What AVIA Stands For
Linda Finkel, President, AVIA
AVIA's Black Employee Resource Group
First quarter January 2020 started off like any other year. We arrived back to our office from a holiday respite ready to launch into a fresh year of stretch goals and objectives.
Seventy-three days into the new year, AVIA, like every other business, saw its world turn upside down. The 20/20 vision we eagerly came into the year with quickly became impaired.
Office-based cultures were upended by the pandemic. Our up-and-go lifestyles we took for granted were seized upon with social isolation, social distancing, and movement restrictions. Wardrobes were augmented by mandates for facial coverings in hopes to save lives. “Work from home” intertwined with “learn from home” created complex and challenging environments for working parents.
The pandemic set forth a societal leveling for an even longer-standing and seemingly incurable second virus to fully express itself – racism.
Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. Rayshard Brooks. George Floyd. Elijah McClain. Names that filled our airwaves, our TV screens, and our social media platforms. All, victims of a virus that since our nation’s founding, has laid waste to countless Black Americans.
Living trapped and boxed in at the hands of COVID-19 without the normal social and work escapes to distract us, coupled with a regulatory and governmental infrastructure ill-prepared to manage a global pandemic, racism became the flint sparking a national wildfire.
Most of corporate America went to its usual arsenal in response to inflections in our nation’s history of racial discord. The perfunctory PR responses immediately shot out. Diversity and inclusivity trainings skyrocketed. Black Lives Matter became a distinct and required marketing slogan. All the boxes were checked. Corporate America reminded its consumers–and workforce—that they see them as human.
But for a countless number of Americans, Black and non-Black alike, and for a growing number of corporate institutions, 2020 would be a pivotal shift. Entering 2021, Breonna, George, unconscious/implicit bias, systemic racism, and Black Lives Matter are words and terms that define a lexicon forever part of both our societal and corporate agendas going forward.
Corporate America’s addiction to quickly rebounding to “business as usual” is not settling well with a large number of humans who make up the workforce. The summer race riots, the contentious fall elections, and historically disturbing government transition over the winter have only served to show that business can no longer be usual.
What was true for decades prior to 2020, is now shaping where we go from here.
We no longer hang up our ethnicity, color, sexual orientation, or gender at the door Monday to Friday. We bring our whole selves to our offices, whether virtual and live, just like we bring our laptops and our respective “geniuses.”
Since day one of recognizing COVID-19 as a national and global pandemic, AVIA responded with vigor. We have worked fully virtually since the first day we were mandated to transition from our downtown Chicago office.
We came together as a team and achieved a “new normal” to serve our AVIA Member Network and deliver on our mission to accelerate digital transformation in healthcare. We collectively entered uncharted waters, without support of any crystal ball that could show us if we would be successful in our endeavors. Our collective determination made it happen.
AVIA brought that same vigor to the table in response to the tragic death of George Floyd. Instead of leaping to our PR toolkit and immediately bringing about a well-written statement of solidarity and unity to America and Black Americans, we sat in the discomfort of the moment and accepted the pain as it flowed in.
We as the AVIA Black community came to terms with the stark reality that our names could be substituted for the names that now defined the summer of discontent. As a company, we came together to understand that “business as usual” has been a contributor to sustaining racial prejudice, and unless we re-engineer it down to its core, it will continue to propagate like an uncontrolled virus.
We emerged out of that introspective period with a unified statement of commitment – What AVIA Stands For. But what are words on paper without actions? And how do you get to actions without truly understanding why you are acting on them and how you unconsciously contribute to the problem?
That introspection and AVIA Stands For statement were the beginning of a journey with no clear destination. Since George’s death, we have come together as a full team, as small groups, as Black and non-Black, as BIPOC and non-BIPOC to learn, to understand, to discuss, and to challenge our true commitment.
Top-down, executive leadership and management are working through its own introspection, responsibilities, and accountabilities. Bottom-up, team members are taking an active role in learning, and setting goals/objectives for how AVIA honors its commitment to the destination that it truly can be. And at some point, in the middle, we will craft a unified, 5-year vision for how we will bring it all to reality, paced alongside our corporate operational and financial realities and commitments.
We are the Black community of AVIA. Our lives have forever been changed by 2020. Our family’s lives have been changed by 2020. Our perceptions on corporate America have been changed by 2020. Our direction in 2021 is one with intent.
This Black History Month is different than any other Black History Month since its creation at Kent State University in 1969, because corporate America can no longer take a superficial knee in response to systemic racism.
We must all start doing the hard work to make business no longer “usual.” We must come to terms that it will take more than training programs, chief diversity officers, seminars, readings, and podcasts. It’s all of that plus the individual commitment and honest look inside ourselves, across our fellow team member desks/laptop screens, and externally to our clients, vendors and communities to acknowledge that achieving true diversity, inclusivity, equity, and belonging is more than words on paper.