Katrina Williams smiling, LEAD logo, Leadership & Education for African Ancestry Development, Employee Resource Group banner.

Empowering Diversity: Katrina Williams' Vision for Black History Month and Beyond at Lineage

February 20, 2024

In honor of Black History Month, we sat down with Katrina Williams, senior HRBP and the new chair of Lineage's Black/African ancestry ERG, LEAD (Leadership & Education for African Ancestry Development), to discuss Black History Month. Katrina discusses the importance of the month, her own personal inspirations and Lineage's efforts to enhance diversity and inclusion through leadership development, mentorship programs and open conversations. 

1. How do you think understanding and appreciating Black history contributes to a more inclusive and diverse work environment?  

For so long, the contributions made by black and African ancestry people have been hidden, disregarded or appropriated, so celebrating Black History Month corrects and honors those often-overlooked contributions within society and corporate America. It allows individuals to feel seen and acknowledged. This acknowledgment isn’t just about individual journeys, it’s about acknowledging the journeys that allowed me to be in the workplace. By celebrating these journeys, it empowers us to bring our whole selves to work—embracing our joys, experiences and even our challenges in a safe and supportive space. Ultimately, recognizing Black history month goes beyond just acknowledging the past; you’re not just celebrating where we came from, you’re celebrating that we're here now. 

2. Black History Month often highlights significant figures and events in Black history. Are there any stories or individuals that inspire you or resonate with you in your life? 

Two remarkable figures in Black history have deeply influenced me: my mother and John “Moses” Gottlieb, also known as General Buddhoe. 

First is my mom, the Reverend, Doctor, Ranger, Katrina Brown. As a young girl growing up in segregated Richmond, Virginia, she faced a lot of adversity. She was one of the first students to integrate into Thomas Jefferson High School and was told by a guidance counselor that college isn't for "your people." So, what does she do? She goes and gets herself a PhD, out of pure spite! Her journey came full circle when my daughter graduated from the same school, marking a moment of profound generational healing and progress. My mom embodies resilience and grace, using her experiences to educate and build bridges of understanding. She’s my ultimate role model. 

General Buddhoe's story from St. Croix, of the U.S. Virgin Islands, highlights the broader scope of Black history, beyond the U.S. mainland. His leadership in the 1848 peaceful revolt led to the emancipation of slaves in the Virgin Islands, showcasing the power of standing up for one's rights and dignity. Banished for his efforts, his legacy of self-empowerment and courage inspires me daily. 

3. Since Lineage’s elevated commitment three years ago, what are some notable achievements in promoting diversity and inclusion, particularly in relation to the Black/African ancestry community? 

In the past three years, Lineage has made real strides in diversity and inclusion, especially for the Black/African ancestry community. A standout moment for me was listening to Greg Lehmkuhl, Lineage’s CEO, and Angie Montville, Director of DE&I, discuss our DE&I journey. To hear our leaders openly recognize their knowledge gaps and commit to understanding systemic issues and diverse experiences was such a breath of fresh air. It’s this openness to growth that sets us on a course to meaningful change. 

We've also seen progress in representation in leadership roles and engagement across underrepresented communities. This creates a space where we can share our stories and actually see and hear each other. Angie's fearless approach to addressing these tough issues and pushing for action has been inspiring. It's clear that DE&I isn't just a trend for us, but a core part of our DNA. It's all about being seen, heard and valued for what we bring to the table. 

4. As the new Chair of the LEAD ERG and looking ahead, what are the primary goals and initiatives planned to support and uplift the Black/African ancestry community within Lineage? 

Our focus is twofold: advancing diversity in leadership and strengthening our community. We've already seen success with leadership development programs and a mentorship initiative, laying the groundwork for more inclusive representation. 

Moving forward, my aim is to create a stronger, more supportive environment for the Black/African ancestry community here. This means facilitating open dialogues, offering support for challenges and sharing experiences that foster growth. Our plans include engaging activities and initiatives like "Intersection Week" to celebrate our shared backgrounds and experiences. This emphasizes that despite our differences, we have so much in common. 

My vision is to cultivate a workplace where everyone feels valued and empowered. By embedding inclusivity into our daily actions, we aim to make DE&I a central part of Lineage's culture. 

5. From your perspective, how can organizations best support Black/African ancestry team members with professional opportunities? 

To best support Black and African ancestry team members, it all starts with education. Organizations must understand and address the unique challenges these communities face, like systemic underrepresentation and bias. Creating a supportive environment involves acknowledging societal pressures and dismantling barriers to opportunities. This includes encouraging applications for leadership roles, even if not all criteria are met, and fostering mentorship to guide career development. 

Crucially, it's about validating team members' enthusiasm and contributions, recognizing their passion and energy without misinterpreting them as overly emotional. The aim is to transition from merely surviving to thriving in the workplace, ensuring a safe space for Black/AA team members to express their talents and ambitions. Success in this area is built through continuous effort, one supportive action at a time, to celebrate and grow the talent within. 

6. In your view, what can organizations like Lineage do to foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of Black history and culture among all team members, not just during Black History Month, but year-round? 

To foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of black history and culture year-round, it’s going to take a bit of reframing how we look at black history. It's not just about celebrating the well-known figures, but also understanding that I’m Black history, so is the guy that drives your forklift and the woman who’s filling the snack machine. We need to recognize that Black history is embodied by all Black individuals, including our colleagues and the everyday contributions they make. 

Organizations should prioritize listening and creating spaces where team members can share their experiences and learn from one another. This involves having honest conversations about difficult topics, valuing those discussions and understanding the impact of systemic biases. We need to be willing to learn from others' experiences, to recognize our own biases and to actively work to dismantle barriers, not just during Black History Month, but every day. 

Empowering a Culture of Inclusion, Diversity and Respect at Lineage 

In our talk with Katrina Williams, her leadership as the chair of the LEAD ERG highlights Lineage's dedication to celebrating Black History Month and promoting diversity year-round. Her initiatives aim to create a more inclusive workplace where every voice is heard and every contribution valued. Katrina's approach emphasizes the need for ongoing education and open dialogue to understand and appreciate Black history and culture, ensuring inclusivity and respect makeup the very DNA of our Lineage culture.