Meet Deborah Levine, Editor-in-Chief of the American Diversity Report, an award-winning author of 15 books, and a Forbes Magazine Diversity and Inclusion Trailblazer.
Who is Deborah Levine? Define yourself
I am an award-winning author of 15 books, Founder/Editor of the American Diversity Report, a STEM woman pioneer, and one of Forbes Magazine’s Top Diversity and Inclusion Trailblazers. I am Captain of my ship of diverse souls, coordinating the crew as we explore new worlds and mapping our journey through space and time to a future destination of enlightened humanity.
How were you as a kid?
I was able to read at age 4. I read books that British colonial children read: a combination of fantasy stories and morality tales that allowed me to travel the world beyond Bermuda and my inner spirituality. Learning to write at the same time, I frustrated my teachers with the speed of my penmanship. I was passionate about writing as I was about dancing, beginning ballet classes at age 5. Insisting on dancing, my older brother paid a friend sixpence to take me off his hands at the community square dances in the summer.
When I came to New York with the family at age 7, I was put a year ahead in classes. Unhappy in America and missing my grandparents back in Bermuda, my parents tempted me with dance lesson. When I broke my leg trying to fly like a bird off the playground slide, I switched to playing the violin. My parents took me to concerts and performances from Broadway to Lincoln Center. The arts have always been part of my life and I have adjusted the mode as per my health, which wasn’t very good or reliable. I caught every infectious disease known to mankind when I came to the States.
“I have an IQ higher than Einstein and I am an empath which allows me to see connections where others might not. But none of those assets would have brought me success without a determined pursuit of information, knowledge, and practice”
Spending your childhood in British Bermuda as the granddaughter of one of its Founding 400 and the only Jewish family to have lived on the island for 4 generations, did the fact shape your life?
There was no synagogue or Hebrew school in Bermuda growing up. We would occasionally attend Jewish services on the military base. Passover was the biggest holiday celebration. All Jews, residents, military, and tourists were invited to the Passover seder held at a hotel or the yacht club and a rabbi was imported from the States as was the ritual food. In the home, we did not celebrate Christmas or Easter and I was aware of being different at an early age. It was when my father decided to come to America so that we could be part of a Jewish community that I began to understand the uniqueness of our situation in Bermuda.
My grandfather brought refrigeration and cash registers to the island. My grandfather pioneered professional real estate with his realty company. He continued the fascination with technology, like television and cars, which was unusual for their generation. He also hired the first Black person in a front office on the island. That did not seem unusual to me until I was older and realized that such actions were historic in the totally segregated society of the times. And I didn’t know to be amused that he played poker and shot craps with local clergy who were old friends. I just knew that getting along was an essential part of life.
Nor did I realize that it was unusual that both my parents had graduated from Harvard (and Radcliffe) but knew that we my brothers and I would eventually end up in college. It would be decades before I understood that my dad’s sternness was partly a result of having been a US military intelligence officer in World War, assigned to interrogate Nazi prisoners of war. I just knew not to cross him, even as a curious 3-year-old when he demanded that I never use the N-word in his house.
You hold a BS Cultural Anthropology, Arts Administration at New York University; Master's degree Religious Studies at Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies; a Master’s in urban planning & Policy Urban Planning & Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago and studies in Folklore & Cultural Anthropology at Harvard University. Why did you choose those courses of study?
I started my academic journey studying at Harvard Divinity School as a freshman, not realizing that my presence there wasn’t official allowed. I suggested to the Dean of Radcliffe (then the women’s college attached to Harvard) that I create a major in World Religions as one did not exist. I was told to major in English or Economics like every see but chose to major in Folklore & Mythology which had just launched. I was then able to take more classes at the Divinity School as well as in cultural anthropology. I became very ill my junior year and had to take a year off. I finished my BS in Cultural Anthropology at New York University while living back home with my parents.
“Governments need to appoint diverse women to positions of authority and not just to be spokespersons or to lead when others have made a mess and then be removed. This is offensive to women and a barrier to a more equitable society”
My unique education did not prepare me for a specific career and after being a secretary, I went back to graduate school in urban planning. Again, my health interrupted my studies. I eventually became the executive director of a religion-based nonprofit, married and had my daughter, I couldn’t forget about my dreams of community building and when we moved to Chicago, I returned to graduate school, and was able to design the degree to use the arts for economic development in diverse communities. My internships revolved around museums and turning abandoned sites into arts and culture facilities and I received a certificate in Arts Administration along with the master’s degree.
