The smallest decisions

Considering the stresses of the pandemic, sheltering in place, a reckoning of racial injustice and everything that comes with these unprecedented events, it feels more than a little good to hear some positive news. Last week the Supreme Court delivered a major victory to LBGTQ employees, and last Thursday they ruled that the current administration may not immediately proceed with its plan to end a program protecting about 700,000 young immigrants—known as Dreamers—from deportation.

These hopeful events lead me to express what I’m grateful for, and to consider my responsibility to give back.

Prior to Monday’s decision, workers in more than half the states could be fired for being gay, bisexual or transgender. It’s hard for me to even imagine that: my sole workplace for more than 30 years has been Grafik.  While a young designer, I came out as a gay man to my “work family.” As time went on, I was asked to become a partner of the firm. While on vacation in South Africa, I was proposed to and married my husband (fabulous destination wedding story for another time!). Upon my return, there were hugs from all the staff, and a 10×10’ congratulatory scrim was hanging at my desk. I’m one of the lucky ones.

I share this today because I want to thank everyone who worked tirelessly to change minds and enact important laws that granted me the privileges I’ve been able to enjoy, that have so enriched my life.

That example of Grafik’s inclusive history leads me to now question if I, as a leader, am doing all I can. Is it enough to be a group of individuals who are inclusive and enlightened, or do we need, as a company, to codify this spirit? Are we doing all we can? To that end, we’ve formed a diversity and inclusion committee to examine how we operate and where we can improve. One of the many articles I’ve read recently stressed the importance of thinking about an instance where you could have done better, been more inclusive. I’ve shared the example below with our team; I’d love to hear your stories when we meet as a larger group.

A while back, a young and talented student was referred to me for an internship. Her recommendation was glowing, and I was more than eager to view her portfolio website. I began to review her work and felt it was, well—okay. I declined to invite her in for an interview. My mindset at that time was we’re all very busy, on deadlines, and this candidate may require more mentoring time than we can afford.

I had lost track of the real purpose of internships. I saw raw talent; I made that decision based on what SHE could offer US, instead of what WE could offer HER. And this tells me it’s time to rethink what I may have considered as “the smallest of decisions” if today I’m serious about re-evaluating my mindset as a leader of a firm that’s done so much for me.

There’s a costly barrier of entry into our profession. You need a computer—a not inexpensive Mac. You’ll need Adobe Creative Suite and other programs. You’ll need access to fonts, maybe a scanner and printer, or expensive Pantone ink books. And if you want to attend a good college program, that’s another story. This is why Grafik has been a long supporter of the AIGA Continuum Fund championed by our founding partner Judy Kirpich and Mila Arrisueño, a senior art director at Grafik. The Continuum Fund provides scholarship opportunities to promising young talent.

I realize I was very privileged to have found Grafik when I did, and to have had the opportunity to contribute to our success and culture. But we don’t stop learning, folks. I know that as an individual I can give more, do more. (So can you.) (So can we all.)

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