Sandi Battle is a Sr. Executive Assistant/Business Analyst in Walker & Dunlop’s Multifamily Finance Group. Sandi joined W&D in 2013 and is actively engaged in a variety of initiatives, including the W&D Black Empowered Network Employee Resource Group (ERG). As a woman of Black and Asian heritage who has lived in Korea and the United States, Sandi speaks candidly about her experiences navigating the workplace and world across the various intersections of her identity and how these experiences help fuel her passion today. Read Sandi’s compelling story below.
After the birth of my third child, I spent seven years - from 1997 to 2003 - at home raising our children. During this time, I saw a need for quality childcare in my community and wanted to do something about it. So, I took several early childhood education courses and received a Certificate in Early Childhood Education to become a licensed Montgomery County Day Care Provider. We converted three rooms in our Home to Fun Lovin Daycare, where I could continue using my business skills while working from home and providing a safe environment for children. After my son Greg started the first grade, I planned to re-enter the corporate environment. In 2003, I signed up with a temporary placement agency. My first assignment was as an Executive Assistant with Crimmi Mae, a commercial real estate company in Montgomery County, MD, which later became CW Capital.
I worked as the Sr. Executive Assistant to the CEO of CWCapital in New York City when CW Capital's Servicing Department was acquired by Walker & Dunlop in 2012. Wanting to return to Maryland, I interviewed Paula Pryor and Jeff Goodman (who I'd worked with previously) for Jeff's Sr. Executive Assistant position, and I got the job. So, after ten years at CW Capital, I joined Walker & Dunlop in January 2013.
I would tell them three key things:
Although I'm known for being a professional, resourceful, confidential, and proactive Executive Assistant dedicated to the company and my executives, I want to impact the company's efforts to promote a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive work environment. I can accomplish this by providing leadership and support to the company's employee resource groups, getting involved, volunteering at events, and advocating for others. I will always continue to support new Administrative Assistants through mentoring and training to help build their skills and be successful at W&D.
DEI is important to me because of my family's struggles and what I witnessed growing up in the South. It's important to me that all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, that differences are accepted and appreciated, and that everyone has equal access to opportunities and resources. It's also important to me that all people feel a sense of belonging and support from their organization.
As a young black child growing up in Selma, AL, I was very aware of segregation and racism. My family, neighbors and teachers in our community played a crucial role in helping my siblings and me, as well as all the other children, navigate racist ideologies and practices. As children, we were led to believe that black people were inferior. We were taught to act submissive and never to look a White person in the eye, to say very little, to always address them as "Yes Ma'am" and "Yes Sir," never to speak loudly, and never to travel alone or out of our neighborhoods. My time in school was difficult as I was the only one in my classroom that looked like me until junior high school. I focused on getting good grades, often making straight A's on my report cards. I was a member of the Student Government and the Drama Club in high school.
I was raised in the home my father built for my grandmother with his sister (Lola) and my five first cousins, who I consider my brothers and sisters. My grandmother, Mrs. Nancy King Anderson, had five sons and one daughter, Lola, a school librarian, and the woman I knew as a mom. Two of my grandmother's sons - Herman and Sandy (my dad) - went into the Army, and the other two sons - Moses and Woody - went to college. Uncle Woody's mom died when he was two years old, and my grandmother brought him home with her to raise him. Uncle Woody worked many years in the accounting office at Montgomery State College. The other son, Uncle Earl, remained in Selma and was known as the "Connector" - he was also known as someone who knew how to talk to White people. Black folks would come to my Uncle Earl when someone was in trouble or had been picked up by the police. My uncle was well-liked by the mayor and police department and would negotiate to get Black folks out of trouble.
My grandmother was highly active in the Civil Rights Movement. She held classes in our front yard to teach Black people how to vote at the polls, where she worked during every election. She often met Dr. King at Brown Chapel Church, where she sang for him. She often reminded us that Dr. King once told her she was a "born leader" and was tear-gassed crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the Selma to Montgomery March.
Grandma was a religious woman, the President of the choir at church, and my mom played the piano and sang. Our week consisted of school, choir rehearsal, Wednesday night Bible Study, cleaning every Saturday morning, and getting ready for church on Saturday evening. On Sundays, we started with Sunday school classes, followed by morning church services, dinner at church, and evening church.
My oldest uncle Moses was the pride of our family. Although he was raised a Baptist, he converted to Catholicism in 1949 at 20. In 1958, my uncle became an ordained priest and advocated educational and civil rights issues for young Africans. On December 3, 1982, Pope John Paul II appointed my uncle to be an Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese of Detroit, making my uncle the first Black Bishop of Detroit and the Seventh Black Bishop in the United States. My uncle always told us we could be whatever we wanted if we worked hard and got our education. He gave us our first set of encyclopedias, and I remember wanting the World Encyclopedias as they had beautiful pictures, but we received the Britannica, which he thought was better.