I was unable to find a job as executive director, but did get hired by the American Jewish Committee, thanks to connections of my father, and became their inter-religious affairs director. I oversaw Catholic-Jewish dialogues, ran the 1990 National Workshop on Christian-Jewish Relations, and published my first book under the auspices of Chicago’s roman Catholic Archdiocese. Passionate about interfaith work, I founded my own organization, the duPage Interfaith Resource Network, and began my master’s degree at Spertus Institute for Jewish Studies. I finished the Spertus degree as the executive directive of a Jewish Federation in Rockford, Illinois. My career was finally going in the direction I’d hoped for.
You are a Forbes Magazine "Diversity and Inclusion Trailblazer" and Founder/Editor of the American Diversity Report. An award-winning author of 15 books, with over 33 years’ experience and an advanced degree in cultural anthropology, urban planning, and religion, you are a Diversity Futurist and Thought Leader, a speaker, coach, and consultant for corporations, universities, federal & state agencies, and nonprofits. What´s the recipe for your success?
I have an IQ higher than Einstein and I am an empath which allows me to see connections where others might not. But none of those assets would have brought me success without a determined pursuit of information, knowledge, and practice. The willingness to devote time and energy to research and experimentation must be matched by a willingness to take the consequences of mistakes and miscalculations. I have approached my work much as a scientist in a research lab might. The multi-dimensional results combine all of my education and experience into a universe than can be broadened, customized, and re-booted a multitude of ways.
“As wonderful as it is to have women lead nonprofits and community projects, these are all too often low-paying or volunteer positions that limit the influence of expert women”
As discouraging as it has been to have my health issues repeatedly force me to step down, I have used those situations to re-envision my future and remake myself. I did not know at the time that the ability to do that would be an essential element to being far-sighted in a fast-changing environment. The flexibility and agility acquired over several episodes has been key to evolving into a Thought Leader and Diversity Futurist. My talent for writing was tapped by organizations early in my career and I built on that. My books are largely documentation of the innovative projects that I’ve created, they are in the form of how-to manuals so that others can learn from what I do, and my work has a broad, long-term impact.
You are a very busy woman and I see you participate in different organizations: U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, Council Against Hate Executive Committee and Global Goodwill Ambassadors (GGA). What does it drive you?
Making a difference has been part of my life since I was a teenager and taught ballet in an inner-city school. My mother was a special education pioneer, and it was natural to later expand my teaching to a school for the deaf decades ago. Since then, I’ve created many community projects including the Women’s Council on Diversity, DuPage Interfaith Resource Network, Youth Multicultural Video Contest. I often create coalitions where they don’t exist. More recently, I have been asked to work with international organizations and add my planning skills and diversity experience to their work. It has been an honor to participate and add value to their work. And it is still as rewarding as teaching dance to disadvantaged children. Good works are part of my faith tradition and my DNA.
Tell us more about your latest book: When Hate Groups March Down Main Street: Engaging a Community Response.
I co-authored this book with someone whose experience in the legal arena regarding hate complimented my work in coalition building and diversity consulting. The issue of hate has become a major challenge for communities, governments, religious groups, universities, and professional associations. It was evident to us that racism and antisemitism would worsen when we published the book in late fall of 2019 and it has, unfortunately, proven to be the case. The book is designed as a resource with suggested strategies for the workplace, the community, the classroom, religious organizations, and law enforcement. A Finalist in the national 2020 Indie Book Competition, the book is designed for civic leaders and is easy reading.
“My philosophy is to always keep learning, having faith that I will transition from a beginner to an expert eventually. That means always giving 100% of myself and tolerating mistakes as an inevitable part of the learning process”
Based on your experience, what initiatives should the governments of the world create to foster gender equality, diversity, inclusion? and what we should do as a society about it?
Governments need to appoint diverse women to positions of authority and not just to be spokespersons or to lead when others have made a mess and then be removed. This is offensive to women and a barrier to a more equitable society.
