NORMAL — The first step to address racial and ethnic bias in American society is to look in the mirror.
"All of us have biases affecting our decision-making," said Di Ann Sanchez, a human resources professional recognized for her efforts to diversify the workforce. "We have to realize our own biases."
Sanchez, who amped up diversity training as a vice president at American Airlines following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, spoke with The Pantagraph on Tuesday evening before her keynote address during the YWCA McLean County's 29th annual Women of Distinction Awards Banquet.
More than 500 people attended the event at the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Normal that included the naming of eight new Women of Distinction.
Sanchez, who has more than 30 years of human resources experience with several major employers, is the founder and president of DAS HR Consulting, a human resources firm based in Arlington, Texas.
People have biases because of how they were raised, because of the people around them or because of major life events such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Sanchez said.
"People who have fear of differences tend to lash out at those individuals," she said. "The first step to addressing fear is knowing thyself."
After recognizing your own biases, get to know individuals toward whom you harbor a bias.
Sanchez, named among the "Top 100 Latinas in America" by Hispanic Business magazine, admitted she was raised in a household with a bias against African-Americans.
"I didn't want to have that racist experience," she said. So she spent time with and befriended African-Americans.
"It eliminated my fear," she said. "It gave me greater happiness."
She married an African-American and raised her children to respect differences.
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"My children are biracial," she said. "I think it's pretty cool."
Embracing diversity is "the right thing to do," she said. Our differences result in new ideas and greater joy, she said.
During the banquet, eight women were honored as Women of Distinction from among 45 nominees. They were:
Business: Marilyn Tarver, business manager at the Spare and Share Thrift Shop in Gridley and a former team leader at Mitsubishi Motors North America.
Creative Arts & Entertainment: Angelique Racki, founder of the BCAI School of the Arts, which empowers individuals through training in the arts, regardless of their income or background.
Education: Alicia Lenard, development director at YouthBuild McLean County, an alternative high school for students who struggle in typical school settings.
Professions: Colleen Kannaday, president of Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal and Advocate Eureka Hospital in Eureka.
Social Services: Laura Beavers, former behavioral health division manager for the McLean County Health Department and current manager of prevention and early intervention services at The Baby Fold.
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math): Brandy McNalis, director of business process and applied analytics at Country Financial.
Harriett F. Rust Volunteer Service: Marie Denzer-Farley, MLS/education coordinator for the Bloomington-Normal Association of Realtors, who raises and donates pigs to new 4-H members and is a McLean County Farm Bureau and 4-H volunteer.
Caribel Washington Young Professional: Samantha Herrell, executive assistant for PATH.