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Permission to Speak

Permission to Speak

It finally happened. A very well-meaning, dedicated, white female executive who lives breathes, and sleeps diversity, got an appointment for me with a decision-maker at her company. 

For more than three years she has worked tirelessly to get me and others in the door. I met Mr. Decision-Maker for lunch and it was on like popcorn! He had read my proposal from cover to cover, called our references, and I knew I was walking out with the deal.  

And then…

When the lunch was almost over he asked, ”Which of the presidential candidates do you like?” Oh, no you didn’t! I am not falling for that. If you think I am going to discuss presidential politics and sabotage this contract, hell will freeze over first! So I replied, “I don’t really follow it that much right now. I am waiting for things to settle down.” He knew I was lying, so he continued on with, “You know, I wouldn’t vote for Donald Trump, but I do agree with some of the things he is saying.”  

Lord Jesus, now I am levitating. I’m still not going to take the bait. But before I could change the subject he came at me again. “Why do you people hate Donald Trump so much?”

I took a breath and responded, “I don’t know him personally, but I would find it hard to support someone who called Rosie O’Donnell a fat pig, disrespected Megan Kelly, picked on the disabled, and rants and raves against my MuslimAmerican brothers and sisters.”  

He didn’t miss a beat, asking, “Why do you call yourselves Muslim Americans and black Americans. Why can’t you just be Americans?” Now I know I’ve got to get up out of there before I clock him, so I pulled what every woman can, no matter the race, age or circumstance. I say, “Excuse me, but I have to go to the ladies’ room.” 

I ran to the ladies’ room, called my assistant, and told her to call me in three minutes and follow my lead. I should have won an Academy Award for faking my daughter’s stomach ache that required me to leave immediately to pick her up. We shook hands and I ran to my car.

I called my female executive friend that night and told her the story. She replied, “I thought you were the one business I could get through!” She continued, “He disrespects our CEO’s vision and personally sabotaged a minority company we did business with. He is a nightmare.” We spoke from the heart.

The current political climate of say anything, curse out loud and beat up on women has spilled over into the last bastion of civility, corporate America. It has given those who thought their company was too focused on diversity and inclusion permission to speak and start acting out in ways that used to be unimaginable.

My female executive resigned. She wrote in her letter that she sent to a few close friends that while she remains committed to diverse initiatives and was proud of the work she did, without the right budget, staff and backing from the E-team, little could be done to really change things. She was tired of fighting and ready to move on. She landed well.

One week later, Mr. Decision-Maker called. He wanted me to know how impressed he was, and that he was now ready to do business. I regretted to inform him that we had grown so fast that we could no longer handle any additional business at this time. He understood and asked me to keep in touch.

Ten years ago, I would have never turned down his business. I would have armored up and pushed down my feelings. Ten years ago, no one would have asked me to publicly explain why I call myself a black American in my first client meeting.

I reminded myself that I started this company so I could one day be the decision-maker and determine with whom I would do business.

Things change, people move on and I had to admit to myself, I am tired of fighting, too.  


I am Dunn Talking

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