Every person has obstacles to overcome, but the color of their skin should not be one of them. 156 years after slavery was abolished in the U.S. many people still experience discrimination every day. As I reflect on this year’s Black History Month theme, “The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity,” I’m reminded of the obstacles African Americans have had to overcome and the opportunity we have to work toward a brighter, more inclusive future.
As African Americans, it is important that we don’t allow our negative experiences to define who we are. Sure, we may have had bouts with racism and bigotry in both our personal and professional lives, but those experiences have fueled me, not set me back. I was raised in a family with a very rich heritage of “overcomers,” and it framed a mindset of ‘positivity’ and hopefulness that shines through in everything that I do. At the end of the day, it comes down to our mindset, and we have the ability to reject negative stereotypes that are imposed by others.
As I look forward, I see a path that is bright. In his book, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey says, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” In other words, when we seek to really understand, it affirms the other person’s vantage point, and gives them a voice. This is why at Extreme Networks our employee resource groups (ERGs) are critical. Our ERGs are designed to bring the “employee voice” forward. As we share our backgrounds, cultures, and norms, we can more fully understand and embrace our differences.
Extreme takes its commitment to fostering a more inclusive workplace very seriously. We are embracing diversity and taking steps to make sure our employees’ voices are heard. As the newly appointed Vice President of Talent and HR, I shared with the team earlier this week that I am giving my “soul” to this work. One of our team members called our work, “a calling,” and I agree. This is not about numbers; it’s about creating a workplace that “gives voice” to all of our employees - our most valuable resource. We want them to speak up and be heard!
To share some of the success we’ve had, our team rolled out a plan for diversity and inclusion in June of 2020. As of today, we have 7 active ERGs and more in development. Within the first 110 days of this program, 16% of Extreme employees plugged into some resource relating to our diversity and inclusion program. Our program has been so successful because our employees are committed and passionate about our core values, and our leadership team has been extremely supportive and passionate as well.
Now that we have our foundation, we are deploying global inclusion training, rolling out sponsorship and allyship programs for under-represented employees, and tying all of our great diversity and inclusion work back to our culture – which will help us drive better business outcomes. We still have lots of work to do, but we have made significant progress in just a short time because our leaders and employees recognize the value of inclusion and they are committed to our success!
In addition to the great success we have seen internally, we shared our best practices with our partner community. A few of our partners are seeing the same success as Extreme based on our Blueprint for Inclusion. I’ll do a follow-up blog in a few weeks detailing our five steps to increase diversity and inclusion in your organization, but to give you a sneak peek, they include:
We took the first step at Extreme by fully embracing inclusion into our culture and making it a pillar of our core values. This core value emphasizes that we encourage all of our employees to speak up. We’re fostering an environment that attracts the best talent, values diversity of life experiences and perspectives, and encourages innovation in the pursuit of our corporate mission – to advance how society connects to each other.
As you reflect on this year’s Black History Month Theme, “The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity,” I encourage you to remember the past, celebrate the present, and work to transform the future. Our ERG for Black and African American employees, Black@Extreme (BEX), will be doing this throughout the entire month of February. Employees will share their stories, experiences, and perspectives throughout a number of exciting initiatives. Be sure you’re following us on social media to see them – LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.