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Breaking Down Stigma—I Care About HIV/AIDS

gailEditor’s Note: For National Women and Girls Day, March 10th Gail T. Crockett , the Director of Strategic Supply Chain at McDonald’s Corporation, produced the following blog as part of the AIDS United Shero Series – Highlighting Women Making a Difference in the Field.  

I am not HIV positive. But I care. In fact, I think it is vitally important for all of us to care about the well-being of those that are living with HIV/AIDS. After all, we care about people with cancer. We care about people with Alzheimer’s and diabetes. But a stigma remains when it comes to HIV and AIDS.

More than 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV, and more than 650,000 people in the U.S. have died while diagnosed with AIDS, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And it’s not just a male disease. Women account for one in four of those living with HIV in the U.S. In particular, women of African American and Hispanic descent are disproportionately affected in all stages of HIV.

Maybe I care because I am a black woman. Or perhaps I’m passionate about this issue because I’ve witnessed how AIDS, once contracted, isolates people, forcing those living with it to deal with a disease almost entirely alone. I think it’s important to increase awareness that people living with HIV and AIDS are just like you and me.

The reality is that most of the more than one million people living with HIV, and even many of those living with AIDS, remain effective contributors in the workplace. They are productive managers and lawyers and engineers. What’s unfortunate is that the very environment where people with HIV spend most of their energy — at the office – it may be the very place where too often they receive very little support.

Imagine if a breast cancer patient had no one to talk to about her disease from 9 to 5, or a severe diabetic was not able to lean on a friendly colleague sitting in the next cubicle. With the demands and stress that permeate through today’s workplaces, every employee, no matter their personal circumstances, deserves support.

I recently read the story on WebMD Exit Disclaimer of one young woman who was born HIV positive. Other than having to take medication every day, she was a fully-functioning young lady. And yet, she struggled with the challenge society creates for those living with HIV or AIDS. “I would never tell someone I was not close to,” she wrote. “Even when I do feel close enough to someone to tell them, I wonder: Are they going to say, ‘Get away from me! Don’t touch me!’ The truth is that people really do look at you differently when they know you are HIV positive.”

Sure, each persons’ right to privacy is the issue. If an individual does not want to discuss his or her personal challenges in the workplace that personal and legal right must be respected. But for some managing and fighting HIV or AIDS, the time may come when they choose to share news of their battle. At some point they may want to share personal information as a means of finding support that helps them break through a tough emotional period and continue contributing value to the team.

Although there has been progress in many workplaces there are still work environments where people struggle with full disclosure. We shouldn’t look differently on those with HIV or AIDS. We should embrace and value their ideas and life experiences. I’m fortunate and proud to manage supplier diversity as one of my job accountabilities, and I’m sensitive to the closely linked topic of inclusion. We obtain the best solutions at work by including perspectives from the diversity of individuals, their experiences and companies we work with. Often, the diversity and inclusion discussion does not include HIV or AIDS. Why leave it out of the discussion? AIDS awareness is critical. We have to understand the facts about the disease so we can respect our colleagues, free of the misperceptions and stereotypes often associated with HIV and AIDS.
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This blog is part of the AIDS United Exit Disclaimer Shero Series – Highlighting Women Making a Difference in the Field.

Gail T. Crockett Exit Disclaimer is a member of the AIDS United Board of Trustees. She is Director of Strategic Supply Chain at McDonald’s Corporation, and a 20-plus year veteran of corporate America.