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A trailblazing human resources manager, Ms. Monica Emerson, standing shoulder to shoulder with Tyrone Taborn, founder of the Women of Color STEM Conference; 2019 Technologist of the Year Dr. Pamela McCauley; Selection Committee member Angela Barbee, and 2018 Technologist of the Year, Donna L. Bell, Ph.D. of the Ford Motor Company at the 2019 Women of Color STEM Conference in Detroit, Michigan.

There’s no doubt about it, Ms. Emerson has a platform  and a voice. No stranger to progressive policies and programs, Emerson has supported diversity in the auto industry, and multicultural events like the Women of Color STEM Conference. Emerson has acted as  National Chair of the Women of Color  (WOC) STEM Alumnae organization for more than a decade. She’s been attending the event for twice as long.

This year, she will preside over a hybrid event, helping to combine in-person WOC STEM seminars, workshops, career fairs, and award shows, with a more expanded online offering.

On Episode 4 of High-Tech Sunday, which will be released Sunday, July 19, Emerson spoke about her faith, passion for the annual Women of Color STEM Conference, and the barriers that Black women face in these challenging times.

Twenty years on, after retiring from her corporate position, and serving as the first-ever diversity officer in the Department of the Navy, Emerson founded Inclusive Performance Solutions, a multi-services human resources consultancy firm. Emerson has helped Navy and Marine Corps officers as well as federal Senior Executive Service with guidance and training for diversity and inclusion leaders and practitioners. Dr. Taborn is one of Emerson’s champions. There are countless photos of them taken at WOC STEM conferences past.

Below are a few excerpts from Emerson’s comments on the podcast featuring the impact of COVID-19, social, cultural, and economic barriers for women of color, and what she’s doing to help women Reset and Rise, the theme of the 2020 Women of Color STEM Conference.

“Very often we talk about the challenges that women face in general, but we don’t often zero in on the challenges that are specific to Black women in our society. One of the things that we know is that 4 out 5 Black women (80%) are breadwinners. At least 50% are raising families on their own. That means that they shoulder the primary or the sole responsibility of the household. Bringing in the financial resources, and ensuring that the needs of the children in that family are met, including their social and emotional needs. And in this environment, keeping them safe and healthy, which is extra ordinarily challenging. Because they are doing it alone without a partner adds an additional burden.

“Also, Black women tend to be in jobs that are not high paying. Relative to STEM professions in general, they tend to be underrepresented. Which is one of the reasons I have been a supporter of the Women of Color STEM Conference for so many years. In fact, since its inception. But the fact still remains that Black women are among the lowest-paid in our society. What that means is many of find themselves in housing conditions, and their children in schools that are under-served and under supported. Again, it’s a cycle that unless additional attention and resources are applied, the situation will have a tendency to perpetuate.

Top needs: Championing Black Women

“We need to continue to make these facts known. Those of us who have a platform, those of us who have a voice, whether in media, government, corporations, or social organizations, we need to speak out. We need to ensure that where governments are able to do so, that they get money and resources to federal programs. We know the loss of jobs is going to exacerbate these conditions in our Black community. The forecast of job losses, businesses shuttering and the likelihood of them not coming back in our communities is tremendous. We need federal dollars to continue to be channeled into Black communities.

“We need to ensure that we raise our voices, talk to our representatives, senators and Congressional leaders, about continuing federal resources for unemployment and rent so we don’t see women in situations where they are being evicted. These are dire situations, so we need to speak out. We need corporations to speak out as well. And to use their voices and advocacy. This nation has the financial resources to bolster, not just Black women in dire needs.

“Where women are working, I think it is incumbent upon corporate leaders, CEOs, human resources professionals, and chief diversity officers, to take a look at wage structures and address some of the pay disparities and pay gaps that exist between Black women and other workers. We need to look at ways to close those gaps. We have to do more. We need to use our clout to both highlight the problem and bring forward solutions to correct them.

“My journey has not always been an easy one. In fact, when I sometimes enjoy the company of my sisters one of our favorite songs is the Rough Side of the Mountain”, (written by Rev. F.C. Barnes):

I’m comin’ up on the rough side of the mountain,
I must hold to God, His powerful hand.
I’m comin’ up on the rough side of the mountain,
I’m doin’ my best to make it in.

I’m comin’ up Lord, although my burdens
sometime they press me down,
but if I can only keep this faith
I’ll have strength just to run this race;
I’m lookin’ for my starry crown.

“In my lifetime, I know that it’s only by the grace of God that I have been able to overcome many challenges. About eighteen years ago, I lost my husband to an untimely death. Prior to a very long and extended period of illness. At that time, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to make it myself. It’s one of those curve balls that you don’t expect to have come at you. Very early on, my mother, who was always a praying woman, introduced us to prayer. That’s how I was able to get through.

“One of the things that the Bible teaches us is not to worry about tomorrow. That the day has enough trouble in it, for today. That if we believe and trust in the Lord, he will take care of us. The Bible also tells us that he won’t put anymore on us than we can bear. Another scripture that is repeated over and over is ‘I am with you, and I am with always.’ So, I think that spirituality helped to get me through very tough times. And that’s not uncommon for a lot of Black women, who find themselves faced with adversity in their lives. And many far greater than my own. Although I lost my husband, I had the benefit of support from family and friends.

“In fact, the Career Communications Group network was a source of support and friendship. I remember returning to work after a few days when my husband passed. And I was told I had a visitor in the lobby. It was the Chairman and CEO of Career Communications Group, Tyrone Taborn. He had flown in from Baltimore because he’d learned of my husband’s passing and wanted to express his sincere condolences. And to let me know that they were there for me. I was touched by that. Because he could have just as easily sent a card or a bouquet, but he came personally. That meant a lot. Because when people show up and they are there for you, it leaves an everlasting impression and also inspires you to do that for other people. To pay it forward.

Closing the gaps

“Our young girls have so much talent and are so brilliant that with just a small amount of support, service, encouragement, and mentoring, they can do so much. It’s amazing how far they have come, with so little support. I think it speaks to the resilience of their soul. Oftentimes, they have come through educational school systems that have not had the best resources. That have not had the technology, textbooks, supportive teachers, counselors, or some of the resources that can be found in other places. Yet, somehow they have made it. Oftentimes they find these resources through their churches or other institutions outside the school system.

“They come to the Women of Color STEM Conference and they are encouraged to meet someone who looks like them, who is an engineer, or a scientist, or mathematician. Or a college professor. Or an astronaut, who says and you too can fulfill your dream. You can be this or whatever you want to be. Don’t let anyone deter you, or stand in your way.”

Stay tuned for High-Tech Sunday, Episode 4. Click below for Episodes 1, 2, and 3

High-Tech Sunday, Episode 1 feat. Dr. Mark D. Vaughn
High-Tech Sunday, Episode 2 feat. Dr. Pamela McCauley
High-Tech Sunday, Episode 3 feat. Jem Pagan

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