Diana Rosenberger Marches On Chattanooga
|By Diana Rosenberger
On Saturday, January 21, Diana Rosenberger (sustainability manager, Global Sourcing) was one of several thousand citizens that participated in the Women’s March on Chattanooga. This is her story.
In my life, I’ve seen some subtle discrimination against women. Perhaps they weren’t even aware. And I’ve most certainly seen blatant discrimination.
I’m new to Chattanooga. Mary is one of my recent friendships. She invited me to the Women’s March, saying, “My husband is out of town. Do you have anyone we can call in case we get arrested?”
“We are not going to get arrested” I said, quickly dismissing what I hoped was a ridiculous notion.
Would Chattanooga be accepting of our peaceful protest?. How will we be treated? I’m not from here and don’t know the city very well. As we crossed Market Street Bridge, there were still some unexpecting cars on it. I shifted my focus to the drivers who clearly were not intending to be part of the march, and yet were now in the middle of it. I was pleasantly surprised to see more smiles than frowns, rolled-down windows, and waving hands. No arrest warrants, nothing to fear. The city was as inclusive as it was diverse that day.
“From my perspective, Was inequality even still a thing?”
I grew up in a suburb of Washington, DC in the 1980s and 1990s. I was one of the those little white girls holding hands with little black girls and boys that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so famously spoke, and dreamt, about. From my perspective, Was inequality even still a thing?
After college, I was recruited into a national homebuilder’s management training program designed for minorities. What? Am am I really a minority? Sure enough, the homebuilding industry is dominated by white men.
This is when I got my first taste of the double standard.
The management training program, was one of the first programs cut at the onset of the housing crisis. Instead of being laid off, I was asked to manage our design showroom and source interior finishings. I had zero interest in design and a poor eye for color. However, the design center role was always held by a female. I was interested in paying my bills, so I accepted the role.
“Would he still need to speak to my boss if I was a male?”
I initiated a meeting with a potential supplier. When he arrived he said, “Diana, you can review color pallet while I talk pricing with your boss.” Did he really just say that? Would he still need to speak to my boss if I was a male?
In 2012, I left the stagnant homebuilding industry, searching more opportunities for personal and professional growth. Looking back, I wish we had invested more in diverse leadership, not less. If leadership had been inclusive and empowering, could we have minimized the financial devastation we experienced during the recession? Might we have created innovation to disrupt our business and, possibly, the industry? It’s hard to say, but it’s a question worth asking.
I got accepted into an international MBA program comprised of 75 students from 35 different countries. When I told my parents I quit my job and was moving to France for school, I think they had simultaneous heart attacks! My classmates ranged in ages from 24 to 47, and the class was about 30 percent female. We covered all aspects of industry. It was the epitome of diverse. To survive the rigorous program – team-based projects and intense peer review sessions, for example – we had to be inclusive. We grew to trust and respect each other, regardless of our backgrounds, beliefs, or even if we even liked one another.
The program introduced me to new cultures and new perspectives that often challenged my own points-of-view. I remember a conversation with my friend Nessreen about women not having the right to drive a car in her country.
Nessreen is a classy, smart, 31 year-old, single mother to two young children. She moved to France after successfully divorcing her Saudi husband. Women do not have equal rights to men in Saudi Arabia. It is near impossible for a woman to divorce a man. That week, the BBC had been covering Saudi women protesting for the right to drive. “You support the protesters, right?” I asked.
The response of this strong, independent, western-educated, Saudi woman shocked me. “Why do they need to drive?” Nesreen said.
What did she just say? Surely she is a defender of women’s rights. Look at her own struggle!
“I had never considered the other side to this argument. I didn’t even realize that there could be another side.”
I was confused. “If I were to drive, then I’d also have to carry my own groceries,” she said. “What if it is raining?” I’m not following this at all. She proceeded to tell me about the Saudi men who made careers out of being drivers. “What will happen to them?” In Saudi Arabia all women had drivers, even the poor women. Families, neighbors would share the costs and coordinate schedules. “Plus, a driver keeps us safe.” Nessreen concluded.
This was a very humbling moment in my life. I had never considered the other side to this argument. I didn’t even realize that there could be another side. I had so ignorantly made an assumption about the beliefs of this woman sitting in front of me. “Ok,” I said, “but are you really telling me that you don’t think women should have the right to drive?”
She smiled, took a sip of wine and said pointedly, “If they want to drive, let them drive.” As she put her glass down, she laughed “and let them carry their own groceries too.” As we laughed together, I felt the lens through which I see the world change. Seeing things from her perspective didn’t cause me to change my own views, but it did open my eyes to how deeply our experiences shape us.
I thought about these experiences as I made the two mile march through Chattanooga. I reflected on how I’ve personally thrived in diverse, inclusive environments. In contrast, I’ve ultimately suffocated in those that were not. I remembered how after my time in Europe, my personal and professional journey brought me to Shaw, an organization that recognizes the strength achievable through diversity and inclusive leadership.
I marched for equal rights in the workforce, and I marched because to this day women still cannot legally drive in Saudi Arabia. I don’t believe in double standards. I believe in equal rights for all human beings at Shaw, in the United States, and across the globe.