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Honoring legacies by embracing equity

Advancing fairness through connection, community and celebration

March is Women’s History Month, a celebration of women’s contributions throughout history. Along with International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8, this is a time to honor, reflect on, and celebrate women who have made impacts large and small. It’s also a time to seek connection and meaningful conversations on equity and fairness. For the workplace especially, this is an opportunity to identify practical principles to help advance equity, not just for us, but for generations to come.

Of course, embracing equity is more than a tagline: it is a commitment to act and challenge gender norms, to create workplaces where each generation can strive higher and further than the one that came before, and where opportunity is not limited to just a privileged few.

In its purest form, equity means that every person regardless of their differences has an equal opportunity to thrive and to participate – and the opportunity to contribute their strengths and talents safely and wholeheartedly. It helps ensure that systemic and societal norms do not preempt access regardless of gender, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, or religion. It is the foundation of a level playing field.

Celebrating heroes

The advancement of equity in the workplace has come far in the last few generations, thanks largely to so many pioneers who dared to challenge social and societal norms. Many of these pioneers forged new paths and opportunities through magnificent, historical acts, while many more did so in simple, dignified ways.

For me, I have been privileged to have both my mother and grandmother serve as role models in that way. As a small child, I watched as my mom transformed herself and advanced both her education and her career simultaneously while balancing motherhood for my twin brother and me. I saw early on how she bravely pushed through systemic barriers, worked hard, and reached for things that would not easily be handed to her. During those years in the 1970s and 1980s, it seemed unusual for a mother to be working outside of the home based on what I observed among my suburban peers. And, notably, she built on the experiences she had seen from my grandmother – who came to New York City from Puerto Rico as a young woman after World War II, and she found work on the factory assembly line helping to make parts for radios. It was a role that she cherished as a source of some independence for more than 25 years… and her spirit and work ethic inspired my mom to map out her own journey from an administrative assistant working her way up the “corporate ladder” eventually to a leadership level.

Largely because of my mom and her mom before her, I was the first person in my family to have completed a four-year college degree, and the first to attend and graduate from law school. My accomplishments no doubt rest on their shoulders. I now strive to model for my daughter the grit, persistence, and courage they modeled for me in the hope that her path will be incrementally easier (and hopefully even more than that!). 

But there’s still much to be done, and every one of us has a responsibility to preserve, protect, and build upon the hard work of those before us.

Enhancing equity in the workplace

Fostering equity is not a frictionless pursuit, especially in the workplace. Regardless of where we are in our professional journey, each of us must honor and enact equity.

But the path is not always clear, especially for those beginning their professional journeys. Finding sponsorship and guidance can be difficult, and those from marginalized and underrepresented communities have fewer role models and additional dimensions of difference that need to be navigated.

Three principles for those starting their career to consider

No matter where you are in your career, I encourage you to embrace the power of community and connection. At Conduent, our Employee Impact Groups (EIGs) are communities designed to foster engagement, development, and collaboration. Communities like these are terrific spaces to seek guidance, share knowledge, and connect with others who may share similar experiences.

  1. Find allies. The advancements made by the generations before us depended largely on communities who supported them. Actively seek relationships with others that help you chart and navigate professional and personal experiences. Time and time again, studies show that social connection is a key driver of wellness, health, and personal and professional development. Connections create shared experiences, and shared experiences create strength and unity.
  2. Question baseline assumptions. Embracing equity is about asking questions and questioning assumptions rather than finding single, undeniable truths or principles. Likewise, be open to unlearning what you once learned while realizing how much you don’t yet know. Doing so creates space and opportunity for change.
  3. Share your unique viewpoint. Advancing equity can be catalyzed when we co-create inclusive ways of interacting within and across our teams and sharing the unique perspectives that we each bring to the table based on our lived experiences. Seek and embrace moments to be transparent and honest, inviting your colleagues to do the same. Encourage and foster creativity to design better ways of doing things. As important ideas emerge from conversations and connections, seek to develop them and to bring them to your allies and mentors.

Three principles for leaders

For leaders, maintaining an equitable and inclusive workspace helps people and teams apply and reveal — not conceal — who they are, participate freely, and bring their viewpoints, experiences, and true selves to the forefront. At Conduent, this is critical to supporting our clients and the people and communities we serve.

Working from a framework can help guide equitable practices. Below are three simple principles that can jumpstart or renew your organization’s commitment to equity:

  1. Embracing equity means meeting people where they are. Leaders who embrace equity genuinely “see” the person in front of them. Doing so means looking beyond norms and biases and making authentic connections with those they serve. They realize people walk different paths in life, and that their life experiences should not impede their access to opportunities.
  2. Be intentional when communicating with others. A foundation for equity includes being completely present. Effective leaders refrain from diluting their presence or being distracted and give the entirety of their focus during interactions. Essentially, truly listening and hearing people.
  3. Integrate equity and fairness into your teams. Effective leaders are clear about their intent toward equity, and design and facilitate cultures that recognize diverse experiences, backgrounds, and cultures. Opportunities are built with fairness and equitable access in mind, and it’s a topic that’s talked about intentionally, openly, and frequently.

For organizations, a mentorship program can be a community that workplaces build to support both the professional and personal development of associates, especially young people experiencing marginalization, including youth of color, those with disabilities, and those who identify as female. It is an essential part of advancing equity in the workplace. Conduent’s Women’s Impact Network recently designed a mentoring program to ensure that women at the company have the networks and resources they need to develop and thrive.

As we near the close of March, I hope the memory and celebration of women all over the world continues to give you hope and resolve, and may we always honor their legacy by embracing and advocating for those who come after us.

Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them. And may we break down barriers and pave the way for a world and workplaces that truly embrace equity.

About the Author

Nicole serves as Vice President, Global Head of Litigation and Privacy at Conduent, as well as the Executive Sponsor for Conduent’s Women’s Impact Network (WIN). Throughout her 26-year career as an attorney, Nicole has worked with several public companies, advocating on behalf of and protecting their market-leading products and services across diverse categories. Nicole also spent more than 16 years in private practice in New York and New Jersey and began her career clerking for the Hon. Marie Garibaldi, who was the first female justice on the New Jersey Supreme Court and the first woman to serve as President of the New Jersey State Bar Association. Nicole has complemented her work experience with committed engagement as a fiduciary for thought-leading nonprofit organizations that focus on elevating marginalized voices, including as Board Chair for the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault and as a longstanding trustee for the groundbreaking public charter school, North Star Academy in Newark. Most importantly, Nicole is the proud mom to a 20-year-old daughter who is in the second half of her junior year at Fordham University. Whenever they are home, she and her daughter spoil their two adopted cats.

Profile Photo of Nicole D. Bearce