My father joined the Army at the age of 18. He was stationed in Seoul, Korea, where he worked in an orphanage. My father often spoke of the children left behind by soldiers returning to the U.S. I spent the first 3 years of my life in Seoul, where I was born. My grandmother told me how my father fought hard and would not give up until he could prove I was a United States citizen, get a passport, and bring me to Selma to live with his mother and sister. When I asked about my Korean mother, my father often spoke of her with respect and how she loved me and wanted a better life for me. He also spoke of how badly mixed children were treated in Korea.
My father spent his last Army years in Annapolis, MD as a recruiter, which is how I came to Maryland. After retiring from the Army with 27 years of service, he moved back home and began authoring many articles in the Selma Times-Journal regarding racial inequality. He always wanted the Confederate flag removed from the Convention Center downtown and often told me that they would see a Black President and a Black person on money in my children's lifetime. Little did he know that his daughter would also witness the first Black President and the Confederate Flag no longer being flown in front of the Convention Center in his Hometown of Selma, Alabama.
When my children were in school, I was often the first woman of color to volunteer for committees and events, and I now do the same with my grandchildren and in my community. This has enabled me to bring diversity into these committees and recruit others to participate. I volunteer and organize Food Bank, Back to School, Toys for Tots, and Winter Coat Drives while always keeping the needs of others a priority, especially children.
By continuing to equip our managers with the tools to manage a diverse workforce and invest in their upward mobility. By ensuring everyone has the same access to mentorship and sponsorship opportunities. And by creating a successful plan to retain, recruit, train, promote, and support diverse employees.
When it was becoming exceedingly crucial for companies to maintain a certain percentage of workplace diversity, I was prepared to take advantage of the opportunities presented to me. My southern upbringing, being multiracial, and taking typing, ten key data entry, and other business courses in high school helped prepare me for the corporate workplace. My first job in Washington, DC, at 18, was at the John Hancock Insurance company, where I was the receptionist. My upbringing made it easy for me to navigate a world where it was necessary to say, "Yes Boss, Yes Ma'am, and Yes Sir." I was brought up with a strong work ethic and an understanding that we always had to work harder and smarter and consistently exceed expectations. The receptionist position was for the summer only as I had to return to New Orleans, Louisiana, to attend Xavier University. However, living in a city where I no longer stood out and where so many different races and nationalities convinced me that I would not be returning to the deep South.
While working in corporate America for over 30 years at law firms, accounting firms, and commercial real estate companies, I have often been the only Black woman in many of the offices. One manager liked to tease me about my southern upbringing. I would laugh and not let on to how offended and hurt I was because I feared being labeled as taking it the wrong way or overly sensitive. I would stand in the mirror at night after work and practice talking without my southern accent and pronouncing the ending of my words. At the same time, I never wanted to be labeled as aggressive since it is not always a positive attribute for a Black woman in corporate America. I have also been in situations where I've felt that, as a woman of color, I had to "downplay" or "hold back" my thoughts or contributions so that others did not feel uncomfortable or threatened, potentially hurting my chances for professional advancement.
We all face challenges during our careers, but I've been able to lean on the work ethic instilled in me by my family and my perseverance to succeed. This has served me well throughout my career, and, consequently, has resulted in me being mentored by executives who have advocated for and supported my professional goals. Now, whenever I am asked to recommend employees for open positions at W&D, I always include as many qualified diverse candidates as possible, giving them an opportunity to join a great Company.
Set diversity targets and track their progress around gender and race. Ensure women of color are also benefiting from initiatives focused on women. Implement unconscious bias training to guarantee a fair recruiting and promotion process. Encourage and allow women of color to bring their authentic selves to the workplace. And last but not least, prioritize access to mentoring and sponsorship opportunities for women of color.
Praying. When times get tough, I was taught to pray. I did not realize as a child why my grandmother and mother would sometimes say, "Lord have Mercy." Now, I find myself saying the same. I always try to take a moment to be grateful and reflect on how blessed I am. I also surround myself with positive affirmations and a good gospel playlist.
I often spend a lot of time listening to old stories from important women in my life. I am amazed by their strength and survival skills during tough times. These women raised large families, worked long hours, and faced insurmountable odds but never lost their humanity. I would love to have lunch with Harriet Tubman and hear her stories of bravery and courage, particularly her activities in the Women's Suffrage Movement.
My father inspires me. He put his heart and soul into bringing me to the United States to ensure I would have a better life. Hearing stories and seeing pictures of his work at Korean orphanages and his desire to make a difference in the lives of other children is incredible and heartwarming. His passion for creating equality for people of color during a dangerous time fuels my passion for doing the same and honoring his legacy. My father's love for his family and I was outstanding. He inspires me to be the best version of myself. He is and will always be my hero.
That my family can live their lives happily despite the world that we live in and that they can follow their dreams and be respected and treated equally.