News Column

NASA Astronaut Mae Jemison Inspires

Sept. 19, 2012

John Reid Blackwell

Mae Jemison was the first black woman astronaut.

Mae Jemison has seen the Earth from outer space.

As a NASA astronaut, she was the first black woman to travel into space, orbiting the Earth aboard the space shuttle Endeavour in 1992.

That gives her a global perspective, one that she thinks businesses need to adopt, too.

"I think that in the world today we need to pay attention to what is happening and understand that we have choices, and our choices should not be small and narrow and selfish," said Jemison, who spoke in Richmond on Tuesday night at Owens & Minor Inc.'s seventh annual health care supplier diversity symposium.

Jemison had just traveled from another conference on space travel, part of a project she is leading to ensure that within the next 100 years we can send humans to another solar system.

"We should really look at how we progress as a species," Jemison said in an interview before her speech. "Businesses are part of it."

Nearly 300 people from around the nation are attending the two-day conference at the Richmond Marriott, more than half of them representing women- and minority-owned suppliers in the health care industry, along with representatives from health providers such as Bon Secours Richmond Health System and VCU Health System.

This year's conference focuses on how other suppliers, especially women- and minority-owned firms, can find opportunities in the global market, said Angela Wilkes, Owens & Minor's director of supplier diversity and sustainability.

Owens & Minor, a Hanover County-based distributor of medical products, recently expanded into international markets by acquiring a European-based firm.

"When we looked at supplier diversity historically in health care, there was a very local focus," Wilkes said.

"We looked at economic development within a community. With changes in health care and in the global economy, it makes good business sense for women- and minority-owned businesses to expand their horizons," Wilkes said.

Jemison, who was born in Alabama, grew up in Chicago, trained as a medical doctor and worked for the Peace Corps as a physician in Africa. She was an astronaut for six years and then founded her own research company, The Jemison Group.

She also is an advocate for science, technology, engineering and math education.

Businesses should embrace diversity as they look to grow in a global marketplace, she said.

"I think you don't have to make the case for diversity in business," she said. "It should be very, very clear. As we look at our world right now, it is made up of lots of different people, and there is no way to really provide for their needs unless you have a broad perspective."

Source: (c)2012 the Richmond Times-Dispatch (Richmond, Va.). Distributed by MCT Information Services

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