Nora Silver grew up in West Philadelphia in an area that was fairly lower class. It wasn’t uncommon for her to see various races in her youth, which set the stage for her desire to teach later in her life.
All throughout her youth, Nora watched her father go to a job that he absolutely despised. Seeing this every day impacted Nora at a young age to strive for something in your life that you love doing.
Although her father may have hated his job, he made sure to instill in Nora that it is important for one to speak up for themselves. It is this authenticity that played a big role later in Nora’s life and career.
“I’ve been very, very lucky in my career to do things that I love”, Nora said. “And I also learned from him the power of speaking up for yourself and so that is really kind of near and dear to me, the authenticity.
“And I’m a psychologist by training so I’m always going to look from the viewpoint of the person. And, work is valuable and we all do it and there’s some parts of it we love, there’s some parts of it we hate, and a lot in between but the more we relinquish ourselves, when we walk in the door at work, the more we lose I think in life.”
This thinking has stuck with Nora all these years, and it has been the driving force behind the steps she’s taken to help others succeed in life.
Nora would soon get a taste of other cultures in her life. At the age of nine, Nora and her family moved to a nicer community that was predominately very upper-class, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.
For Nora, this was a bit of a culture shock. But it did give her a better understanding of different cultures, as she was able to see people and races from all walks of life. This would play a big role in Nora’s love for social movements, which would eventually lead to her Haas.
Nora taught for Haas for a number of years. Throughout her time there, she heard a lot from students who wanted to make a big impact in the world. This led her to analyze her role as a teacher.
It was clear to Nora that Haas has plenty of programs that teach students how to manage the organizations of the world. But there wasn’t really anything there that taught students how to change the world.
Nora realized that most change happens outside of these organizations that she has been teaching students to manage. The change occurs outside, so it was time for Nora to do something about it.
It was then that she decided to create the course “Large-Scale Social Change”. When tasked with making changes to the world within a business, Nora set out to figure out exactly how to do that.
This can admittedly be difficult for a student with a junior position within a company. Nora and her colleagues feel that this can be even more difficult when race is involved. Nora explains, “That was a huge driver for my friends and social groups to really start having this conversation about race.
“How do we change things from a systems-level? And I think that’s really informed how we thought about it in our workplaces as well. Just seeing that it’s possible. I think seeing that within a year huge changes can be made.”
With her friends pushing for more conversation about making changes in the workplace when race is involved, Nora set out to look at things from a different perspective. A perspective that isn’t traditionally taught at Haas.
The most important thing for Nora is that people look at race with authenticity. When speaking on the matter, she said, “I think that’s critical. I think, you know, we can talk about it and we will use strategies and tactics at work.”
“But the greatest tool you have at work is you and who you are, and that’s always available to you. And I think we underestimate that. We underestimate the power of our own selves and bring yourselves fully to what we’re doing.”
And so, Nora brought this way of thinking into her Large-Scale Social Change course. It was here that being authentic would help shape the way Nora taught her students.
Nora decided to play a video in her class on the Civil Rights Movement. She felt it was necessary for her students to see what really took place during that time. Nora agrees that books might sanitize what happened in the past and that the truth needs to be seen.
It was important to Nora that her students witnessed the violence that occurred. But it was equally important for her students to see all of the hard work that took place to take a stand and make a difference.
When today’s students get to see first-hand what happened to blacks, it can be shocking to those unprepared for the history. Innocent people getting hosed down in the streets. Innocent people attacked by dogs.
All such horrible, emotional circumstances. But it was important for Nora to share this history, and so she did. Although it was increasingly hard for Nora to watch, her feelings didn’t stand in the way of doing what she felt was right.
She had opened the eyes of her students to see something that they may not have ever seen anywhere else. Change. Nora was being authentic and making change happen. Even if it was on a small scale, Nora made a decision to do what was right at that time.
And in doing so, the conversation among her students was surely better for it. Now they had something tangible to share and speak out on with one another, as well as their friends and family. Change.
