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Charlottesville: The leadership opportunity for women

hands overlapping each other
I, like many of Americans, was glued to the TV to watch the horrific and deplorable scenes occurring in Charlottesville. What happened in Charlottesville is nothing less than an attack on diversity and humanity. After all, we are all humans.
 
Diversity is about the uniqueness of each and every individual. Therefore, we are all diverse. And, unless you are Native American, you are multicultural.
 
There is only one race — the human race. I am saddened by the loss and injury to human lives and pray for healing and, though unthinkable for some, forgiveness for those who have hate in their heart for their brothers and sisters.
 
This weekend's activities reminded me of my childhood growing up in the early '60s in Mobile, Alabama. It opened old wounds for so many of us. Old wounds related to Jim Crow, the KKK, white supremacists and other oppressive groups. The pain that these groups inflicted has never truly healed. And until we have the courageous conversations about the truth of America's past, many wounds may never heal. The gift that this tragic event gives us is the opportunity to pause and reflect. It is a gift of leadership for those who are ready to embrace the opportunity.
 
Growing up in the Deep South, everyone knew what fire on a stick meant. Everyone knew what white robes with a hood meant and everyone knew what the rebel flag meant. There are individuals who believe there is only one important group — the dominant group. Yet, the reality is this: When we reject diversity of any kind, we reject ourselves. If we want to move forward as a nation, a united nation, we must be willing to eradicate oppression. We must be willing to deal with the truth of the past and not let it affect the opportunities or possibilities of the future.
 
There is a place for all American history. I believe that statues that are constant reminders of oppression should be preserved in a museum. Let those who want to continue to acknowledge the contributions of bigots, racists and sexists have their place in history to the same degree those who fought for human rights have a place. My hope in preserving this ugly part of American history is that we don't forget the pain and we fight with all our might to never again repeat it in the future. We’ve come too far to go backward.
 
So what are we, as women, to do in times of extreme polarization? We must lead. We must draw on our natural strengths to drive inclusion and collaboration to make a difference one conversation at a time. This is our time. A time for women leaders to find their collective voice and stand up for equality of all kinds. It is not only the right thing to do, but the only thing to do, to move forward, to create a better America where all citizens can realize their dreams. We must all learn to speak truth to power. We must find the courage to stand strong and firm when everyone else is running and hiding. The time to be brave is when everyone else is scared.
 
Now is the time for us to recognize these activities for what they are — another attempt to silence anyone who is not deemed by certain groups as worthy, as valuable, as meaningful and as equal. We must be strong in our position that hatred of any kind has no place in America and no place in the business world.
 
Each of us must learn to talk about race in the world and, yes, inside the walls of the very companies where we work. Corporate America is a reflection of society. We must not be lulled into thinking that the very people who spewed hatred aren’t our neighbors, our colleagues or our customers. They are. We interface with individuals who share these ideologies every day. History is calling us to step up.
 
The call is for every female leader to serve as a public champion for creating a future where everyone is valued, respected and has a sense of belonging. Don’t be silent. Silence equals endorsement. Now is the time to be bold and brave. If not now, when? If not you and me, then who?

Trudy Bourgeois is founder and CEO of The Center for Workforce Excellence and the author of four books, including the most recent, Equality: Courageous Conversations about Women, Men and Race To Spark A Diversity and Inclusion Breakthrough. She previously held senior leadership roles in the consumer goods industry. 

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.