She grew up in segregated Mississippi then attended the historically Black Tougaloo College, but it wasn’t until she arrived in Alaska in 1993 that Traci Gatewood experienced racism directly. She remembers her first job interview here, where the manager was so excited to meet her — until he saw her. Later, serving as executive director of human resources for the Fairbanks school district, she remembers how others would sometimes look to those under her for information, even though she was in the room and had the answers.
Even now, a new client of her consulting business may figure she’s an assistant, rather than the owner. Or worse. Not long ago while driving her young granddaughter, she was nearly run off the road by someone flashing a racist hand symbol. “There have been some changes, absolutely, in the world. But some things remain the same,” Traci says. “And I think that they will continue to remain the same until we have more people, more allies on board with not being okay with the status quo.”
She takes her experiences from a place of pain to a place of power. Her firm, G2 Diversified Services, is dedicated to helping organizations become more effective, and sometimes that means sharing “things that add scars to your soul.” She’s an employee coach, a business strategist, a troubleshooter with skills and resources, connections and experience. “Rarely do people call me when things are going well,” she shares with a smile.
Some clients want to address issues like racism directly. Others may not see a need. Traci weaves in work on diversity, equity and inclusion as part of a business case focused on improving the bottom line. The Anchorage Museum engaged her firm to help it with an anti-racism initiative that leaders hope will be a long-term guiding light for others. She’s working with the University of Alaska Fairbanks to increase awareness of systemic racism as part of its focus on DEI. “When you get serious about addressing racism, you have to realize that we didn’t get here in 30 days or even 30 years,” Traci says. “This is forever work.”
She’s moved to Alaska twice, most recently in 1998. When she returned to the Fairbanks area, she came for good schools for her children and saw beyond hurtful pockets to a community open to all, far different than the segregated Deep South. “Black people, Alaska Native people, Hispanic people, white people, all just living together and coexisting,” Traci says. “It’s far from perfect, but the sense of community is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been.”
Motivation to give back comes from her own experience. She grew up in extreme poverty and sometimes foster care, disadvantages that many never overcome. Traci did the opposite. “I’m a veteran,” she says. “I have a bachelor’s degree. I have a master’s degree. I have a thriving business. I have an intact family unit.”
Traci has served on boards for community and statewide groups including Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska and the Alaska Behavioral Health Board. She recognizes the potential of those around her. That approach leads to her business success. She meets people where they are. Her weekly business tips could help many.
- “Unless you have a compelling reason, get out of the way and trust your employees to do the right thing.”
- “As we move into a new season, choose how you ‘fall.’ Instead of lamenting that you are understaffed, fall into gratitude for everyone who shows up to work and gives it their all.”
What does she wish for her community? A groundswell of Fairbanks business leaders coming together to truly commit to diversity, equity and inclusion not just giving it lip service as “the flavor of the month.”
Traci hopes to help our world look brighter — for her own grandchildren and future generations of Black and Brown kids with strong voices and big hearts.