A Seat at the Table

June 15, 2020

As I look across the ranks, do I see me? It is, unfortunately, a common thought by people of color in the corporate world. That idea has traveled with me as a member of SMPS for the last 20 years. After two decades in the organization, I had to think a couple of years ago if I wanted to become an SMPS Fellow and what it would mean to me personally. I wondered aloud if SMPS was the association I wanted to continue a connection. I questioned this even though I’ve been an active member, a chapter president, served on Society committees, and presented at regional conferences.

On many occasions, I’ve been the only person of color on a committee or on the chapter board. I questioned whether this association is one that I feel a part of, or if I was welcomed, or better yet is my voice being heard.

Over the years, I’ve also talked to several black members who have confided their chapter was cliquish, or they don’t feel their voice is being heard. Unfortunately, this was also reflected in the companies where we worked in the A/E/C industries. Access to opportunities and advancement within firms has been limited, a blight on an otherwise meaningful profession.

So here we are at the halfway point in 2020, a year that has been rife with trauma. It’s a time when we’re witnessing protests in many states across the nation and countries around the world, triggered by the recent violent deaths of several people of color at the hands of the police and others. The videos have been chilling and have sparked a movement that’s impacting the U.S and challenging us to confront and examine our nation’s racist history. It has inspired conversation and open dialogue for many, as well as a call to action for companies and organizations as they reflect and implement policies on diversity, equality, and inclusion. It is much needed.

In that spirit, there are questions that must be asked of the SMPS community: What are we doing to recruit and welcome people of color to our organization on a local, regional, and Society level? Within our firms, are we engaging with company leadership to expand inclusion of people of color? Are our employers actively recruiting from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and providing meaningful internships and employment with equal pay? As leaders within firms, do you make provisions for employees to volunteer their time in their local communities or match funds for charitable organizations that your employees engage in?

Those are just a few steps that are necessary to address the disparity issues that have always been there but have now been pushed to the forefront amid the demonstrations.

I have spent my entire career working as a marketer in the A/E/C industries. However, my most important work was as a single mother focused on raising my son to be a global citizen. I completed that mission in December 2018 when he graduated from college. And yet, I am concerned that systemic biases will halt or slow his advancement—or even threaten his life.

On the other hand, I have more time to focus on other issues that are important to me. My work will continue in three areas: within my community, at SMPS, and with my employer.

Today, as an incoming leader on the Society’s board of directors, I’ve embraced and accepted SMPS as a viable and worthwhile organization I’ve committed my time and talent to. As a volunteer, I want to have a meaningful impact. I look forward to serving on the board, being a strong voice of fairness and equality, and a resource at the chapter, regional, and Society levels to provide insight, programs, and mentoring. It’s also a time for me and other leaders to ensure that the door is open for the next generation of leaders who should reflect the multi-cultural makeup of our country.

So yes, I feel welcomed and heard at SMPS.

But the challenge is not just for me, but for all of us to be committed to elevating the organization with various voices from various backgrounds and ethnicities. The range of races participating in the demonstrations show that the world, finally, may be changing. It is up to us to not just keep up the pace, but to lead it.

Article written by Kim Thompkins, FSMPS, CPSM, incoming at-large director for the Society’s board of directors. She can be reached at kthompkins@ccorpusa.com.

 

SMPS invited leaders of different generations to share their experiences and perspectives to contribute to our community’s conversations on racism and its impact on our personal and professional settings. To read more, visit our Member Voices page.