Everyone in our company has a unique background and story to tell. When we all work together, our individual diversity creates powerful results.
Diversity is not simply what you can see. It’s evident through our heritage, life experience, racial or ethnic diversity, lifestyle, physical abilities and more. When we learn more about each other, we see opportunities to connect.
As an outgrowth of the Macy’s, Inc. Diversity and Inclusion Business Council’s work, Corporate Communications is pleased to introduce you to some Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s people you may not have met before. Enjoy their stories.
We also want to hear your story. What makes you unique? What led you to who you are today? How does your perspective make us a stronger company? Email your story (in 300 words or less) to: CoasttoCoast@Macys.com. Please include your full name and contact information.
How has your background shaped who you are as a person? I was born in Kuwait, the oldest of eight children. My father passed away when I was only 15 and I shared responsibility with my mother in raising my seven siblings. I moved to Jordan, and then to the United States in 2000 with my husband and three children.
My husband moved to the United States for career opportunities, but I was afraid of moving and leaving my family in Jordan. After arriving, the adjustment for our family was actually quite easy. I loved the structure of life in the United States; life is easier here, with fewer complications. The most challenging part was leaving my family behind.
How has your background shaped who you are at work? As the oldest, leadership, responsibility and hard work have been a part of who I am since my childhood and teenage years. I approached my career at Macy’s as a learning opportunity. I started here five years ago on the recovery team, then became recovery lead. I was promoted to the I.N.C. specialist in RTW, and became a sales supervisor this year. As my sales manager invested in my development, I felt appreciated and that I had a voice to share suggestions and opinions to drive results and improve processes.
What understandings do people come to have when they get to know you, in contrast to assumptions they might have originally? I would not want people to assume that based on language barriers, someone is not capable of being successful in a corporate or professional environment. Not true!
What else would you want others to know about your story? I feel that hard work and determination is necessary to be successful and having personal faith in oneself.
How has your background shaped who you are as a person? I’m deeply embedded in multiple cultures. I spent a lot of time with my mom’s Asian family in Los Angeles, with my dad’s African-American family in Mississippi, and in Harlem where I grew up. My uncle was an artist, and as a child, I remember thinking what power he had in drawing whatever he wanted to. I started doing graffiti in high school, painting trains in the 80s. After that era ended, we needed a place to direct our energy, so we decided to get our messages out through tee shirts. I worked on graphic design in college and at night, we hand-printed blank tees. Clothes replaced graffiti and I realized that’s what I really wanted to do.
How has your background shaped who you are at work? The design elements in fashion and graffiti are very similar – starting with a sketch, patterns, color, being meticulous in the details. Seeing someone in an American Rag design gives me the same feeling as when I saw my design on a train. I’m still influenced by the kid on the street, and how what he has on his feet is so important. That dictates what he wears from the bottom up.
What understandings do people come to have when they get to know you, in contrast to assumptions they might have originally? I found my way to Macy’s when American Rag design moved in-house. People are sometimes surprised when they discover I’ve been in the industry for 25 years. Sometimes I hear assumptions like, “This trend was way before your time.” I love the business and I learn something every day. We always get curveballs – problems that we work to solve. It’s similar to my past experience with my start-up; I enjoy the challenge.
What else would you want others to know about your story? So much of what I learned in my past I use today. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be able to do something creative every day. My background helps me to be in tune to trends that I see around the world so we’re ahead of it, not chasing it.
I was strongly influenced by my grandmother’s saying – “build bridges, not walls” – when I developed my team. I wouldn’t be surprised if I had the most diverse team at Macy’s, but they’re united in the talent and passion they bring to the table. I always believe in mutual respect. People overall treat you the way you treat them.
How has your background shaped who you are as a person? I have cerebral palsy, caused by a lack of oxygen at birth, and it has affected my mobility. At work, where I have to move across distances, I use a wheelchair, but otherwise, I walk with crutches. This has given me great patience because I’m not always able to do things the first time I try them. But having this disability has given me other abilities – the skills to plan, to think ahead two or three steps – to compensate for the things that are not as easy for me. Now, as I have my own home, I plan ahead in all aspects of my life. When I was growing up, it was frustrating to see other kids doing things I could not do, things other people take for granted. My parents instilled in me the goal to enhance my abilities in different ways.