Nora planted the seeds. It was in the students’ hands to do something positive with it. Still, Nora admits that authenticity once again reared its head while the films were played.
As she fought back tears, Nora wondered what kind of impact or conversation it would have started had she let her students see her crying.
“What if I had been able to show more emotion and you had and maybe it would have turned the conversation in the class, right?
“Maybe it would have allowed other people to key in because we would have modeled the way rather than you sitting there alone feeling that, you know, and that’s why authenticity is so important because we all have one life and it’s important to us to be authentic but it’s also important because it brings forth authenticity from other people.
“And if you want to open up a conversation, if you want to have some change, you’ve got to take the first step.”
Nora may not feel that she made enough of a change, but it’s evident that just her being authentic enough to share the history made a change.
Nora’s Impact at Haas
It’s clear to anyone looking in that Nora has already had a huge impact on her students. Her time at Haas was nothing short of extraordinary. Whereas many teachers might shy away from sharing our nation’s history in the bold attempt to make change happen, Nora didn’t back down.
With the recent killing of George Floyd, it was important for Nora to stand up and urge her students to do the same. Sure, she could have remained silent on the matter and perhaps been a little more patient.
But if she didn’t show courage during a difficult time in our current landscape, who would? Nora felt it was her responsibility to her students, regardless of the repercussions that may have come her way.
“When there’s a risk, I move forward because I’m better off in action than in sitting there. And I’m not very good at not acting and that has its downsides too. So then not one is not better than the other.”
Racial Equality in the Workplace
Nora is very driven to help others overcome inequality in the workplace, or even at Haas. She believes that one of the best ways to do this is to build community.
She states, “I think a lot of people who come to Haas are natural ‘bridgers’. People who, like my own background is, I’ve lived in lots of different ethnic communities that are not my own. I’ve lived in all black communities. I’ve lived in all Latino communities and I tend to operate between spaces.”
Nora realizes it may not always be about race. And it may not always be about gender. But it is often about rural and urban mentalities. And that’s why there is such a need for community building.
This is part of Nora’s vision to remove the burden that so frequently finds itself placed on black people in communities. Nora hopes to see that burden removed. To see it lifted from those it so often holds down.
“I hope that part of the burden gets on all of us to actively take that role. So that gets lifted off the shoulders of the people on who obviously it is always put.” she said. “But I think the rest of us need to accept that burden and the sense of agency and that we have a choice to change it. And if we don’t do anything, we’re complicit.”
And that gets back to what makes Nora so driven to help others overcome their afflictions in the workplace, and in life. It’s what makes Nora such a force when it comes to playing a role in the lives of those around her.
She would rather take on another burden in order to see others freed of theirs. And this ties back to Nora’s desire to create her Large-Scale Social Change course. She sees an immediate urgency to for social movements in the workplace.
Urgency vs Patience
As she explains, “I’ve two thoughts about it, which both the sense of urgency and patience are both required for social movements or large-scale social change. It’s not an either-or. This is not, you know, the black or white, or this is the gray area. And it plays out in a couple of different ways.”
And this where Nora sees the opportunity to create an effective system for creating change. A change that she shared with her students in order to craft thinking about how they can make an impact in the lives around them, theirs included.
By leveraging communication, you’re creating a conversation about something that isn’t front and center. And this is Nora’s vision for making that happen.
She detailed her thoughts on the matter, stating, “The first way that occurs to me is, you know, in the large-scale social change class, it was about what are the different leverage you have to create change like a financial lever, like you could boycott or you can incentivize right.”
“Or communications lever. How you talk about something or how you name something. So we talk about those different levers but here’s the reality, if you look at about 200 different social movements over time and around the world.
“One of the takeaways is that if you’re a strategist, which you know, most MBAs, of course are, you can’t create, and you can’t just go in and decide with a master strategy to create a large change. Like the Supreme Court ruling on LGBTQ rights in the workplace or marriage equality, or you know, pick your issue.”
Nora maintains that these issues just didn’t happen on their own. Someone had to bring them to the forefront of the world to start thinking differently about things. But Nora understands, too, that these things don’t just happen overnight.
