We Who Serve

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.keeptheoathbuttonthumb

These are the words that millions of Americans take when they devote themselves to public service. I’ve had the opportunity to recite this oath twice. I do not take these words lightly, nor do the majority of the people who make a choice to serve this country.

In my career over the last 15 years, I have worked with thousands of federal leaders at all levels and across agencies. I have never met a single solitary federal employee in my work who doesn’t care about the mission of her/his office and agency, who doesn’t take very seriously their role in serving all American citizens. These folks are dedicated individuals who feel a deep sense of connection and responsibility to serve U.S. citizens.

There is the manager in the budgeting office of the National Institute of Health who teared up sharing how NIH saved her friend’s daughter who was diagnosed with leukemia.

There is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) official who felt a deep sense of pride because she ensured that the public had transparency into how the USDA inspects food to ensure the safety and health of Americans.

There is the Foreign Service Institute Transition Center Director and his staff who fought for years to implement resilience training and and support for civil and foreign service officers suffering from post-traumatic stress.

There is the project manager at the Environmental Protection Agency who has made it her life’s work to ensure that the U.S. region to which she is assigned has clean air and drinking water.

There is the Department of Defense officer who teaches others about Islam and breaks down stereotypes and untruths among soldiers to ensure they have a deeper cultural understanding of the regions to which they are deployed.

And so many more.

Often when I engage with friends and family outside Washington, they tell me about the bubble we live in here. They tell me we here in Washington are way too interested in our jobs and what we do, that we are too intense in how we talk about our work, our society, our government. And they are right. We are intense. We do care to an almost obsessive degree about our work. Because we took an oath. We have answered a calling to serve the American people.

Tomorrow, the world watches the next U.S. president recite his oath to become the highest ranking public servant in our land. I hope he takes it as seriously as the millions of us who have recited our oath to serve.


Listening to the Whisper

On Saturday, over 700,000 people will be marching in 386 countries around the world as part of the Women’s March on Washington. I will be one of the many in this ocean of people who are committed to valuing our humanity, to promoting peace and equality for all, regardless of gender, race, color, creed, or sexual orientation.

Yesterday, I took my family to the MLK Memorial. As we strolled around the memorial, I took note of the diversity of the crowd. People from multiple generations, races, and nations were taking pictures by the quotes that had special meaning to them. Children touched the words and asked their parents, “what does this mean?” Parents explained the simple message of a man who believed that regardless of what we look like, we can answer to the higher calling of seeing the light and humanity in others and walk side by side as brothers and sisters, free of hate and fear of one another. His words, carved into the stone on the wall surrounding the memorial, brought me to tears. They carry even more weight now as we look at the cfullsizerenderoming years.

There’s a picture that I dug up in an old photo album that has always given me a laugh, but also has consistently through my life whispered to me of my purpose on this earth. I was a year old and my parents took me to a protest. Their teacher’s union was on strike because of disparities in wages for educators who gave so much of themselves tirelessly to the pursuit of preparing the next generation.

In the photo, I’m sitting in my stroller with my little sunhat, with my chubby face lit up in a big grin, and a huge sign propped against me that says, “We Demand Equity.” The photo was obviously taken at the time because it was cute and humorous.  And yet, I have returned to that photo over and over through the years. It was like the “me” from the future was reaching back through that photo and saying, “this is more than just a funny family picture. This is who you are. This is what you are meant to do.”

Because of that whisper, I have a rainbow flag waving gently in front of my house. I have a sign in my yard that says, “Hate has no home here” in multiple languages.

Because of that whisper, I read my children stories of men and women who have been strong in the face of adversity, who didn’t listen to those who told them what they couldn’t do, who achieved great things in spite of harsh and unfair treatment.

Because of that whisper, I have devoted my career to researching and teaching others of the price of prejudice on our society, and the opportunities we can uncover when we seek to understand and value others who don’t look or act like us.

Because of that whisper, I will march alongside men and women who share my dream that we as humans are capable of building a world where everyone truly does have equal opportunity for a healthy, happy, fulfilling life. Where women’s rights are human rights. Where black lives matter. Where love is love. Where people can practice their faith without fear of abuse.

Because of that whisper, I will follow in the words of Dr. King:

“Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a better person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.”