How has your background shaped who you are at work? Patience helps me with my job, too; you’ve got to have that in customer service! When customers call us, they may not be happy at the beginning. Our job is to help resolve the issues, but also turn around their experience. I can anticipate what might make them happy.
What understandings do people come to have when they get to know you, in contrast to assumptions they might have originally? Sometimes people do make assumptions – but it’s not as prevalent now. Up through the middle of high school, some people would see me in a wheelchair or with crutches and think somehow that my mental capacity was affected. But now, when people get to know me, that’s far from their thoughts – that makes me proud.
What else would you want others to know about your story? I thank my family for building virtues into me. They did not assume things needed to be done for me. They pushed me to be the best person I could be first, then offered to help if I needed it. We moved to Florida from New York when my parents learned that my mobility would be limited. The retirement capital of the world is more adaptive with ramps and access. Older people who have come before me have made my life much easier!
How has your background shaped who you are as a person? It has shaped me well, starting from the values that my parents hold dear – integrity, being honest. Then the U.S. Naval Academy reinforced those principles. I had a leadership position as a regimental commander for 2,000 midshipmen when a peer came up on charges of cheating. I could have ignored it because he was a classmate, but I needed to be truthful to my position. I got flack for it, but it’s who I am as a man. Later I joined the Marine Corps, living out what I was taught.
How has your background shaped who you are at work? I came to Bloomingdale’s as one of the first two members of the Loss Prevention Manager Military Intensified Program. Here, my core values are the same; I do what is right. I think people are the most important part of any job. You can have systems and processes, but if you don’t take care of people, then processes won’t run. That’s Bloomingdale’s focus, too. As advanced as we are technologically, people are still the backbone. That value I take to heart.
What understandings do people come to have when they get to know you, in contrast to assumptions they might have originally? Some people might think that because I’ve seen multiple deployments to combat, I might be erratic. People come to see that I’m disciplined and enforce the rules. Then there’s the perspective of being a black man in America. My mother is from Africa and my father is American. There are stereotypes there, but I don’t want people to see me simply because of race or background. I want them to say, “There’s Gardea” – then get to know me based on interactions.
What else would you want others to know about your story? Diversity is not race or color, it’s your experience. It’s partly where you grew up, but it’s mostly about your experiences. I was an infantry officer in the Marine Corps. Most of our unit was white, but they came from all different states, and when you add in economic differences – people are not typically what you would expect. In New York, there’s huge diversity in the boroughs, then within that, in the neighborhoods. You could live five blocks from someone and have a totally different experience. Diversity is your experience.
How has your background shaped who you are as a person? Growing up in Bosnia during the war, where opportunities were limited, my childhood memories are much different from an average American. Yet, my values align with those of many people at Macy’s. I did much of my school homework in dingy basements, hiding from grenades or snipers. My background taught me to never give up, to adapt to changes quickly, to figure out things on the go, and to be independent.
I came to the States by myself when I was 18 years old, with one suitcase. I came to play basketball for Xavier University in Cincinnati, which recruited me after seeing me play on the Bosnian National team. My parents could not afford to come with me, to help get me settled, to see me play in college. I did not speak much English. But it did not matter. All these things made me stronger and helped shape me into the person I am today. I embraced the new culture, appreciated the opportunities and created strong friendships. My best friends are American, foreign, white, black, multi-religious, young and old. In the end, it doesn’t matter where we come from or what we look like. What matters is what we stand for and how we treat other people. This is what brings us together.
How has your background shaped who you are at work? Everything I’ve learned through my experiences - dedication, work ethic, appreciation for differences, ability to adapt to changes and reinvent oneself, think creatively, be loyal and care for others - are the things Macy’s values as well.
What understandings do people come to have when they get to know you, in contrast to assumptions they might have originally? I have many passions besides work. I want to be a good mother; I play sports; I love fashion; I enjoy travelling and experiencing new cultures; I LOVE Cincinnati and its people; I appreciate suburban life and all its comforts; yet I crave urban living; I love fine art. I’m a philanthropist beyond Macy’s United Way through my donations to Bosnian charities; I am committed to helping people back home – my parents still live in Bosnia – and my family is my priority. I am simple and humble, yet multifaceted just like everyone else.
What else would you want others to know about your story? The best lessons are the ones learned through real life experiences, not in a classroom. I hope that people can learn from me and my experiences, and I’m looking to gain the same from them.