Carmen Ortiz-McGhee: Once You've Heard the Truth, Change Must Happen

July 1, 2020 Sarah Bloznalis

5-minute read

Carmen Ortiz-McGhee

This year has brought a global pandemic and an uproar of support for racial equality and justice. Both have resulted in pressing calls for systemic changes in our society and the workplace. So, what do we do? According to Carmen Ortiz-McGhee, executive vice president at National Association of Investment Companies, it’s time to get to work. 

During an insightful and candid conversation with Workhuman® CHRO Steve Pemberton for our Keeping Work Human series, Carmen reflects, “I’m thankful that a broader set of people seems to be waking up and taking notice, and hopefully taking action” regarding racial inequity. With this awakening she hopes to see systemic change that brings “true equality, true access, and true opportunity for all American citizens.” But it won’t be easy. 

This kind of change requires action on both an individual and an organizational level.

Removing (symbolic) masks

Carmen and Steve both hold executive positions at their respective organizations, but they did not get there without facing systemic prejudice. “I’ve spent time in corporate America,” Carmen explains, “and we all walk in with these masks that we have to wear … this weight of not having any room to make a single mistake.” 

Steve, too, has worn this metaphorical mask. “We wear the mask that grins and lies,” he said, quoting the poem “We Wear the Mask,” by African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. More than 100 years have passed since the line was written, yet it is still relevant. It is time to create a society where all symbolic masks can be removed. It is time to create a more human workplace where equality and inclusion is felt by everyone, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. 

Time to ‘wake up’

Steve refers to “awakened allies” as those “who have been allies just naturally … but haven’t been as awakened to the daily realities of what it means to be Black and brown in this society.” In corporate America, where racial and gender discrimination are still prevalent, we need these awakened allies to step up and speak out. 

Awakened allies in HR and upper management are especially well-positioned for creating a diverse and inclusive organization. In the next three years, Carmen hopes these allies will be held accountable for creating a workforce that “reflects society and the demographic break up” of our country. From Steve’s perspective, hiring chief diversity officers to manage workplace equality is a good start, but wonders when companies will go further and begin “talking about supplier diversity” and diversifying their investment opportunities as Carmen’s company does.  

More than a moment

What else can be done? As the fight for racial justice gains international support, Steve wonders, “Now what? Unless these become more than just conversations. How would you make this movement more than a movement?” One way to do this is by making room for difficult conversations in the workplace. Carmen praises firms who have “created a space that is clearly safe for these people of color to share what their real existence is.” Awakened allies must be ready to truly listen to these honest discussions and take action accordingly.   

What doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done

An efficient way to ensure the fight for social justice in the workplace continues is through active accountability. Carmen proposes “written, published, measured commitment by corporate America to achieve parity” in the workplace. Every sector in the business world faces racial and social inequity that must be quantified, analyzed, and resolved.

In private equity, Carmen has seen firsthand the effect of institutional discrimination on qualified individuals because of their race, gender, or sexual orientation. This has persisted throughout the industry, despite data that says “diverse-owned private equity firms over at least the last 20 years outperformed industry benchmarks.” Yet for some reason, she continues, “women and people of color manage 1.7% of all institutional assets on the planet … It’s egregious.” In the future she hopes to see “more capital focused on diverse managers and … more women of color in the business.”

Paving the road ahead

With action, a path toward a more human and equitable workplace is possible. In a culture where BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) and women often must “generate better results [than their white/male counterparts] to be considered” for the same opportunity, it is time to level the playing field. Carmen urges us all to “judge people truly based on their results … on their work output. And put the best person in the job.” This will only happen once privileged individuals commit to educating themselves and recognizing their own bias. Steve emphasizes the notion that this is now about “whether or not you’re willing to wrestle with some of the things” that BIPOC endure daily, and what you as an ally are willing to do to change that. 

The path forward is a long and difficult one, but it will be worth it. In answering Steve’s question about her hopes for the future, Carmen beautifully states, “I’d love to see a world where we focus on what unites us more than what makes us different from each other.” Together, we can.   

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About the Author

Sarah Bloznalis

Sarah Bloznalis is a content marketing intern at Workhuman from Upton, Mass. She is a rising senior at University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she is studying management and political science.

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