After watching the first Making Our Strong Community Stronger panel on “How Personal Experiences Shape Corporate Inclusion,” I was very interested in the topic and engaged my management team to see what I could do to help in the effort. As a result, I was given the opportunity to participate in the second panel discussion focused on UNMASKING in the work place. I was very eager to participate as I felt the panel would be a great way for me to share my experiences.
As we started to discuss the structure and questions, I did get a little nervous. I would be going from “not unmasking at work” to “unmasking” for my peers, management, and others in the industry. We had a dry run for the panel, and I left that being even more nervous. The other panelists (outside of my peers) were executives and managers who were white and had no issue with unmasking at work. It was intimidating, but as I talked with Dr. Chance about my feelings, she made me feel more comfortable about moving forward. As the days wound down closer to the event, I actually grew nervously excited. Once that day came, I wanted to make sure that my story would be told the way that I needed it to be told. I wanted my story to be real and give an understanding of what it is like being a black man coming up in a white dominated field.
Much to my surprise, the panel went very well, and immediately after doing it, I felt a great sense of relief. It was as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. The experience was very therapeutic for me. The next day, the Making Our Strong Community Stronger initiative hosted a Town Hall for webinar attendees that had attended the panel discussion live and wanted to ask questions or provide feedback. I felt even more confident in answering the questions posed by the audience, and it actually made me feel even better that I had been involved.
For the next few days, I received numerous emails, LinkedIn notes, and friend requests from individuals who applauded the webinar and the conversation we were able to have. I also heard stories from others who had similar experiences. Someone even asked me to discuss how my experiences could help him better understand how to support his diverse workforce.
In fact, I met with some of my own management team to discuss what they could be doing better from a DEI perspective. Having leaders from my company ask me questions and listen to what I had to say gave me a sense of appreciation that what we did in our panel was not only being heard, but real action was also occurring to help others coming into this mainframe space to work.
Overall, I am proud of the fact that I was able to participate in the DEI panel and look forward to doing more to help with DEI in the future. It was a pleasure to work with Dr. Chance and her team in this effort to bring awareness to the truly important DEI issues that go unnoticed in the industry.