Every month, Chief features a personal narrative from one of our incredible members. We are especially focused on elevating the voices of members who identify as Black, a person of color, or LGBTQIA+. This week, we hear from Chief New York Founding Member Sarah Levin Goodstine, Chief Administrative Officer at Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) and Board Member of The Dinner Party, formerly SVP of Operations and Strategy for the ASPCA and employment litigation and counseling attorney at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP. Sarah is a proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community.

There's no question that my career decisions and trajectory have been shaped by the most important influence in my life: my mom. She was a single mother and a doctor, working at the Veteran's Administration. In her work, she observed that female vets were not getting the care that they needed, specifically regarding women's health. She made it her goal to begin a program for women in the VA, and notwithstanding heavy doses of resistance, she succeeded.

My mom's fearlessness, resilience, and fierce commitment to advocating for each patient's needs and rights were incredibly influential. I chose to begin my professional career as an attorney, inspired by the example my mom set of righting wrongs and doing everything it takes to help others.

Initially, I gravitated towards employment law, in large part because I was compelled by the interaction of human behavior and business. In my practice, I counseled clients to help resolve complex workplace disputes, and through this work witnessed firsthand how distracting and resource-draining these conflicts can be. At the center of these conflicts I observed patterns of miscommunication, distrust and covering. My own personal experience reinforced my professional observations. I began working at a time when being openly LGBTQ at work was not the norm, and in some cases, not welcome. My experiences ran the gamut from not asking to outright rejection or exclusion. As a result, like many others, I hid my identity and conformed, and experienced the toll this takes on building the trust required to form thriving connections that advance careers.

My professional and personal experiences combined to form my passionate conviction that these patterns could be shifted, and (damaging) conflict could be avoided, through a commitment to creating healthy, inclusive work cultures. Ultimately, I chose to leave the practice of law and move to operational leadership because I believe that in the intersection of humans and systems (technology, organizational and otherwise) lies this extraordinary opportunity to create change.

In my view, this is particularly important today as we build a thriving workforce of Millennials and Gen Z'ers, who come to work seeking identity and belonging as a non-negotiable part of the bargain. They're looking for their companies — that is, their managers and leaders — to teach self-care, support continuous learning, cope with grief, foster balance, and help make meaning in order to get the work done. This is true in the mission-driven organizations I've had the privilege to help lead. The fact that the work has an inherent altruistic purpose doesn't alone carry the day.  Team members still expect their companies and their managers to be more to them and for them, including to use their power to change circumstances beyond the mission. It's a serious responsibility and one that many managers and leaders have not trained or prepared to take on. In my own experience, and maybe for others, making this leap is particularly difficult after a professional foundation of compartmentalizing one's own identities and seeing vulnerability as a weakness rather than as a fundamental ingredient of transformational change.

I think the combined impact of this shift in employees' expectations and needs, the well-established evidence that failure to diversify leads to corporate underperformance, the broadcast brutal murder of George Floyd, and the end of denial of systemic racism, put front and center the obligation of companies to take meaningful action to proactively make change. The bottom line is that it's time to move beyond the DEI programs of the 2010s and transcend the goal of perspective gathering to ensure representation of people of color and other minorities at all levels of an organization.

I joined Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) in June to be a part of this change. At SEO, we have an eight-year college access, prep and success program for disadvantaged BIPOC students, and career programs to recruit and prepare hundreds of BIPOC college students each year for internships and jobs in finance, tech, law, and real estate. Our goal is to close the educational and economic opportunity gaps (including the wealth gap) and create a more equitable society where people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds and marginalized or disadvantaged communities are represented at every level, including the uppermost strata where decisions are made that affect the welfare of all people. Building on our career entry strategies, we've recently formed a Leadership Institute, where our goal is to partner with major corporations to drive advancement and mobility of BIPOC professionals, leveraging our network of 14,000 alums.

Partnering with an organization like SEO (by mentoring, providing internships, or financial support) is one way to commit to impactful and immediate action. But it doesn't eliminate the need, particularly for individuals who identify as white, to champion real changes that relate to critical business decisions (and not just HR processes). Maybe that means proposing a strategy of reallocation to Black-owned businesses in a supply chain, or rethinking expansion strategy to build corporate presence in underserved communities, or prioritizing the hard work to build a culture where honest feedback on the impact of our words or design of our programs is welcomed.

Whatever the idea, as my mom taught me, being in a position to never give up on change is a privilege and a responsibility, and I am grateful every day to do whatever it takes.