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Voices Come Together for Corporate Inclusion

Diverse speakers from across the IBM Z mainframe ecosystem came together to discuss how personal experiences shape corporate inclusion. Read on for highlights from the conversation.

Ashley Peterson, product marketing manager, IBM Z and LinuxONE, IBM
Jeff Henry, vice president, product management and design, Mainframe Software Division, Broadcom
Sharra Owens-Schwartz, inclusion, diversity and equity senior director, Rocket Software
Jerry Chuaypradit, manager, IBM Z Enterprise Networking Solutions, IBM

Especially in light of recent events over the past year and a half, companies around the world have added their voices to the national conversation around diversity, equity and inclusion. Now, companies are shifting their focus inward to take action and amplify conversations and action around diversity, equity, and inclusion in the hopes of creating more inclusive corporate cultures. 
 
To accelerate diversity, equity, and inclusion in the tech industry, Broadcom Mainframe Software, IBM, Rocket Software, VirtualZ Computing, TechChannel and Open Mainframe Project have come together to create the Making Our Strong Community, Stronger collaborative initiative—inspired by a question to mainframe leaders about diversity: “What are you doing about it?” 
 
The latest installation of this collaborative initiative took place on April 28, 2021, in a hugely insightful and emotionally moving webinar titled “How Personal Experiences Shape Corporate Inclusion.” You can view the full webinar on demand here, and read on for spotlights from the conversation.  

Diverse Voices Coming Together

This webinar featured a diverse panel of leaders from across the IBM Z ecosystem including: 

●      Ashley Peterson, product marketing manager, IBM Z and LinuxONE, IBM
●      Jeff Henry, vice president, product management and design, Mainframe Software Division, Broadcom
●      Sharra Owens-Schwartz, inclusion, diversity and equity senior director, Rocket Software
●      Jerry Chuaypradit, manager, IBM Z Enterprise Networking Solutions, IBM

Moderated by Dr. Gloria Chance, president and CEO of the Mousai Group, the conversation focused on accelerating diversity by opening up the floor for meaningful conversation and storytelling from each of the participants. 
 
With each panelist representing a very different background and personal perspective on how diversity, equity and inclusion have impacted them throughout their lives and their professional careers, the panel was created to help others understand how lived experiences influence company culture. Each panelist spoke directly to their own experiences as related to their careers as Dr. Chance, a Peak Performance Psychologist/CIO, Creativity and DE&I expert asked a series of inter-connected questions about personal stories and corporate inclusion. Together, the panel demonstrated ways leaders in the tech community can take the life lessons of the panelists and apply them to more effectively foster an inclusive workplace. 

The Panelists’ Point of View 

Each panelist presented a very unique point of view sending a strong message on the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Broadcom’s Jeff Henry, for instance, discussed his childhood growing up in a culturally diverse neighborhood on the East Coast, where his early exposure to families from many different backgrounds instilled a personal curiosity for diverse thought. He related how his upbringing originally taught him to value colorblindness. “What I didn’t realize at the time,” he explained, “was that’s not really the point. Society brings with it a history. If we don’t face it and actually become  ‘color aware’, then we don’t actively evolve in our thinking to create a new future.” He shared how shifting his mindset allowed him not only to better understand his friends and family around him, but also to  recognize the unique contributions that different people bring to the table in a work environment. 
 
By contrast, IBM’s Ashley Peterson explained how her more insular upbringing in the Midwest and the South didn’t expose her as early to conversations on diversity, equity and inclusion. “It wasn’t something that I really thought about, so I didn’t really have any opinion on it,” she explained. She shared how this changed when she went to college. Through sharing conversations and witnessing the lived experiences of a roommate, she began to think about diversity in a way that she hadn’t before. With this new perspective on approaching inclusion initiatives, Peterson noted that trust and authenticity should be key values for being an inclusive organization. “It’s really important to make sure that historically underrepresented populations have the opportunities to be doing stretch projects or that they can be heard during meetings so that we all feel like we can be ourselves at work.”  
 
Jerry Chuaypradit, IBM, focused on how his childhood in the melting pot of New York City gave him the unique advantage of having community like his own while having access to people from all walks of life. He pointed to this connection to multiple communities as his key to developing his sense of leadership in the workplace and understanding the importance of allyship. “I was met with some barriers to growth until some of my allies stood up for me. One in particular took it upon herself to guide me toward growth opportunities because she saw I was striving to learn more. She took what she learned and imparted that onto me to help me grow.” He emphasized speaking up as the best way to make change in businesses, whether that’s people of color sharing their stories or allies amplifying the voices of people of color. 
 
Finally, Sharra Owens-Schwartz of Rocket Software shared her story of growing up in a predominantly black area of Boston, where she was able to develop a sense of self and safety with her family and extended community with similar life experiences as hers. Still, she mentioned how, despite the preparation from her parents, she often felt invisible because of her race. “In the workplace, the theme of invisibility has been pervasive,” she said. She described how the actions of colleagues at times reinforced that invisibility, but also helped her understand the depth and pervasiveness of stereotyping and racism that can exist in the workplace. She mentioned how cases like hers can demonstrate how companies might assume they have allies, but their employees’ actions can actually be indicative of diversity issues. 

Different Perspectives, Shared Goals 

While each of the panelists told a different story or shared a new outlook, everyone expressed that conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion are one step forward in the ongoing process of making change in corporate culture. “These stories are important to share, because people are not one-dimensional,” said Owens-Schwartz. “At work, you typically experience the positive side that people bring with them, which means that people are not showing up as their full selves. In order for me to understand how to be inclusive, it’s a practice in order for us to understand what might feel inclusive for others. We need to understand people in who they are.” 
 
To increase this understanding in our community, we’d like to hear from you. What does diversity, equity and inclusion mean to you? What is your company doing to further these efforts? Do you have experiences starting, planning or running a DE&I initiative? Send an email to TechChannel Senior Editor Keelia Estrada Moeller at kmoeller@techchannel.com to participate in the conversation.
 
As the panel ended, Dr. Chance challenged all attendees to consider how they personally factor into global conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion and how panels like this one are part of continuing the action-based work toward creating a more just world. 
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