Earlier today, in a casual conversation with one of our employees, she mentioned “her fiancé.”
My romantic self blurted out, “Oh that’s so exciting. When is the wedding?”
“I don’t know, we don’t have a date,” she said. “We’ve been engaged for 5 years.”
My confused expression must have been apparent on the Zoom video call when she quickly followed up with, “we like it this way … really.”
I loved hearing this and it gave me pause to think about why I liked the comment and what it means to be married versus engaged.
The definition of marriage, according to Google, includes words like “formal union,” and “social and legal contract” that “unites lives legally, economically and emotionally.”
The definition of “engaged” includes words like “involvement.” And when it comes to the work environment Google tells me, “employee engagement describes the level of enthusiasm and dedication a worker feels toward their job.” For me when it comes to our business environment, “engagement” goes above and beyond “marriage” and that is how I would describe the work environment at Extreme.
Several years before the pandemic when we, Extreme, went on a shopping spree to buy three companies in 12 months, transforming the size and scale of the company, we quickly doubled the employee population—in many cases inheriting amazing engineering teams. In the course of our integration work, we found our female employee population shrinking as compared to our male population, mostly because … well, there are just more male engineers in the world.
Our CEO decided to take action to fix the gender diversity disparity. Coincidentally, around the same time while on a flight to New York, I sat next to and met Dr. Patty Ann Tublin who, it turns out, is an external relationship consultant. She has done work for companies like General Electric and has written books on promoting women in corporate environments to help fill the gender gap. This chance meeting resulted in our CEO founding, with the help of Dr. Patty Ann Tublin, the Extreme International Women’s Leadership Council.
Started in January of 2018, the Extreme International Women’s Leadership Council was the first of our employee resource groups (ERGs). The Council started a mentorship program and ran programs to recruit, advance and promote female leaders. In just 3 years we increased the female population at Extreme by over 6% and increased the number of female leaders at Director level and above by 5%, elevating awareness of this crucial issue with our leadership.
Two years later, during the pandemic, our CEO promoted Kimberley Basnight to be our diversity and inclusion leader and later elevated her to SVP of HR and Diversity & Inclusion Officer. During this difficult COVID era, and under Kimberley’s leadership, we discovered our employees were exhausted from sitting on Zoom calls from their home offices—or sometimes makeshift home offices, like spaces carved out in a closet or at a kitchen table. The novelty of working from home had worn off and our employees were craving more.
At first, Kimberley initiated the Black at Extreme (BEX) ERG and then soon after there was an explosion of ERGs around the company. Employees from the Sales, Legal, IT, IR and Engineering departments raised their hands to start employee resource groups, and many of our senior executives were quick to volunteer as executive sponsors.
After BEX was established, we gave birth to La Raza (representing our Hispanic American employees), Asian Pacific Islanders (APIs), Maitri (representing our employees in India), the Veterans Council, the Pride Alliance and then our most recent Aspiring Professionals (APs) ERG, not to be confused with the APIs.
BEX celebrated Black History Month in February when they invited Dr. Gloria Burgess to present “Legacy Living” and by holding a forum regarding “Challenging Dominant Voices to Listen and Encouraging Non-Dominant to be Vocal.” This incredibly energetic group also highlighted five key black technologists in a blog. During the end of the month celebration, they held a fundraiser for the Central Texas Food Bank, where employees raised $2500, providing 10,000 meals to families. They have helped increase our diversity hires by 20% and our Black African American community grew from 2.9% to 3.5% of our population.
We celebrated Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May.
The API team showed a moving documentary about exploring a family’s Asian roots in the Southern US and held a Q&A session with the producer and director of the film. They conducted spotlight interviews with executive leadership of Asian background, increased our employee knowledge during a trivia contest, and provided a forum for employees to listen to fellow employees share their personal experiences in story telling sessions.
The Pride Alliance ERG celebrated pride month in June, with speakers like Dr. Haleem Khan, a world renowned Kuchipudi dancer and Jenni Cheng & Lisa Dazols, who documented life of LGBTQ around the world. They ended their celebrations with a virtual pride parade. This particular group has created a safe and welcoming environment for the Extreme LGBTQ community members and their allies, in a world where homosexuality continues to be illegal in some of the countries where we do business.
Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15) was a ton of fun and filled with so much goodness for our employees. La Raza raised $1,000 towards the Hispanic Scholarship Fund by selling t-shirts, emblazoned with “You had me at HOLA.” They held a professional development event called Executive Presence as well as a LinkedIn Job Fair for our employees. They ended the month-long celebration by inviting Nando Parrado, who left us speechless as he talked about leadership and teamwork in connection with his survival of the 1972 plane crash in the Andes mountains with his then Ruby teammates.
The Veterans Council, which is gaining traction with veteran employees around the globe, celebrated our veterans throughout the month of November. Extreme donated network equipment and XIQ to the Platoon Veterans Center that is under construction in Frederick, MD. This center will provide an array of services to veterans and military members transitioning into civilian life. They hosted the CEO of Platoon 22, a veteran’s resource organization, for a fireside chat and highlighted the veterans that work at Extreme throughout the month by posting blogs on E360 that offer a glimpse into why our veterans volunteered to serve in the military, what it meant to them, and how their time in service helped them in their career.
Extreme’s work and dedication to D&I has provided such an amazing opportunity to show support for our employees and communities. Today over 20% of our employee population is engaged in some aspect of one or more of our ERGs, ranging from career development, networking, dialog and awareness, recruitment and retention, planning of social events, arranging speaker series and other fun activities. Our employees have built friendships and shared common stories about their immigrant heritage, and similarly the horrors of being discriminated against due to their race, national origin, or sexual orientation. We have provided a platform for our employees to engage with each other in a safe and welcoming environment.
During our AOP planning cycle, we contemplated whether we should increase the budget for CSR activities like diversity and inclusion. Collectively, the executive team decided to allow the teams to continue doing what they are doing in a very real and organic way.
If there is one positive thing I can say about the pandemic, it’s that it accelerated our employee engagement in an incredibly meaningful and positive way. Recently, at a weekly executive meeting, I complained about ERG fatigue. As I reflected upon my own comment I realized it’s not fatigue I’m experiencing– it’s FOMO… fear of missing out!
Executive leadership calendars are filled with staff meetings, all hands, QBRs, 1:1s, trainings and board meetings. And then there is all the fun activities that have created avenues for engagement. As I see the invites pop up on my calendar, I am overwhelmed and overjoyed with the amount of effort we are putting into creating an incredibly positive environment. I want to participate in all of it. Each of our ERGs up the ante with their creativity and how much they do for our employee base. It is inspiring and moving and simply put … takes my breath away.
Working from home has allowed our employees to do so much with so little. Our employees may not be married to their jobs, but at Extreme they are engaged, and that keeps our attrition low and our spirits high, as compared to the rest of the industry. Bravo to the entire team of Extreme ERG leaders and participants.