Society in general has often used women in visible positions as if selling used cars. This includes appointing only one woman to a corporate board and then claiming that they are diverse. The numbers of women in these leadership positions should reflect the numbers in the population. This is also true of race and ethnicity. Further, nonprofit boards should not be considered the same as corporate and government leadership. As wonderful as it is to have women lead nonprofits and community projects, these are all too often low-paying or volunteer positions that limit the influence of expert women.
You are the Founder/Editor-in-Chief of the American Diversity Report, what is about? Who is addressed to?
I founded the American Diversity Report (ADR) 15 years ago as an online magazine that would give a voice to diverse writers from around the world. The target audience includes diversity professionals, students, thought leaders, change makers and innovators. There are more than 800 articles and dozens of podcasts on the site along with resources that I have created. The ADR Advisors help make the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion monthly themes focus on the issues vital to a building a diverse world.
Share with us some details about your experience in STEM?
I began studying the matrix algebra of computer programming at my mother’s insistence back in 1965. After high school, I would work with computers for the rest of my career. I served as the IT office manager in Chicago in the 1980s and began working from home on my computer in the 1990s. I developed the templates for nonprofit newsletters and created online budget reports. As a technical writer, I was the first Research Coordinator for a college of engineering and computer science, teaching students to combine their
STEM work with communication abilities. I now do all my own extensive computer work, social networking, and podcasting.
“I recommend my 3 P’s: Passion, Planning and Perseverance and my 3 E’s: Education, Effort and Expertise. Understand that all these elements will be ongoing requirements of success at different degrees at different times”
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM?
The idea that women’s brains are not equipped to deal with science, technology, engineering, or math has been around for a long time. This attitude must be confronted and counteracted. I created a classroom tool to do just that: Women in STEM Guide. We need to learn about the amazing inventions and work of women in STEM over the centuries. The stories are too often invisible, which makes today’s women in STEM must work harder for recognition.
Do you have any philosophy that guides your career decisions?
I have tried to match my career decisions to my inner passions. As those passions are quite varied, I have followed several paths, reinventing myself many times. My philosophy is to always keep learning, having faith that I will transition from a beginner to an expert eventually. That means always giving 100% of myself and tolerating mistakes as an inevitable part of the learning process.
What are the biggest lessons you have learned over the years?
The opportunities that have come my way have often been unexpected. I have learned to look closely at them and not immediately dismiss them as irrelevant. This has given me a broad reach professionally with a creativity that allows me to customize my work for many different sectors: education, government, corporate, nonprofits, and the arts. I have learned the nothing goes to waste. Multiple experiences can be shaped for new challenges and provide a far-sightedness that may not be available to single focused careers. I have also learned the importance of documenting everything that I do. Not only does that mean the ability to produce 15 books, but the art of writing is transformational. Our changing world requires the ability to transform and reinvent ourselves more than ever.
What does a normal workday look like for you?
Being a morning person, I am often at the computer in my home office as early as 5:00am. In these COVID-19 times, I no longer attend in person the many meetings and conferences that were part of every workday. Instead, I am involved in online meetings and conferences from around the world. I speak on panels on many of those conferences. I constantly network with my contacts in social platforms. I also work with the writers of the American Diversity Report, editing and formatting their work for the online magazine. I also coach online, specializing in coaching aspiring writers who want to write their memoirs.
“Rest assured that your inner beauty will shine as brightly as a stage spotlight. And as for relevance, let the world know that the best is yet to come”
What do you love most about your job? & what is the most difficult part?
I love coaching diversity professionals who are already writers or hope to be published soon. The interaction is an honor and a pleasure. The most difficult part is time management. There are multiple deadlines for each ADR issue and my opinion column for the newspaper. Being creative on demand is an art form that requires managing a constant sense of urgency.
What is one strategy that has helped you to grow your business?
As an introvert, I have not always shared my story. But I have found that doing so has allowed relationships to grow and collaborations to develop. Today, we call this being “authentic.”
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I’ve come to enjoy cooking heathy food. I consider the kitchen to be both my laboratory and my playground. With so many food allergies, I rarely eat out, and now have the skills to navigate the COVID-29 isolation easily. Years ago, my husband and I made sure that we had exercise equipment in the house in case my health took a turn for the worse. With a stationary bicycle, an elliptical, a treadmill, weights, and yoga mats, I use much of my spare time working out. At the end of the day, I have a great meditation app on my phone and use it to unwind and reconnect with my spiritual self.