It takes time, sometimes years, for the issues we care about to see a real change being made in communities around us, and even around the world.
Nora said, “It takes time. And over years, it used to take decades and decades if not hundreds of years. Think about slavery, okay, it took hundreds and hundreds of years. And if you look there’s some wonderful stuff online.
“There’s a timeline that shows how long it took different social movements to pop and it’s taking less and less time you think about that marriage equality was less than a decade. Okay. So, time looks different over time. Right? But the other thing is that the most important thing you can do is be ready when something happens.”
And that speaks volumes as to how invested Nora is pertaining to these issues. By getting ready, getting yourself prepared to take on the new challenges when the need for change occurs.
And as most people know, these cries for change happen all the time. Sometimes they start on a small-scale. Over time they grow to a swell among different communities until finally their voices can’t be denied any longer.
Oftentimes, it takes an army of people for the need for change to finally be heard. For action to be taken to where the change finally happens.
And as Nora points out, journalists know this all too well. They are the ones who are on the frontlines when these cries for change take place in the real world.
She states, “Journalists know this really, really well. You can’t make something happen, but you can be prepared for when a moment happens. And it may not be the first moment.”
And that’s what Nora is trying to pass on to others. The need to be ready for action when events take place that pushes for the need for change. Take the George Floyd murder again as an example of a recent event that resulted in a large outcry for change.
As Nora explains, “And we have George Floyd who was the what, how many numbered black man that was killed by the police. Right? Hundreds and hundreds came before. Why did it spark now? Or Rosa Parks was not the first person to refuse to get up from her seat on the bus. In fact, she was a third, they were waiting for the right person to mobilize, right?”
Considering these events, it is evident that everyone needs to be equipped with the right knowledge and understanding of how past events played out so that we can peacefully make a difference in today’s landscape.
Nora continues, “So you need to be ready and being ready means it is like kind of like a muscle social change, any kind of change. Even within a company. I’ll take it within a company. So, you take the risk and take the chance of saying small things, right?”
But that risk can more easily be overcome when you have allies on your side fighting for the same cause. It often starts with one or two likeminded people. Soon, it grows into several following your cause.
Before long, you may have a whole crowds of people who share the same beliefs as you. People who want the same kind of change to occur in society.
Nora detailed her thoughts on this, saying, “And gaining one ally or a small group of allies and you start to build, you build your muscle of speaking out and testing it in ways that are effective and testing, making a change over here that might be, I don’t know, the kind of food in the cafeteria, you know, the parking lot, whatever it is.
“But you’re building a muscle and you’re building your muscle and you’re gaining momentum and you’re gaining your skills and you’re gaining your allies so that when something happens, you’re ready. You’re ready to move.”
It is this sense of urgency that makes a difference not only in the workplace but in the streets and on Capitol Hill. But Nora also insists that patience is equally necessary when trying to make changes in communities.
Without it, you may not know when to act, or how to act, when the time comes for you to make your stand. Nora explains, “Then is the sense of urgency. And before that, you have to have the patience, right, to build this muscle, to build your allies, to build your change mechanisms.
“So, you have to have patience on the early end and really leap to a sense of urgency when you get that opportunity.”
It is this patience combined with persistence that makes changes occur. But behind everything you’re trying to accomplish, whether in the workplace or in society, you must have a solid foundation.
Nora continues, “It’s not how lasting social change happens. Right. You’re moving a boulder, you’re moving a whole world, and if want it to really last you’ve got to build some scaffolding under it to hold that so it doesn’t just fall back on you.”
It is this steadfast character that has gotten Nora to where she is today. If we all adopt this mentality, surely our efforts would see greater success.
Nora had a very difficult time in a family of immigrants. This no doubt helped shape Nora into the strong woman she is today. Imagine if you were in her shoes. She was once accused of stealing her neighbor’s horses, all because she had dark hair.
Would that make you bitter toward others growing up? What kind of experiences have you had that relate to Nora’s life? We would love to hear your feedback!