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Black Employee Network commemorates Juneteenth and pushes for change within Avanade

  • Posted on July 8, 2020
  • Estimated reading time 6 minutes

Members of INSPIRE, Avanade’s Black Employee Network, have taken great strides to drive conversation within Avanade especially during the last month. Following the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, the group helped organize listening forums in areas across Avanade and decided to shift the focus of their Juneteenth Commemoration. The interactive discussion, held on June 19, explored what each person at Avanade could do to change things for the better, while also navigating the realities of police brutality, criminalization, victimization, education and more.

To recap the panel, we chatted with INSPIRE Co-Chair Chrystal Tyler and INSPIRE Communication Lead Eunice Kyereme about their approach, what’s changing and how allies can make a difference.

Avanade News: Did you have a plan in place to do the Juneteenth panel prior to protests over George Floyd’s death going global? Did those events change your approach?

Chrystal: No, we were still deciding on how to celebrate Juneteenth, but this plan changed sometime between Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. Usually, we get together, network and have fellowship. But with those deaths, we transitioned our plan for Juneteenth.

Eunice: The political climate in America and globally impacted how we went about Juneteenth. We wanted it to be very intentional and reflective of the climate we were in.

Avanade News: What was your most important objective with the conversation?

Chrystal: For me, it was awareness. After the Juneteenth panel, one of the things that colleagues came back and shared was that they were just shocked. There are so many people who just are not aware of the challenges faced by the African American community. It opened many eyes, and that is what we wanted to do because that is how we get support and that has helped our ally community grow.

Eunice: I always saw Juneteenth as a door to conversations that never happen in corporate America. Even now, I’m kind of surprised that something like this was able to happen at Avanade. I know from experience that this is not normal. So I saw it as a door to a new beginning, new conversations and new initiatives. And I think Juneteenth accomplished that.

Avanade News: What sort of feedback have you received – both from INSPIRE members and Avanade employees who aren’t INSPIRE members?

Chrystal: As far as INSPIRE members, prior to Juneteenth, there has always been this frustration that people didn’t seem to understand. It goes back to when we had the Black Lives Matter movement and there was so much push back – people saying, “All Lives Matter.” Which meant that people were not understanding the reasoning behind the movement. I think the Juneteenth call kind of lifted some weight from our INSPIRE members. They feel a stronger level of support and they feel like they can now have these conversations, which is a little bit of a relief. It has made a positive impact on our employees mentally because finally there is a feeling that people care. From non-members, much of the feedback from people was: “I was sort of aware, but I was so focused on going through my day-to-day, I really didn’t stop to think about it. But now I’m not willing to be so quiet about it. I’m willing to speak up and support.”

Eunice: I completely agree. What I saw in our allies was more self-awareness, and that’s so important. You need to understand how you navigate the world, and how it affects others. So I think people began to self-analyze and think how they relate to the topic of race. The question of “What can I do?” came a lot – a lot – from different types of allies.

Avanade News: What do you make of that “How can I help?” question? Does it feel like an important step, or is it frustrating because there are so many resources out there for people to answer that question?

Chrystal: I don’t get frustrated when I hear it because it’s not an easy topic. It’s not something an individual person can solve. In my past, I’ve thought to myself, “What can I do to help with these issues?” And for myself, I had to realize I can’t solve all these problems, so I’m going to pick one, and I’ll work toward that. For me, my focus has been education. For the last 11 years, I’ve run a National Society of Black Engineers chapter, and my goal is that I’m going to get African American students into college. But even INSPIRE members, if you ask them what they are doing on a daily basis, it’s not an easy question. It can be hard to identify where you want to jump in.

Eunice: I’m not personally annoyed by the question. I understand the intention behind it is to make an impact, to do something, to change their approach. But eventually, in the long-term, it cannot be repeated year after year. We can’t be your only resource.

Avanade News: INSPIRE is currently doing so much to essentially bring activism into the workplace, which used to be more of a neutral space, and that can be really exhausting. How do you balance that desire to make a difference through INSPIRE but also to protect the wellness and mental health of your members?

Chrystal: Yeah, that’s a hard one. It requires organization and team work. I know when we had the open forums, almost every region wanted to have one. Sharing a story once it’s helpful, it’s cathartic, but then you get invited to every forum, and having to repeat it, it’s like you’re having to retraumatize yourself each time you share it. That part can be emotionally draining, but we know how important it is to have these conversations. So how we manage that emotional drain is our team delegates and shares the load. Different people will go to different forums, so we’re not forced to reshare and take ourselves to that emotional place two or three times a week.

Eunice: I think the structure that we have helps. We have a leadership team that supports INSPIRE, and we have regional champions who spearhead these conversations. So when we come to help, it’s not just us doing the talking. Doing that constantly becomes too much. These stories, when they’re first told, they’re very genuine. But after a while, it can feel like a performance. There’s a feeling of,“You’ve heard my story so many times. How do you still not understand?”

Avanade News: What do you hope looks different at Avanade a year from now?

Chrystal: I’m hoping by the end of FY21, the initiatives that we put into place have shown progress. We’re working with Human Resources and the global Inclusion & Diversity team to create a plan. But it is going to take time. Self-identification is coming, and with that we can finally be able to start running metrics and tracking our progress on the diversity of employees within Avanade. At the end of next year, I hope we can look at the metrics to track all the ideas and proposals that we’re now putting into place to truly see if an impact was made.

Eunice: I’ve heard a lot of great ideas over the past few weeks – from INSPIRE, from our allies, from our leadership. But in a year, I’d like to see that now we’ve finished the conversation, what was the action? And most importantly, how were all these ideas implemented? At the end of the day, we want this to be long-term.

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