AmpEquity Speaker Series — Mellody Hobson
“You live the life that you want. Every day, you actively choose to live the specific life that you’re living.” — Mellody Hobson
Take a moment to let that sink in. When Mellody Hobson expressed this powerful and inspiring sentiment at the inaugural AmpEquity Speaker Series the room fell silent. Her words give light to the fact that, with the exception of a few, we have the authority to choose the lives and causes that move us. For Hobson, the President of Ariel Investments, this means spending her time as an investor, business leader, pioneer, wife, and mother. She is also a fearless leader in the fight for diversity and inclusion, making her the perfect person to kick-off this series.
The aptly named “AmpEquity” series is a forum to amplify the conversation around workplace equity. Through the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership (EGAL), Dr. Kellie McElhaney brings experts to share their lessons learned and connects students and faculty with the real-life implementation of diversity practices. This series is just one, in a group of efforts, to develop equity-fluent leaders.
During the hour-long discussion, Hobson spoke candidly about her experiences as a leader and a black woman. These components of her identity are intertwined and affect her both in business and in personal environments. She shared her thoughts on the role that advocates can play in the business world through an anecdote about the flack she received for giving an excellent presentation while wearing blue nail polish. One of Hobson’s clients called her director to say he couldn’t remember a moment of the presentation and that her self-expression was a “distraction.” The support that she received from her director after this incident helped to solidify her belief in the importance of strong mentors and advocates.
When Hobson considers mentorship roles herself, she focuses on self-care as an element of those roles. In order to ensure that she is able to give of herself, while considering her own priorities, her motto is to: “Build to scale. If you don’t have time to help one person, find a way to help many at once.” The ability to spread a wide net is especially relevant to Hobson, who sits on the Board at Starbucks and was asked about the recent controversial arrest of two black men at one of its coffee shops. She reiterated the position of the company and their devotion to diversity but also noted that an afternoon off would not be enough to fight inequality. When solving problems, one needs to ask, “Is everyone in the room?”, then work diligently to ensure that they are there to make lasting change that benefits many.
In the pursuit of lasting change, Hobson referenced her daughter, Everest. Even though she’s still a child, Everest is aware of her race and her identity. This makes complete sense, as her mother attempts to shift the conversation about diversity away from being “color blind” to being “color brave” — getting comfortable with the discomfort surrounding race discussions. Through these efforts, Hobson defines a life that she wants for herself and a better future for Everest.