When it comes to race, gender and religious equality, we have a long way to to go before we celebrate.

Today is my best friend’s birthday. She’s an incredibly special person.  (Let’s call her, Laura 😉) You’d love Laura. I love Laura.

Had she and I not met there’d be a huge hole in my life, but the truth is Laura was my second choice. Not as a best friend, but as my assistant, which is how we originally met. I hired her while I was an information specialist at an international accounting firm at few decades back. She turned out to be a fantastic assistant and, an even better friend.

But I wanted to hire someone else.

I wanted to hire a black woman. I can’t remember the woman’s name or really anything about her. I only have a dim image of her seated opposite me at the corner of a large mahogany conference room table. She was articulate, poised and most importantly had some great work experience that I knew could make up for some of my lethal professional shortcomings like organization, organization, oh, and organization. I arranged for her to have a second interview with my boss—another woman whom I admired at the time.

Laura also made the short-list. She was a sharp, petite blonde—equally capable but fresh out of college with an unrelated degree and no directly applicable work experience.

The third candidate to make the cut was a male, I remember thinking he was going to be hard to rein in but if that was his biggest flaw, he could do the job too.

After conducting her own interviews my boss asked which of the three applicants I preferred, “because it really was my choice.”

I selected the black woman.

Silence. Would it be better to choose someone who was a better fit?

Better fit? I wondered what could have possible gone on during their interview because the woman I interviewed would easily stand shoulder to shoulder with all of the professionals and administrators in the firm.

If anyone would have had to work to fit in it might have been the guy – as the administrative staff was 110% female.

She padded her concern with other comments: Had I considered that perhaps the candidate would  feel out of place? Was it right to do that to her?

I was shocked when I realized my boss was referring to race. But I did not speak up. Let me repeat that. I did not speak up. And that afternoon we, I, offered Laura the job.

Looking back, I don’t regret it because I gained an irreplaceable friend. Yet I do have regrets. Every now and then I try to appease my guilt by saying I was young, barely 24 and that I wanted to please my supervisors and keep my job.

I did not speak up. I didn’t stand up for that woman who really had first claim to a career-boosting position. A day hasn’t gone by that I haven’t wished I had.

I wish I’d stood my ground, or quit in disgust. It’s hard to admit that because either of those scenarios would have meant a life without Laura. But deep down I do wish it. And as unimaginable as life-without-Laura is now, Laura, being the incredible woman she is, would understand, and maybe even agree.

I’ve never forgotten that other woman—the woman I might have also become friends with, and, who, more importantly, might have gotten the job she deserved.

How many other walls of denial did she have to face throughout her life? The other woman’s absence also left a deep hole in my life.

I’d like to be able to wish her a happy birthday, but chances are I missed it.

Photo by Dave Lastovskiy