So this is Christmas


polish_christmas_bulbWigilia (Vig-eel-yah), which translates to “vigil” or “eve,” is a traditional Polish Christmas Eve celebration to commemorate the birth of Christ.  Families have a large feast and then attend Midnight mass.

It was also an excuse for all the grown ups to be able to get the madness of opening gifts over with on Christmas Eve and sleep in on Christmas morning.

The beautiful tradition to celebrate the birth of Jesus went down like this in our family: Grandma, my mom and aunts would make traditional dishes (pierogi, gołabki) while the kids would be unleashed into the wild to run on the train tracks behind my grandparents’ house and terrorize the next door neighbor’s pet, a talking crow named Joe. (I am not making that up, he talked).

Dinnertime would arrive, and we would all gather together to receive and share our pieces of opłatek, a Christmas wafer symbolizing the breaking of bread.  We would go to each person in the family with our wafer, say “Merry Christmas,” break off a piece of the other person’s wafer to eat, and choke down the dry wafers tasted like cardboard.

Then all the adults would sit in the dining room while we kids congregated in the kitchen with my dad, who often got designated to manage the kids’ table. Our goal during that meal was to drive my father to such a point of distraction that he would finally pound the table and scream, “Jesus Christ, that’s ENOUGH!” at which point we would all silently exchange half-frightened, half-triumphant glances.  Pops would just sigh and go get another beer from the garage.

After dinner the kids would  fidget while the parents cleaned up the kitchen. We were told we had to wait because Santa was going to arrive any minute to deliver our gifts. I would bide my time rooting around the living room until I’d found where Grandma had hidden her homemade chocolates and stuff as many in my mouth as possible before getting caught.

Then Santa (who was ably played by my Uncle Gene or one of his siblings, including his sister one year) would “ho-ho-ho” into the house and we would all clamor down to my grandparents’ basement to see the big guy himself. Santa would hang for a few, and then tell us he had to get back to delivering gifts to the worlds’ non-Polish children. We gleefully watched Santa exit, realizing that the month of having to be well behaved was over and we could unleash the pent up naughtiness all at once.

At that point, we transformed into rabid animals. We descended on the tree and started madly grabbing at presents with our names on the labels. In seconds, the basement was a disaster zone of ripped up, discarded bits of wrapping paper, ribbons, and cardboard boxes. We eagerly checked out what other cousins had received to measure who walked away with the best loot.

Then we’d all pile into mini vans to head to church. I loved midnight mass. The cloying scent of incense, the temperature with all those extra people crammed in, the hangover from the overstimulation of opening a bajillion gifts…I would snuggle into my parka and doze while the choir sang celebratory songs of the birth of our lord and savior…and remember for an instant what Christmas is really supposed to be about.

Then I’d go home and cuddle with my 10 new Barbies.


Diary of a Road Warrior


travel_suitcaseSunday 8:00pm

Ok, I checked into my hotel. Seems decent. I’m going to unpack and sit down with my materials to prepare for tomorrow.

This is so good. I’m going to go to bed early, get a full nights’ sleep after two nights of dealing with the teething toddler. I’m going to work out, and eat egg whites and green tea for breakfast. In fact, I’m going to just do a full cleanse this week while I’m here. No wine, no dessert. Just salads and veggies and herbal teas and cucumber infused water…or really just any water. I’m going to meditate and focus on my mental, emotional, spiritual and physical well-being. And no social media…I need a break from Facebook.

Sunday 11:00pm

Been on Facebook for an hour. I have to stop and read my work materials for tomorrow morning. I am bound and determined to be well rested and well prepared for once in my life.

Monday 1:00am

Ok, I’m putting the phone down.


Wait…where is my toothpaste?! I’m too tired to go down to the front desk and ask for any. I’ll just use the hotel-provided mouthwash and get some toothpaste tomorrow.

Monday 8:00am

I meant to get out of bed at 6:30 and work out. Didn’t happen. Ok, definitely tomorrow.

How did I manage to bring 5 pairs of footwear but only 3 pairs of underwear? And where is my damn toothpaste?  I need to start making packing lists. I have to get organized. Never mind. There’s a mall near the meeting site. I can get whatever I need there.

Ok, focus. Since I didn’t read my materials last night I’ll try to skim while I drink my coffee. And eat my egg white frittata. Not the scone. No scones!!  I’m cleansing myself of all carbs, sugars, and alcohol this week.

