Diversity & Inclusion

Obama Inauguration Gives Hope to Diversity Exec

When Patrice Hall sat in Denver’s Mile High Stadium listening to Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) last August, she had never felt so inspired and hopeful.

After almost two decades in line management, Hall has spent the last 13 years as a diversity executive, most recently as head of the Global Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Practice for ORC Worldwide, a leading HR consulting firm. Before that, she spearheaded the diversity efforts for both the retail division of Chase Manhattan Bank and the Global Investment Bank at JPMorgan Chase.

She’s seen much progress in diversity over those years, but it wasn’t until her Denver DNC visit that she felt truly “proud to live in a country that” while far from perfect “at least promises the possibility of the kind of world I want to live in.”

It was there that Hall began to feel that the work she does had the potential to undergo monumental change.

Here she shares with Diversity Insight the notes she jotted down while sitting in the audience that day:

“It is a world that has been so long absent that I had begun to doubt that it was ever (or could be) real: it’s the one that MLK described 45 years ago, the one that Obama has promised in all his speeches, the one that at least begins to level the playing field for those with the talent and determination to succeed. This is the world that is the realization of the work and the vision that so many of us share.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I, too, worry that WAY too many people will believe that, with the mere existence of a Barack and a Michelle Obama and their beautiful children, our work is done — the barriers removed, the distinctions of race and class erased, the dream realized. But I believe that the best (perhaps the only) way to create real change (here or anywhere else) is to have the “right” people in power — the ones who will spend the time to understand ALL the issues from ALL the perspectives and then work hard and smart to bridge the divides, creating fair yet strategic Win/Win approaches that solve the real problems with sustainable solutions. So much of what I have seen and heard and — perhaps of most importance — FELT during this election, has told me that, for a change, we have such an individual in our midst!”

Of course, Hall wrote these words months before Obama was actually elected, “and before he had quite the massive agenda of change before him that he does now,” she notes. “I don’t know that he or his administration will necessarily directly address diversity in the workplace — I don’t know that they’ll have the ‘luxury’ of doing so, all things considered — but I do believe that he, and those with whom he surrounds himself, will continue to be the models of change that I believe corporate America so desperately needs right now.”

It also needs, Hall says, to keep pushing to remove the race and gender barriers that continue to exist.

“While Obama’s election confirms that we have indeed taken giant steps toward true meritocracy, we will fail miserably as a society if we believe that our work in diversity is ‘done,'” Hall says. “As long as we continue to see the repeated and significant drop-offs of various groups of people at each successively higher level in the pyramids of our corporations, government agencies, academic institutions, law firms, etc., we must remind ourselves that social, organizational, and individual barriers still exist and must be addressed if we want to ensure that ‘the best and the brightest’ really do rise to the top.”

But the Obama presidency will only help that happen, she says.

“The very existence of a man of color as ‘leader of the free world’ flanked by his incredibly accomplished wife and bright, eager children should change the model of who can be a leader, and this shift in perception — conscious or unconscious — may do more to level the playing field for all individuals with talent than any specific effort coming out of corporate diversity ‘programs,'” Hall says, adding that the result is she is “more hopeful today about the work that I and so many others do, than I have ever been. And I continue to trust that Barack Obama’s approach to leadership and change management will, in and of itself, be the most compelling ‘business case’ for diversity and inclusion that we have ever had!”