Walking the Talk
The brutal murder of George Floyd gripped the nation and specifically the attention of white America in 2020, which led to countless written corporate statements of commitments and support. In her opinion, it was one of thousands of ongoing unjust murders of Black men and women — except this time it was on film, during a pandemic, where everyone was actually watching. To Valentino and many others, many of the statements were reactive and optical in nature, and sparse action was reflected.
Following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, RTI’s Executive Leadership Team (ELT) formed a partnership with RTI’s BERG to inform the institute’s path forward. The resulting public ELT Commitments included ELT participation in a racial ally training led by Valentino and Jane Allen, a senior manager of public health at RTI.
After the training, each participant was responsible for creating an action plan for continuing the work, one of which included partnering with Valentino and Allen to host the same training at another professional organization — with a collective responsibility for approximately 1 million people worldwide. That session inspired another training for a group of CEOs with an even larger reach.
“The public commitments of RTI’s ELT show that we are truly ‘walking the talk.’ You can only imagine the reach of these ally trainings and I cannot imagine an individual going through it without being impacted.”
A Vision for the Future
Valentino shares that even after living through hardships and setbacks, and witnessing and experiencing the effects of systemic racism, she feels extremely hopeful for the future because race is a social construct — it only exists because it has been allowed to exist.
“Imagine what would happen if we dismantled the systemic racism that blocks the success of Black people and allows microaggressions in the workplace to exist,” said Valentino. “What would be the transformation of our workplace if we allowed Black people to bring their magnificence and innovation to an organization without experiencing systemic racism?”
Valentino’s future vision for RTI, and all organizations, places a strong emphasis on connecting those benefits with the strategy of an organization. This looks like having leaders and employee populations who represent the demographic of the location they exist in as well as the populations they serve.
“The business case for diversity and the supporting research show that diverse teams perform better, produce higher levels of innovation, and improve the bottom line,” Valentino shared. “Furthermore, history shows that removing systemic barriers for Black people benefits all populations.”
She sees a world where psychological safety, inclusion and belonging are part and parcel of how organizations function, thereby eliciting the best possible outcomes from and for their employees. A world where racism has been eliminated, allowing Black people and other people of color to bring their whole selves, including their unique problem-solving perspectives that stem from their backgrounds and experience, to work, thereby enabling RTI to advance its mission.
To Valentino it is “a world where we are no longer talking about race, but rather allocating all our precious energy and capability to our expanded humanity, allowing us to bring a deeper level of commitment and excellence to the actual work we are here to do.”
“Racism affects our collective humanity,” she shared. “We cannot live our mission at RTI of improving the human condition while racism exists.”