Many authors say women can and must strive to have everything – a shining career, a blossoming family life, and a perfectly balanced lifestyle all at once, others point out that– then women are placing unrealistic expectations on themselves if they believe they can have it all, I don´t know if you are married and have kids, so according to your experience, what do you think about these statements?
Work-life balance is an aspiration, not a reality. It was especially difficult when my daughter was young. My husband worked full time and my mother was dying of cancer. I’d like to think that the balance is just a matter of choices, but sometimes, these situations are not in our control. Sacrifices must be made, and our expectations must be managed accordingly. That marriage did not survive. In this COVID-19 era, sacrifice is more the norm than expectations of perfect balance. It is the second marriage for both my current husband of 26 years and myself and we have learned that love and realism go hand in hand.
What are your plans?
I expect to design Diversity, Equity and Inclusion projects and councils for corporations and government agencies in the coming year. I am also aiming to be interviewed on national and international media outlets about my work and my life story. As suggested by a Hollywood producer, I’m in the process of writing a movie script about my journey and life.
There is still the glass ceiling for women in the world: Fewer opportunities, jobs underpaid just for that fact of being a woman, etc. Have you experimented with the glass ceiling? If yes, what are the biggest challenges you have faced and how have you overcome them?
It was never possible for me to be promoted within an organization. I had to move to a different one to be promoted to a higher-level position with a higher salary. This meant that I would often move to a new city for that promotion. Timing was an issue, and this was easier when my daughter got older. Regardless, physically relocating is always a challenge and I did so every three or four years for this period in my life. My passion for my work drove me but I had to learn to focus on my health and well-being in the process.
What tips, can you give to young girls who want to become an entrepreneur like you?
I recommend my 3 P’s: Passion, Planning and Perseverance and my 3 E’s: Education, Effort and Expertise. Understand that all these elements will be ongoing requirements of success at different degrees at different times. And document what you do. Writing transforms and solidifies. Eventually, brand yourself and Write that Book, Tell your Story. (I produced a workbook with that title to help you do just that.)
I think in your position, many people may have the wrong idea of who you are, and what do you (professionally), with this idea in mind, what is being Deborah and what´s not?
People often think that I am Dr. Levine. I am not. I do have several degrees, but I do not have a Ph.D. And while I often lecture t universities, I am largely self-taught. Having said that, when I explain this to people who give me the title of “Dr.”, they often insist on calling me Dr. Levine anyway. I appreciate it because it is much more difficult to become an authority if you do not have this formal credential.
Those who do not know me tend to approach me as if I’m a dignified, and somewhat intimidating, icon. They soon find out that I can be that when the occasion warrants, but otherwise, I am a humble individual who likes silly jokes and makes her coaching clients laugh. I have been called many things in my career from “Inclusion Matriarch” to “Diversity Futurist”, but my favorite is: “Diversity Fairy Godmother”.
Who is the woman you admire the most and why?
There are so many women that I admire who have nurtured their families and communities, pursued unlikely careers, been outspoken on world peace, health, and the environment. Thank you! But the woman I admire most was my mother. She went from a Bermuda island girl in the 1930s to Harvard/Radcliffe where she studied psychology and pioneered special education with skills, she later used to raise my adorable, autistic younger brother. Mom took care of the home front when my father was deployed in World War II.
My mother taught me to love stories as a toddler, taught me to read, and insisted that I become a teacher whether I liked it or not. And over my objections, she helped shape my future by insisting that I learn about computer programming before the term even came into being. I learned to value life and deal with life’s sorrows during the nine years she had cancer before succumbing to it. Best of all, she taught me how to be a mother and pass on what wisdom I had acquired to a new generation. It was no accident that her sister, my Aunt Polly, gave her the title, “The Saint”. My mother died when I was still in my thirties, but her spirit will always be with me.
Something else do you want to add or share with us?
Older women are often written off as no longer attractive or relevant. Rest assured that your inner beauty will shine as brightly as a stage spotlight. And as for relevance, let the world know that the best is yet to come.
Name: Deborah Levine
Company: American Diversity Report