Page 10 - BEQ Magazine Iss 23 FINAL v3
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ADDRESSING STRUCTURAL                had seats at the table get opportunities to bring their
                                   BARRIERS                              talents and their full selves to a forward-thinking
                                       One of the ways that homogeneity in   The child of an African American U.S. Army Colo-
                                    systems gets entrenched is that only larger   nel who went on to college at a predominately white
                                    companies seem well positioned to carry out   institution, Jackson spent much of her life in spaces
                                   the scope or scale of many NASA contracts, and   where she was the only Black person. It wasn’t until
                                 large businesses tend not to be helmed by lead-  transferring  to  Hampton  University,  an  historically
                                ers from underrepresented groups. To address this   Black university, that she had the experience of being
                               barrier, NASA got creative with their Equity Action   among the majority and what that entailed.
                               Plan, breaking down the deliverables of what would   “What  I  experienced  there  was  accessibility of
                              traditionally       be a single contract into   information and inclusion without having to explain
                                                    component parts.  “If a   myself,” she said. “There was a familiarity and a con-
                                                    smaller company can’t   nection with people that were like me, that I’d never
                                                    do the entirety of a [proj-  experienced before.”
                                                  ect] requirement, there’s   As a professional, Jackson would certainly find her-
                                               a niche piece,” Jackson said of   self back in spaces where she was “the only one” but
                                            a strategy that NASA informally   having experienced what full inclusion could actually
                              refers to as “matchmaking.”                look and feel like, she would commit to opening doors
                                 Another structural barrier is the complexity of   for others and “make it [her] business to connect with
                              processes like bidding that longstanding NASA con-  the LGBTQ community.”
                              tractors are accustomed to but that are foreign (and   “For  the  first  few  years  of  my  career  [in  govern-
                              daunting) to prospective businesses that could offer   ment] I struggled to find a voice. Not only was I often
                              significant value but are newer to the world of con-  the only minority, I was generally the only woman.
                              tracting with large Federal agencies. “We want to edu-  Then I had an opportunity to go out and recruit
                              cate them about federal procurement, so the process   small businesses for innovative research proposals
                                itself isn’t a barrier.”                 and business technology transformation  proposals.
                                                                         I ended up connecting with those folks because they
                                  A “PERSONAL PASSION”                   were also looking for a place,” she said.
                                                                           “I was now in the position to reach out and remove
                                     Jackson reiterated that NASA’s comprehen-  some barriers and knock down some walls for others
                                  sive commitment to inclusion is a necessary   to be able to enter.”
                                 investment in the future of science and tech-  NASA’s Artemis I Lunar Mission is set to land the
                                nology. “We need to make long lasting, enduring   first woman and and the first person of color on the
                              impact, where everybody is included,” she said. “This   moon, and NASA’s Equity Action Plan is set to ensure
                              is how we move forward.”                   that the rich diversity of the nation finds its way not
                                 Jackson’s engagement with this effort, however,   only onto the flight deck of a NASA spacecraft but into
                              goes far beyond the role of a senior procurement   every activity of the agency. Of her own planned 2022
                              executive ensuring that an agency maximizes its   space mission, Jessica Watkins (also on the Artemis
                              innovation opportunity. This work is rooted in her   I team) said, “This is a step in the direction of a very
                              own experience of being on both sides of the access   exciting future.” I think Karla Smith Jackson would
                              equation and her commitment to ensuring that   agree that this sentiment applies to the Equity Action
                              people from communities that haven’t traditionally   Plan as well. 

        10     SUMMER 2022                                                            BUSINESSEQUALITYMAGAZINE.COM
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