Looking to the future with Avanade's INSPIRE Black Employee Network

  • Posted on December 5, 2022
  • Estimated reading time 5 minutes

Four years ago, with a vision of curating positive impact and inclusion in our community, Michael Harris and Chrystal Tyler stepped up and built a board of talented individuals, and the INSPIRE Black Employee Network was born. INSPIRE, which stands for Investing in the Next Set of Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers, and Engineers, continues to thrive today, and we’re entering a new era as Dikasse Zalla and DJ Sharp step into the co-chair roles.

Dikasse is a senior consultant in the Business and Technology Integration-talent community out of the Northeast region. She started her career at Avanade after college graduation and joined INSPIRE as a volunteer for the marquee Juneteenth event. Getting involved gave Dikasse an opportunity to connect with people that looked like her and to learn more about the Black and African American community that’s been built here at Avanade.

DJ is a senior consultant back-end developer in the software engineering talent community out of the Midwest region. He has a passion for writing code and solving complex problems. He joined Avanade as an experienced hire three years ago. Throughout his academic and professional career in technology, he rarely saw faces that looked like him. DJ has long had a desire to be a part of a greater group that fosters diversity, gives leadership opportunities for minorities, provides community services, and helps others have the same opportunities in IT is what drove DJ to join INSPIRE.

I’m excited to sit down with Dikasse and DJ to dive into the impact they look to drive moving forward.

Why are you excited to take on this role, and what does this opportunity mean to you?

Dikasse: I am excited to contribute at scale and in my own way, after seeing the work INSPIRE has done over the past four years. As co-chairs, we will focus on creating a community for people that look like us to grow, supporting one another, and being seen as a partner with Avanade in driving globally strategic Inclusion & Diversity efforts. Our commitment also means we’ll need to explore what that may look like for the African American community. Personally, I am excited about the challenge this role is bringing to me; I’ve never been in a role like this before and am looking forward to what I can accomplish with the INSPIRE team.

DJ: Stepping into this role gives me an opportunity to help others that look like me to gain ground in their careers. One of my strategic goals of INSPIRE is to ensure our members grow and develop professionally as general body members and eventually fill our leadership board. We’ll have a responsibility to learn how to help members perform well in their daily jobs, gain the knowledge required to perform at a high level, understand what success looks like, and grow to their full potential.

What do you hope to achieve as a chair of an EN over the next few years? What are a few goals you have for the INSPIRE community over the next few years?

DJ: My long-term goal as co-chair is to grow our membership 5x and provide opportunities to our members that enable them to sit at executive levels, while feeling supported by people that understand what they’re going through – at work, culturally, and at home. We all face different challenges culturally and process things differently emotionally, so it helps to collaborate with others who may be working through similar challenges.

Dikasse: As co-lead, my first goal is to empower and grow the membership at INSPIRE. That commitment includes not just those who personally align with INSPIRE but also our allies that support the mission and vision of INSPIRE. I’d like to foster a strong sense of community that curates safe spaces, conversations, and forums. Additionally, we’d like to see success within our members via increased promotion rates, increased certifications, reduced number of INSPIRE members on the bench, and increased representation within senior and executive levels across the company.

Where would you like to see the INSPIRE Leadership Board focus their impact? How can we come together to inspire greatness in the Avanade community and have a genuine human impact?

DJ: First, we should empower our members to express themselves as who they are. We can make sure they have everything they need to help them attain everything they’d like to do at Avanade and beyond. We can also ensure that our EN is putting on events that support goal achievement – we’ll look to provide professional development series on promotion, guidance on careers at Avanade, ways to optimize daily working styles, and opportunities to showcase skills with personal and cultural flare on top.

Dikasse: We would like to focus our impact on enabling our members to attain their objectives by putting people first. We do that by understanding their needs, what their objectives are, providing the tools and insights required to achieve them. Once you make a genuine impact, it grows beyond any of us as individuals because we’re reaching something greater. We want to provide a support system for our members, which will naturally inspire greatness around us – creating a chain reaction.

Michael Harris and Chrystal Tyler, the Chairs Emeritus, have concluded their last term. They leave a powerful legacy for all of us to continue to develop. As the new co-chairs, are there any lessons you’ve learned from them that you will use in your new role?

DJ: The most important lesson that Michael and Chrystal taught me was that every member is a VIP. I watched as Michael set aside time to meet with committee members to discuss complex problem solving on issues, and connect with a member who was struggling to capture their promotion story at year end. I’d like to carry that forward, so that everyone in our membership feels they can come to us. We’re servants in these roles. Michael and Chrystal were great at demonstrating stewardship leadership and that we’re here to ensure members have what they need to thrive.

Dikasse: To DJ’s point, that’s what we want to carry forward: the notion that “Every member counts”. Everyone is significant in the INSPIRE family. “Reaching back” is something else we’ve seen in action in the previous co-chairs. If Chrystal and Michael saw themselves in a new opportunity, they’d make sure to pass along what they’ve done to get there or stake in the opportunity. The way they brought DJ and I into our current roles is what we would like to do for all members, whether it’s related to +1 work, project work, engagements, or initiatives here at Avanade. Finally, you’ve got to build a great team around you, and we’re very fortunate to have an awesome extended team of leaders and go-getters around us that we trust. We would not have been able to do the things we’ve done so far without our awesome support system and leadership team.

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