Taking stock of where we are and where we need to go - Black History Month 2021
In honor of Black History Month, Google Fiber is celebrating the work of our Black at Google Fiber Employee Resource Group. Since its chapter launch in 2017, the group has focused on a number of areas ranging from digital inclusion to STEM education to improving the representation of people of color at all levels within our business. While George Floyd’s killing galvanized a nation, Employee Resource Groups like Black at Google Fiber are channeling that energy into a movement for change within the workplace and beyond.
We sat down with the two Black at Fiber co-leads to learn more about what it takes to lead an Employee Resource Group’s journey for social justice, racial equity and self care during an incredibly challenging year.
What does this year’s Black History Month mean to you?
Black History is more than a month — it is a legacy. It is about the contributions and sacrifices made by those before us but it is also about recognizing that Black+ people are a part of creating the narrative that will mark our place in history. When we planned past Black History Month activities we focused on bringing in people from which we all could learn. This year we centered on bringing within ourselves a stronger sense of purpose. We provided a platform to discuss the complexities of voting in the United States and the importance of civic participation. Our members also learned more focused and intentional wealth building strategies that included understanding cryptocurrency and how understanding blockchain can future proof finances.
Since last year’s Black History Month, how have you led your members through the tragic events happening in places like Louisville, KY, Minneapolis, MN, and others?
A few days after we closed our offices due to COVID-19 in March 2020, our focus was captured not just by the pandemic, but also the repeating tragedy of Black lives brutally taken by law enforcement in public view. Incident after tragic incident, many of us began to feel numb and certainly fatigued. Many of our Black colleagues felt the same and there was a clear need to create spaces that were psychologically safe for us to be in community with each other, mourn with each other, and affirm each other. And we needed the support of the larger Google Fiber organization to have real conversations about racism and ask questions on how it was impacting Black+ Google Fiber employees and our business.
As we have adjusted to doing all our meetings virtually, the availability of guest speakers increased since physical logistics were no longer a roadblock, which meant we heard from incredible speakers from across the country. Additionally, our Equity, Inclusion and Diversity lead coordinated training with thought leaders in the field of race relations that helped to foster conversations across our organization. These went well beyond our ERG to engage parts of our communities that were not talking about these issues previously.
We also hosted our first Black at Fiber Virtual Summit. This two-day event aimed at better understanding how our community investments were driving real, tangible change, on both the racial and social justice fronts, in cities like Chicago (a Google Fiber Webpass city). And we dove into the topics of Black Fatigue, White Fragility, Allyship and the importance of building trust for greater transparency and progress on racial equity. As a group, this helped us to understand the power of our lived experiences and how those experiences manifest in our work and outside-of-work lives.
Are there any lessons learned that you would like to relay to other leaders of Employee Resource Groups or the broader community?
First and foremost, take care of yourself. The conversations can be exhausting but are a necessary part of the journey. Listen to ERG members and keep their needs and feedback top of mind in all you do and plan. Our leadership position affords us the opportunity to amplify the voices of the people we represent. At Google Fiber, we know that we’re playing an important role in making sure we’re creating a safe space and ensuring that the conversations are happening. Our voice (as co-leads) could be viewed as protest in service to tough conversations. When you take on the role of leader of an ERG in your workplace, you can feel like you are making yourself more vulnerable. The general thought is that while risks of protesting at work are not as severe as getting arrested or being physically injured, there is a very real risk of limiting your career in some way. But the rewards are also very real. Your influence to drive positive change is needed now more than ever, and organizations are realizing that these efforts are key to driving long term success. So keep pushing for the change of Black+ and other underrepresented groups, and being the leaders your company needs now.
Posted by Black at Fiber Co-Chairs, Daynise Joseph, Government and Community Affairs Manager, Nashville, Huntsville and Atlanta and Terrence Brooks, Head of Sales, Nashville