Monday 5:00pm

Happy Hour!  I will just have one glass of wine to be social. I didn’t drink any last night. And it’s been a hectic day.

Monday 9:30pm

Two glasses of wine and a second helping of shrimp and grits at dinner. Ugh. I’m going to bed now so I can wake up early and work out. I forgot to get toothpaste at CVS but I did drag myself down to the front desk this time and they gave me a couple of toothpaste packets. So I’m good for a couple days.

Tuesday 1:30am

I just watched almost the entire first season of Transparent. This show is addictive. Ok, going to bed. I can still wake up early tomorrow and work out.

Tuesday 8:00am

I went to the gym but it was really tiny and there were only a couple machines and two sweaty guys in there and I wasn’t feeling it. I filled up my water bottle and broke the tray and decided it was a sign that I wasn’t meant to be there. Maybe I’ll go for a run tomorrow.

Tuesday 9:30pm

I had a glass of wine at happy hour, and then another here at the hotel. And they had fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. It was a long work day. I deserved one. Tried to FaceTime but the kids were manic and had no interest in talking to me. Maybe tomorrow.

Wednesday 8:00am

Raining. No running for me. Damn it.

Wednesday 9:30pm

So much for temperance. Two glasses of wine and two cookies tonight. Plus a cup of chocolate covered peanuts this afternoon. And Moose Tracks ice cream at dinner. Oh well. I guess traveling is kind of like vacation…it doesn’t count, right? Wanted to FaceTime the kids but my phone died and I couldn’t find my charger. Poor hubby. I need to remember to buy him something nice.

Speaking of which, I also hit up the mall to stock up on toothpaste and undies and racked up a $200 retail bill on random costume jewelry I didn’t need. And forgot the toothpaste. Maybe I can give some of the necklaces I bought as gifts.

Thursday 9:30pm

I got so many compliments on my new necklace! Guess I can’t give it as a gift now…oops. Maybe one of the other ones.  But I really like those ones.

I had an hour to kill so I ran back to the mall to buy Christmas gifts but instead bought two dresses for myself. I’ve also fallen into the daily routine of two glasses of wine accompanied by two cookies. I lied. There were four cookies consumed. They were small. Smallish.

I have no self control.

Friday 8:30am

Thank goodness I’m going home today. This week was good but I am pretty sure I’ve gained 5 lbs, my kids don’t recognize me, my husband is about to lose his sanity, and my Amex bill is going to be sky high.

I’m going to say not to any additional travel requests for the next six months.

Friday 11:00am

Hey, guess what? I’m going to Bangkok!

Pushing the Boulder Uphill


Last week I had the honor of serving as a facilitator for the first ever White House Diversity & Inclusion in Government Summit, which brought together diversity and inclusion (D&I) leaders from the public and private sectors to share strategies for sustaining inclusion efforts in the federal government in the coming years. The event had been planned for several months, and you can imagine my initial excitement leading up to having this conversation when I’d hoped it would occur during the transition to America’s first woman President, someone who had dedicated herself to equality and social justice, and whom I know from personal experience had advanced diversity and inclusion efforts at the State Department.

Of course, that was not the environment in which the Summit would be taking place, and to be honest I instead went into the event with a feeling of helplessness. I think I speak for many people who care about D&I and who do work in this space when I say that I’ve been feeling like the boulder we have been pushing up hill for so long now is about to roll over us on its way back to the bottom.  So what could we possibly accomplish in one day that would make a difference?

What I found at the Summit gave me hope and a sense of empowerment. Energized and undaunted, my federal colleagues were ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work. We heard from senior government leaders, academic scholars, and private sector executives. The speakers shared stories of great success as well as statistics pointing out the urgency of continuing this work in a meaningful way.

Beth Cobert, Acting Director of the Office of Personnel Management (and my ultimate boss), gave a powerful presentation, saying “we cannot afford to leave talent and resources on the table.”

