Through the Leadership Lens: A Discussion with Director of Diversity Jackie Rucker

Rucker shares how she’s helping TCU ensure that Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are not buzzwords — but are a way of life in the workplace and in how we serve our members.

Jackie Rucker is TCU’s first Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. She is an African American woman in a position of leadership.

Rucker formerly served as associate director of community relations at the University of Notre Dame, overseeing its Center for Arts & Culture in downtown South Bend. She also has worked as a diversity manager and management development specialist with Beacon Health System — and is the granddaughter of sharecroppers.

Rucker brings these facets and countless others to the table, each of which influence — independently and collectively — her thoughts and ideas. And that is what Diversity and Inclusion amounts to, when done right.

“To be able to open doors and allow others to come in to generate new ideas. To help in problem solving, to think of problems in different ways," Rucker said. “It can positively impact an organization.”

Some highlights from the podcast:

The pandemic has forced everybody to slow down, to focus on what’s going on around us. So, when the series of high-profile incidents of violence against Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Jacob Blake happened, we were trapped at home and couldn't go anywhere. And these incidents were filmed on cell phones and kept playing and playing. Even though most businesses, like TCU, have been working on diversity for years, it made people realize this is not right. We need to do something now. We need a discussion about systemic racism, and we need to change this.

Diversity is the differences that everyone brings to a group or the workplace. 

Equity is making sure people have what they need in order to actively engage in the workplace, in the local community and in the world at large.

Inclusion provides the opportunity for diverse people to not only be invited to participate, but to have an active role in decision making so that their voice can be heard.

Unconscious bias is often defined as unsupported judgments against one thing, person or group as compared to another. It is important to know that there is “explicit bias” and “implicit bias.”

The term “explicit bias” refers to the attitudes and beliefs we have about a thing, person or group on a conscious level. “Implicit bias,” on the other hand, occurs automatically as we make quick judgments based on past experiences and background.

One way I describe implicit bias is by explaining that my paternal grandparents were sharecroppers — so even though I was raised in a middle-class household, my father instilled in me and my sister that it’s really important to have a fully-stocked pantry so you don’t have to worry about running out of items that you need.

I’m a caregiver for my dad and I have aides that come in to help. One thing I noticed was the antibacterial soap, when it would get low, an aide would put water in it. It was driving me mad. I’m like, “Why would you do that when there’s more soap in the pantry? It’s no longer antibacterial once you put the water in it.”

But I started thinking if the aide was someone who grew up having to stretch a dollar. Then, adding water to the soap would come naturally because it’s something they’ve always done.

That’s what implicit biases are. It’s the way we were raised, the things we were exposed to that cause us to make the decisions we do. We all have it. We do it every day. It’s just, for some reason, when it gets attached to racial issues or diversity, then all of a sudden, it’s got a negative stigma. Once we are conscious of our implicit biases, we can make intentional positive adjustments.

I had to stop and ask myself, “What’s the reason for why they’re putting water in the soap? Why does it upset me and what can I do to improve things?” And then I asked one of his aides, not in a demeaning way, “Why are you putting water in the in the soap, when we have more?”

I had to ask an uncomfortable question but that’s what you have to do. You just ask. And that’s how we start the difficult conversations that we need to have. We assess the situation, we reflect, and then we take a risk and ask questions. We need to know what the real issues are and we need to come together to seek solutions.