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What I’ve Learned in 35 Years of Championing DEI at Work

by Donna Schultz

At my first corporate job interview 35 years ago, the hiring manager looked at me across the table and said, “They told me I need to diversify. You’re my best bet to hire a woman. Here’s your offer.”

I took the job. And I quickly developed the kind of thick skin and sense of humor you need when your first role is the only female manager at a Fortune 500 company with a 40-year history of being run exclusively by white men. It’s served me well over the last few decades as my career flourished—because things are always challenging when you’re the only woman on the executive leadership team at any company. 

As a leader, I feel the weight of the responsibility to mentor and open the door for others who face the same challenges I did (and as a straight white woman, I’m well aware that others deal with much worse). Because while I’d love to say that our society has evolved tremendously since my early days in the business world, I can’t. 

We’ve made improvements, certainly, and I’ve had a front-row seat to observe what works and what doesn’t when companies focus on diversity. But we still have a long way to go. And I’m continuing that work today in my current leadership role at Opal.

I love my job and I love my leadership team. They truly listen when I raise uncomfortable issues and are committed to learning and growth. But we have some work to do, even here, at our progressive Portland-based company. We know we’re on the right path, but we aren’t there yet. 

Where we are, though, is at a vital inflection point. 

When COVID-19 hit, like many companies, our growth mode mentality at Opal came to a screeching halt. We tightened our belts as we worked to serve our customers with the people and resources we had. And the Black Lives Matter movement, of course, caused many of us to pause and reflect and grapple with the reality of systemic racism in profound new ways. It wasn’t an easy year, but it was a formative one. 

At Opal, we know what makes us better and stronger as a team: diversity of gender, sexual orientation, race, thought, and background. But I’ll be blunt, as I always am — our team isn’t there yet. 

So as we’ve started to emerge from the pandemic mindset over the last few months and discuss hiring plans, our leadership team realized we had a real opportunity to move forward into our next chapter with more intention. With remote work as our new normal, the entire U.S. is now open to us as a hiring pool. We have an internal appetite for change and growth, starting from the top. The time is right for us at Opal to reinvest in our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

And I am encouraged in saying, we are. We’re taking our first steps along our revitalized, collaborative DEI roadmap this month as we commemorate Pride—because we know that meaningful action and real change is the best possible way to celebrate. From equity workshops to company events, we’re investing time and resources in helping make Opal a more inclusive, diverse, equitable, accessible, and safe workplace for everyone. 

If you’d like to join us on this journey, I’d love to hear from you. Check out our current job openings here, and find me on LinkedIn if you have any questions about this new chapter at Opal.

About the Author

Donna Schultz

Donna Schultz

Senior Director, Customer Success

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