How Avanade employees are innovating for change
- Posted on April 7, 2019
- Estimated reading time 6 minutes
As part of our IWD blog series, we’re continuing our dialogue with people at Avanade that innovate for change 365 days a year. Meet our Employee Resource Group members Amy Alley, who is the local lead in Raleigh North Carolina for our PRISM (LGBT+*) ERG, and Chrystal Tyler, Co-Lead of our Blacks@Avanade (B@A) Affinity Group. Both of these talented women regularly go above and beyond their assigned roles and responsibilities to provide support and stoke employee engagement through ERG and affinity group volunteerism.
Let’s start by explaining what Avanade’s Employee Resource and Affinity Groups do and how they help promote inclusion and diversity.
Chrystal: In short, affinity groups are typically a group of employees drawn together by common characteristics. These groups help with employee engagement and help ensure that people feel confident, inspired and cared for so they can do great work and fully contribute to their project teams.
Affinity groups foster employee connectivity and professional development through networking, mentoring and workshops. Obviously, the more comfortable and happier an employee feels directly affects their productivity and level of contribution.
Amy: I agree with Chrystal. Avanade does an amazing job of making sure people feel included in every aspect of company life. These groups are critical to employees in feeling valued and inspired to bring their authentic selves to the workplace so that they can do great innovative work. PRISM is Avanade’s LGBT+ ERG, and I’ve been a member for the past two years, leading our efforts in Raleigh, North Carolina.
I’ve been really pleased at the commitment from leadership and peers not only in the Southeast U.S. but also across the enterprise. It’s really a great work environment with a corporate culture that rewards and celebrates inclusion, diversity and innovation.
What specifically is your affinity group/ERG doing to address gender and other forms of disparity?
Chrystal: Blacks@Avanade is working on a number of different fronts, including helping with recruitment and retention of more diverse talent. We’re sharing our insights with our Talent Acquisition team and engaging colleagues across the company to promote more effective approaches in our communities.
For International Women’s Day, we hosted a business clothing drive across various offices in the U.S. to benefit women with the “Dress for Success” women’s non-profit organization.
We’re also focused on community service outside Avanade to present new opportunities in tech and STEM to minorities. For example, we work with groups like the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) on events and educational programs for these under-represented populations. Last fall, we hosted a coding hackathon in Dallas with NSBE that attracted more than 60 minority students from grades 6-12. We also brought eight students into the Houston office as part of a mentoring and coaching program.
We’ve also worked with the “Reading with a Rapper,” program (part of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative) where we hosted platinum recording artist Meek Mill to encourage technical literacy in low income communities by utilizing Microsoft technologies and engaging with 25+ high school students.
We also foster robust networking opportunities by providing an active community platform, where we network and collaborate as a means of promoting each other’s successes, while also sharing our personal experiences, career opportunities and career advice. This is an important support that enables us to encourage ideation and promote positive change toward more representational inclusion and diversity. Not just for women, but for everyone.
Amy: We are always looking for ways to support overall inclusion and diversity — including focusing on challenges women and gender fluid people still face in the workplace. We try to collaborate with other groups whenever possible. We’re always looking for points of intersection to drive greater inclusion.
There are unique challenges for some of our people who have been traditionally under-represented in the tech sector overall, including women and minorities. What do you say to other women and people of color who may be considering a career in tech or at Avanade?
Chrystal: The most important thing is to network! There are tons of free tech groups where you can meet other people with similar backgrounds, interests and career goals. You’ll have to research and be proactive in reaching out to them, but once you’re involved you’ll see things start to happen and your career options improve.
Secondly, keep a growth mindset and engage in continuous education whenever and wherever you can find it. Technology evolves so quickly, that we all need to be mindful of staying up-to-date. In short, be a professional student and lifelong learner.
Same question for you Amy. Tell us about some of the challenges faced by our LGBT+ colleagues.
Amy: Many LGBT+ individuals feel they still have to hide their true selves, and that may be more true in some geographic areas than others due to cultural norms. That’s what’s so great about Avanade. We provide support systems and networks to engage these types of people from initial contact, through offer letter to onboarding and beyond. That was the case for me. When I first joined PRISM I was surprised by the level of support I received, particularly when I hosted a PRISM luncheon where we hosted a transgender person from the Human Rights Campaign.
I think we could do a better job on the recruitment front in attracting LGBT+ people who would be excellent fits for Avanade. We have to be intentional in how we message and reach out to them, especially millennials who have a much broader understanding of gender diversity and sexual orientation. They need to know that Avanade is a place they can be who they are without any concerns about bias or discrimination no matter where they sit or work. Even in countries that have yet to embrace LGBT+ rights, Avanade provides a safe, supportive and professional environment even if the state, country or region they’re working in doesn’t. That’s very important to people who are not hetero-normative or don’t adhere to traditional gender identities. We need to amplify that message to attract and retain the very best talent.
Can you both leave us with a few tips on how we sustain momentum in terms of gender and other forms of inclusion/diversity?
Chrystal: Avanade should continue to be self-aware of the cultural climate of the organization. I know we’re always working towards improving attrition so we can retain the great talent we have. We have to be direct and deliberate in ensuring that we are maintaining a diverse and inclusive working environment where people feel comfortable having difficult conversations and are encouraged to give us honest feedback. If we do that, we’ll get closer to achieving our inclusion and diversity goals, which will allow for even greater innovation for our clients and their customers.
Amy: Yes. I strongly agree! In terms of our LGBT+ community, we face a variety of challenges on multiple fronts. We’re lucky to have the support from our leadership across the board. But there’s so much more we have to do, including our recruitment approach. Of course, I encourage all Avanade employees to check out PRISM on Yammer, Facebook, etc. Follow us; we are happy to have you!
Secondly, our people are welcome to commit to our Ally Pledge, which is one way for everyone to “come out” in support of LGBT+ rights in the workplace and beyond.
It’s important to build trust and trusting relationships. LGBT+ women, women of color and women in general, need to continue to speak up, and let your voice be heard! Your perspective matters at Avanade.
*LGBT+ is an abbreviation that refers to people with diverse sexual orientation, sex or gender identity. They include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, and other sexuality, sex and gender-diverse people, regardless of their term of self-identification. The abbreviation can vary and can include additional letters, such as I (intersex) and Q (queer/questioning) or even appear in a different order (e.g., GLBTI).