Among the success stories shared on progress made in diversity and inclusion,

  • In November 2016, the government not only met but exceeded President Obama’s goal of hiring 100,000 people with disabilities into the federal workforce over five years.
  • The Department of Agriculture (USDA) now uses blind applications that take out the names of candidates, which has led to a 50 percent increase in women in the Senior Executive Service. Not only is this an incredible accomplishment, it further underscores the existence of implicit bias in our organizational and social systems.
  • Following President Obama’s Executive Order in 2011 to foster Diversity and Inclusion efforts across every federal agency, the Federal Aviation Administration made a focused effort to diversity its recruitment efforts, resulting in a significant increase in job offers to Latino candidates and women.
  • [this was not shared at the Summit, but I believe is an important and often overlooked fact] As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton advanced policies to protect the rights of LGBTQ employees and U.S. citizens. Because of Clinton’s progressive policies, other agencies, including the Social Security Administration, adopted similar policies to protect the rights of LGBTQ employees.

We were also reminded that there is much to be done and diversity and inclusion efforts must continue to be a priority in our country. Dr. David R. Williams, Professor of African and African American Studies and Sociology at Harvard University and a leading scholar in linking race disparities to health and wellness, shared the following sobering statistics:

  • In 2015, African Americans earned 59 cents for every dollar Whites earned…the same disparity that existed in 1978. For those who argue that racial injustice doesn’t still exist in our country, the facts say otherwise.
  • Dr. Williams further argued that research indicates that high levels of gender and racial diversity lead to greater profitability and success for everyone. Homogeneous organizations are outperformed by diverse organizations that foster inclusive environments. Diverse teams that value inclusion are more innovative and adaptive to change, and experience higher levels of job satisfaction, morale, and engagement.
  • According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of our country will be majority minority by 2044. In fact, the population of children has already become a majority of racial and ethnic minorities, with over 50% of children under the age of 5 being non-White. That is our future workforce. Those are our future leaders. Those are the people who will need to be paying for Medicare and Social Security for the majority White aging population that will be retiring in the coming decades. So when we continue to allow this separatist paradigm, when we don’t question the racist and ethnocentric narrative that pervades our political, business, and social systems, we’re all literally only hurting ourselves.

At the Summit, attendees met in small groups to engage in constructive conversations on the biggest obstacles we face, namely:

  • Sustainability of diversity and inclusion efforts. Many leaders who answer the call to action for D&I efforts have a good deal of support and attention early on, but momentum fades after the initial couple of meetings or trainings, and they find themselves trying to shoulder these complex and time consuming efforts alone, with limited resources.
  • Lack of data to demonstrate return on investment. Often, diversity and inclusion efforts are relegated into the “nice to have” pile. D&I leaders do not have access to critical data points that can help them make the case to their bosses, peers, and employees that D&I is a strategic imperative.
  • Lack of top-down support. Often, leaders who make D&I a priority are people in human capital and human resources functions. They are either tasked by senior leaders to “do diversity” or they take such efforts on because of their dedication to the work. Without concerted, visible effort from the leaders at the top, these initiatives often end up being sidelined.
  • Many D&I leaders don’t have access to individuals who are leading D&I efforts in other agencies or sectors. The dearth of opportunities to share information, best practices, and lessons learned makes it especially challenging for D&I leaders to know where to turn for support.

After acknowledging the challenges, the groups spent the rest of their time collectively identifying promising strategies, including gathering and synthesizing data to make informed policy and procedure decisions related to D&I; embedding D&I into agency strategic plans with specific metrics; and strengthening relationships among agencies and between public and private sector D&I leaders.

One particular message that was clear: relegating D&I efforts only to EEO compliance training is not enough. It’s incumbent on government and private sector leaders to come together, to take a systemic and strategic approach to diversity and inclusion, embedding it into strategic plans, and engaging with elected officials to ensure they keep it a top priority.

Finally, we encouraged one another to not sit idly by, but stand up and demand that diversity and equity remain a priority as we move into the next four years. I think many of us entered the room with the same feeling of powerlessness, a fear that all of the gains we’ve made could be washed away with the stroke of a pen. But we left fired up and ready to get back to work. Make no mistake, we are rolling a boulder uphill, and the higher we get, the more resistance we’re going to feel; that’s the nature of culture change. The Summit reminded me that every time we move that boulder there’s more room behind us for more people to help us push, and if we’re successful in our work we’ll have all the help we need.




Social Change is not for the faint of heart

heart-1356066_1920“Social change is not for the faint of heart.” These words, uttered by my coach during a recent session, have been ringing in my ears over the last few weeks.

