The next featured panelist for our April Changing the Conversation event is Diane Herz, President, Director and Chief Diversity Officer at Mathematica Policy Research. Here, Diane describes the struggle and importance of authenticity, being intentional as you build your professional toolbox, and creating buy-in for diversity & inclusion programs at all levels of an organization. Get a sneak peek at Diane’s thoughts around D&I below:
Describe a challenge that you’ve overcome in your career.
The struggle to be authentic. When I was a 9 years old, my mother realized she was a lesbian. After that, she was always hiding the truth—reasonably afraid of losing custody of me and my brother. We in turn learned to hide the truth to save ourselves. At 16, I realized that I was a lesbian too. Later, as I began my career, I was terrified that I’d be fired if I came out. I spent enormous amounts of energy hiding my personal life from others so I wouldn’t have to lie about my family, who I was dating, or my friends who were dying of AIDS. The 1990s were a particularly difficult time. This “covering” made it tough to focus on my career, build genuine professional relationships, and develop into a confident and respected leader.
Over the years, with determination and the support of allies, I learned to value my experiences, to build communities of support both inside and outside of work, to advocate for myself and my community, and to eventually become comfortable with who I am. This made me stronger and more effective in my job. Now I lead from that healed, joyful, compassionate, and authentic place—I have developed empathy, resilience, and patience with others who I know have struggles that I may not be able to see.
What’s a piece of advice you wish you could give your former self?
Be intentional about developing the tools you need. Show up for the challenging times and commit to doing the hard work. We all have personalities and styles, but success in work for me has been about developing a toolbox that includes both left- and right-brain elements—analytical thinking and empathy, self-direction and collaboration. Extroverts need to listen and introverts need to speak up. I have seen people get boxed into roles based on personalities or styles, but personality shouldn’t be confining—with focus, we can develop all the tools we need and use good judgment in the moment, pulling out the right tool for the situation. It’s impossible to develop every tool at once—but careers are long and you can develop them all over time.
What’s one of the key drivers you’ve found to achieving corporate diversity?
It takes a village. I know that’s overused but it’s true for this work. Deepening diversity and growing inclusionary efforts in an organization require commitment at every level. Engaging and belonging are the key inclusion measures. For people to experience them both, we all need to work together to create and sustain cultures where everyone, especially leadership, walks the talk. In this type of work environment, everyone has an opportunity to thrive.
To hear what Diane and our other panelists have to say about the importance of diversity and inclusion initiatives, join us for our event on April 26th at 6:30pm!