As protests and the fight for racial equality continues to sweep the United States, the term “Business as usual” is beginning to look a bit different these days. The tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and several other innocent victims of police brutality have truly shaken the entire nation to its core. It’s in these times of pain, anger, and frustration, that millions of people; primarily people of color have chosen to speak up about the truth and fight for what’s right.
An article from Harvard Business Review states “Speaking up in this way is risky, but studies beyond the realm of conversations about race have shown that it is also vitally important. It’s key to our individual and collective well-being, learning, and ultimately organizational performance.” Diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives are now being sought out by most businesses worldwide. Concerned employees and business leaders who want to make a change in their organizations are finding ways to better promote diversity within their own establishment in order to create an impactful shift to a new way of life.
AMA New Jersey’s mission is as follows: “Our mission is to serve as a forum that connects markets from all industries and professions. We use our platform to foster knowledge sharing, provide resources, tools, and training, and support marketing practices and thought leadership within our local community.” The organization continues to do this for the community, its contributors, and its volunteers. New initiatives have been planned for AMA New Jersey and in 2020, the organization plans to incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives on a regular basis to the community and its members as well. 2020 has been a year of new beginnings and as of July 1st, AMA New Jersey is thrilled to welcome Kendra Clarke, the organization’s first female black president. Astonishingly, in 76 years there have only been two presidents of the chapter who are people of color. Kendra formerly held the role of President-Elect since January 2020. In this role, Kendra shadowed the chapter’s previous President to learn chapter management, strategy planning, and event planning. This is truly a worthwhile honor and accomplishment for Kendra and we had the pleasure of interviewing her about her new role.
1. Can you tell us about yourself and your journey with AMA New Jersey?
Sure! I am someone who always strives for personal and professional growth. I am also passionate about helping others reach their goals. It’s exciting and inspiring for me to watch the success stories of people I know. Some of the skills that I have developed that I am most proud of are my resourcefulness, writing capabilities, and ability to connect with others. I love the art of storytelling, and a fun fact about myself is that before the pandemic, I took salsa classes and even performed in a show once.
I work at Rutgers Business School as a Web Content Strategist on our Communications and Marketing team. I am also a double alumnus of the program with an MBA in Marketing and Supply Chain Management.
My journey with AMA New Jersey started in February 2018 when I attended their annual Career Connections event. Like many who attend our events and join our membership, I was transitioning into marketing and was looking for somewhere I could go to get guidance and support. I heard of AMA a few years prior but never tried to get involved. I also knew I wanted to build my skills, so when I found out that the organization had volunteer opportunities, I was very excited.
I was recruited to the team by then President, Michele Davis, and I’ve been a volunteer ever since. I started as a volunteer on our Communications Committee and moved into an AVP role. My most recent position before becoming President was the Executive Vice President of Operations and Strategy, where I was responsible for creating policies and workflows to help our team run more efficiently. The best part about being a part of this organization and volunteering are the people I get to work and interact with.
2. How does it feel to be the first female black president of the organization?
On one side, I am incredibly honored and thrilled to not only become President but the first black female President in our chapter’s history. To be honest, I knew that I wanted to one day become President of this organization within the first few months that I joined, so this is something that I was working towards from the beginning. On the other side, it’s a little disappointing that in our 76-year history, we have only had two presidents of color. Talib Morgan was the first black President from 2015-2016. It’s strange to think that just by being black and female, you can still be making history as ‘the first’ in 2020. I don’t say that to downplay this accomplishment because I am incredibly proud of it, but it is a very odd feeling.
3. What are a few ways you feel businesses can cultivate a workplace that inspires more diversity and inclusion?
I’ve had several conversations over the past few months with different people from all walks of life about this topic, and one common theme is that it needs to start with leadership. It is the responsibility of leaders in our organizations, communities, and corporations to set the example and create environments that are intentionally inclusive and allow people to bring their whole selves to work.
It is also essential to have those complex and difficult conversations with your employees and to let them know that having those conversations is alright. I think the mistake that we make as business leaders and organizations is that we expect people to separate their personal and work lives to an extreme. ‘It’s not okay to bring your personal situations with you to work, and you need to grin and bear it to make it through the day.’ That is not realistic. I can’t just turn off my blackness, go to work, and pretend that the things that directly affect me because of my race and gender aren’t there.
We can and should be doing so many things in our workplaces, but one thing we should not do is stop trying. We will make mistakes, and it will be challenging, but we need to continue to push for DEI initiatives that are positively effective, impactful, and sustainable in our organizations.
4. How do you feel AMA can support marketers in efforts around diversity, equity, and inclusion?
I’ve been a part of AMA New Jersey for two years, and one of the things that I am aware of, as a leader and an individual, is that we must do better. We have not had a targeted effort towards DEI efforts, and that is something that must be intentional. No organization or company should be complacent and think that things like this will happen organically.
Therefore, AMA New Jersey is incorporating DEI initiatives into our strategic plan for the year. This includes having more diverse representation across our volunteer board, sponsorships, and programming, evaluating our processes to see where there might be potential barriers to access, and actively creating inclusive environments for anyone who interacts with our organization. More importantly, we are here to support the marketing community by providing resources and using our platform to help educate and empower people in their efforts to change their areas of influence. In this vein, we will be hosting an open forum where anyone who wants to attend can share their thoughts, concerns, and ideas on how we can support you in your goals and initiatives around DEI. We know that our community’s voices are powerful and empowering, and we invite anyone interested in contributing to the conversation to join us.
We invite you to engage in conversation with our volunteer board members, and other community members, and share your ideas on how AMA New Jersey can support your efforts to learn, grow, and make a change in your spheres of influence. Please join us on August 13th at 12:00 PM for a meaningful conversation.
As Kendra likes to say, “We have a duty to ourselves and our community to be better, and we can by taking it one step at a time.”
Author: Laci Johnson