For advocates of social justice and equity, this work carries such great meaning, and also often feels like an endless tsunami crashing over our heads. I myself by turns experience anger, fear, pride, exhaustion, determination, and exaltation. There are moments when I feel a deep sense of connection and belonging. There are moments when I feel like an utter failure.  Am I making any difference at all? Is my vision for empathy and harmony just supreme naiveté? Given the last few weeks, I have asked myself that question a lot.

This year has proven over and over again, in such an intense way, that our nation is in desperate need of healing dialogues around our diversity. Every headline that reports the latest instances of hate speech, destruction of property, or violence punches me in the gut. I cannot understand how people can publicly throw insults that demean other human beings, or express unabashed hatred against others because of who they are, or make threats of violence, or actually harm others and receive approval from their leaders for doing so. Even in such diverse regions of our country as New York and Washington, DC, hate crimes have risen in the days following our presidential election.

Ethnocentrism and bigotry are unacceptable, and I will fight until my dying day against hateful, small minded behaviors that cause psychological or physical harm to individuals simply because of where they were born, or their gender, or the color of their skin, or the God to whom they pray, or the people they love.

Yet I also must be cautious that I don’t fall into the trap of lumping anyone who doesn’t share my views as ethnocentric or sexist. I must stop myself from immediately judging and labeling people without trying to understand them and why they think the way they do. This can be a very bitter pill to swallow, and I admit that I struggle with my empathy when it comes to people who practice or support actions that I see as exclusive or biased. I have a hard time considering their experiences, their perspectives, their voices. I make knee-jerk assumptions about their values. I stop listening to understand and only listen to argue, to tell them they are wrong to feel the way they do. In so doing, I am engaging in the exact actions that I train others to regulate.

If I want to foster dialogue, and build institutions and communities that truly value the full diversity of our nation, then I have to suspend my own emotions and judgments about those who see the world differently than I do.

I truly believe the vast majority of us are compassionate humans, and we all want to be heard.  We want our values and beliefs to be acknowledged. And we all have unconscious biases that, often unbeknownst to us, heavily impact our perceptions and actions. We want to feel a sense of security that our individual rights and needs are protected. When we feel that our way of life, our very core beliefs, are being threatened, most of us are going to react with fear, defensiveness, and anger. Our survivor brain kicks into high gear, triggering our “flight-or-fight” mechanism, and we’re no longer acting as rational human beings. We ALL fall victim to these triggers, whether we’re aware of them or not. They impact our ideas, beliefs, and decisions. When these limiting beliefs become our “truth,” it is hard for us to acknowledge any other. And that is a dangerous thing.

That said, my commitment to empathizing and suspending judgment does NOT mean I will sit by quietly when others engage in micro-aggressions. I will speak up, I will stand up to bullying and divisive language. I will do so with the intention of educating others and advocating for those who are being targeted.

That is the balance that many of us need to seek right now: being open and empathetic while actively fighting back against exclusionary behaviors. I can’t abandon hope and I can’t stop doing this work, as painful and frustrating as it is. I have to figure out how to be in this new space. I have to figure out how to walk with others, both those who think as I do and those who oppose my perspectives. I must reinforce my resolve to fight for a country where EVERY human is equally respected.

Call me naïve, call me touchy feely, roll your eyes at me…just don’t ever call me faint of heart.


[However you react to this post, I invite you to comment. I want this to be a conversation. I also respectfully ask that you write comments that contribute to a healthy and respectful dialogue.]


We have a paper trautumn-1649440_1920ee in our kitchen with leaves that each spell out a value. Rosie picks a value each week she
wants to practice. This morning, we talked about why I was upset and how it’s more important than ever that we stay true to our values. She grabbed my hand and drew me to the tree. “I pick this one, Mommy.” The leaf read, ‘solidaridad” (‘solidarity’).
In today’s concession speech, Hillary Clinton said,
“…if we stand together and work together with respect for our differences, strength in our convictions and love for this nation, our best days are still ahead of us.”
I’m not healed yet, nor will I be for quite some time. But I feel a renewed sense of purpose. I’m taking a cue from my so-very-mature four year old to never let go of my values, the values I learned from my multicultural family of immigrants and all the amazing, strong, nasty women who have surrounded me in my life.
[Note: This blog is a diary of my emotions, experiences, and perspectives. Please show respect and don’t respond to this blog post with any political comments. They will be deleted.]