a cultural lens.

Tennille

For as long as I can remember I have always had a love for math. While there are so many things in this world that are left up to interpretation, math is not. Math is a constant in an ever changing world. 1+1 will always equal 2. “In math, you’re either right or you’re wrong,” Katherine Johnson told Vanity Fair in the summer of 2016.
In her life, Katherine made it acceptable to be the smart little black girl who excelled in math as well as many other things. Katherine Johnson wasn’t just an African American woman; she was a Mathematician “the girl” astronaut John Glenn turned to when he didn’t trust his life to the electronic calculating machines that had constructed his flight plan.

As a part of his preflight checklist, John Glenn (the first American to orbit the earth) asked engineers to get “the girl.” Ms. Johnson was asked to run the same numbers through the same equations by hand. Today, no one second-guesses a computer. But then, just as space exploration was new, so were computers. Glenn trusted Johnson to ensure his orbital mission was a success.

Katherine Johnson graduated college at age 18, and in 1939 Katherine was handpicked to be one of just three black students to integrate West Virginia’s graduate schools.

Then, fast forward these past 71 years; the fact that we are still celebrating “firsts” for black women’s accomplishments lets us know that even though we have come so far, there is still so much further to go.

Ms. Katherine Johnson was in her life a quiet giant in a field that was dominated by white males. Her continued efforts to be heard in a room where many didn’t even think she should be seen, makes my continued success in my field that much more satisfying. My personal debt to Katherine being that were it not for her having paved my way, I wouldn’t be able to have obtained my “Doctorate in Business Administration,” the terminal degree in my field.

On Monday, Ms. Katherine Johnson passed away at the age of 101. While Heaven gained an angel, the world lost a true treasure. Katherine lived a long and fulfilling life guided by stellar dreams and ambitions achieved. The trail Katherine blazed, the obstacles she overcame, and the many accolades she received along the way have proven beyond question that a little black girl with a love for math can grasp the moon and beyond.

Katherine Johnson is more than just an inspiration to me in my career and life. Katherine Johnson is a shining beacon by which all should be guided.

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Inspired by Her Courage to Be the First

It is 2020…100 years of women voting in this country.  As we look back to notable moments like this in history, we celebrate women leaders and acknowledge that the path to gender equality has not been inclusive and we are still on it.  For that reason, the Change Matrix team is beginning a series of personal essays about women.  They might be women we know who were models or mentors and influenced us as professionals.  They might be women whose work we have loved and integrated into our own.  They might be about our identification as women through a cultural lens.

Annie

In 2013, I had the opportunity to meet and work with Dr. Nita Mosby Tyler, while I was working at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. In my role at the Office of Health Equity, I assisted in convening the Health Equity Commission, in which she served as a commissioner. With a background in human resources, Dr. Mosby Tyler has held leadership positions as the former Senior Vice President and Chief Inclusion Officer for Children’s Hospital Colorado and the former Executive Director of the Office of Human Resources for the City and County of Denver. In both these roles, she was the first African American woman to hold these positions. I have been inspired by her courage and leadership in championing equity and justice in spaces that may not be welcoming (and even dangerous).

In our work at Change Matrix, how do we advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in a society that is not designed to do so? Dr. Mosby Tyler has said, “There are no U.S. systems that were built with equity in mind. Not the education system. Not the healthcare system. Not the justice system. Not the housing system. Not the transportation system. Because of this, anytime we work to chip away at systems of inequity, we see the intricate web and tentacles of how these inequitable systems are all connected. I am committed to taking it on because I believe if we all do our part, individually, at chipping away at inequity in all that we do – we ultimately change systems. That gives me hope.”

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Our Complicated Relationship with Technology: CM is a virtual company (in case you didn’t know) 

The following was written by and from the perspective of Change Matrix (CM) Partner Elizabeth Waetzig:

When CM started, the partners, Suganya, Rachele, and I were living in three different states.  Since that time two of us have moved to different states. I have moved four times. If we were not a virtual company, our ability to continue to work and grow probably would not have happened.  It has been a gift to have access to technology and digital platforms to support us. As we have taken on new team members, we realize that we cannot take for granted our communication, work processes, and relationship development.  We must remain intentional about creating a building our virtual culture.  In the midst of national conversations about virtual, digital, and social media, we thought we might offer some thinking about how we choose to use or not use these platforms in service of our work and ourselves as human beings, what we like, what challenges us, and what we have learned.

What we like:

  1. You only have to dress from the waist up:  having the opportunity to schedule my yoga class right before calls start for the day is a benefit to a virtual office.  I will admit that I occasionally push it so that I am running to my computer minutes before we start. Luckily as I stand at my desk, having just brushed my hair and thrown on a scarf, my colleagues cannot see that I am still in my leggings.  
  2. The flexibility: All of us at CM have full lives.  We take time to engage in our communities, pursue a variety of interests, and care for children, pets, spouses, parents, and other beings.  Working in a virtual, home office means we don’t have to rent space and it also means that there is a lot of flexibility to create work life balance for those of us who are so inclined.  It also means that children and pets and sometimes spouses or parents can be seen on our video screen. We are inclusive!
  3. Diversity: Having a virtual office has allowed us to cast our recruitment net wide when we are seeking new team members.  CM currently has team members in 4 time zones, in 5 decades of life, with very diverse experiences, backgrounds, and environments.  While it can be tricky to schedule meetings sometimes, we feel good about our national reach and the varied perspectives that come together and make us who we are.

What challenges us:

  1. We are always accessible:  Many (all) of the platforms we use are available on all of our devices.  Even my watch lets me know that someone is connecting with me. While it can be distracting, I like knowing what is happening. I have had to discipline myself to choose whether or not to respond and feel good about my choice.  It is a work in progress. Ask my 15-year-old who has challenged me to complete my sentences when I am talking with her.
  2. We miss face-to-face time:  In recognition that there is something wonderful about being physically present, CM gathers once a year in a retreat-like location (ok – we did not quite achieve the “retreat” part this year) to connect, build relationships, learn and grow together.  We acknowledge that there are some things for which virtual platforms are a poor substitute. Virtual connection and communication are tools to complement in-person connection. We do our best to be thoughtful about what the work requires.
  3. Technology (ironic, right?): Have you tried to log on at 1 minute before the hour only to be told that you have to run the installer program?  I hate that. And sometimes my audio is not clear or the power has gone out. Any one of those things can make me panic. Luckily, we work in teams and can support one another with grace.  

What we have learned:

  1. You have to schedule intentionally:  I am not good at this. There are days when I have scheduled back-to-back video calls.  And while I firmly believe that video enhances the interaction with others, there are days when my legs are crossed by the end of the third call.  And I am not sitting down.
  2. Choose your platforms wisely and know when to use them:  Many on our team are good at, and like platforms that make us more streamlined and efficient.  Others on our team get overwhelmed by all of the choices and communication can get tricky. Our suggestion is to have a way to communicate with individuals and teams for short, in-the-moment messages, a project management platform that can organize teams to complete tasks within projects, a way to co-create documents so you are not storing multiple versions (we always say we will go through and discard old versions…) and able to work on them at the same time, and a shared file storage system with a process to archive.  We have also created opportunities to communicate and connect internally about things other than work. Having platforms and knowing how to use them is a start. Supporting people to know when to use them is also important.
  3. Not everyone feels the same way about technology, virtual communication and organizational platforms.  While we expect and hope that our team members will connect and use the platforms to work as a team, we also recognize that it takes time to adapt to a virtual office.
What technology platforms have effectively supported your work?

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