To celebrate Juneteenth, TD SYNNEX hosted a “Finding Freedom to Be You in the Workplace” panel with leaders from our business resource group, Beacon. Participants for our panel:
- Bri Berry (moderator), talent acquisition partner
- Darron Coley, business development representative
- Bernadette Leamon, manager of MSP field sales
- Daishon Redden, technical product manager
- Gavin Whitfield, senior project manager, logistics
What does Juneteenth mean to you personally?
Gavin: Growing up in the Midwest, the first thing that comes to mind is the happy holiday where people get together to celebrate and share their stories. The second thing that I think of is freedom; there’s a saying that none of us are free until we’re all free. Juneteenth represents a time where all of us as Americans have the opportunity to be closer to equal footing and be able to enjoy that freedom.
Bernadette: For me, Juneteenth is a reminder of my ancestors and the historical fight for unconditional freedom. It’s also a reminder of how far we’ve come but that there’s still a long, long way to go until we’re equally all free. My biggest thing with Juneteenth is to educate my children, nieces and nephews and continue pushing the conversation forward. That’s one of the reasons why I take advantage of every opportunity that I can to be involved in discussions like this. I don’t want to get wrapped up in the naming of Juneteenth as a federal holiday and think that’s it; we need to keep our foot on the gas.
Darron: I wasn’t aware of Juneteenth until maybe four or five years ago, so it was fairly recently. Growing up, I learned to understand that you’re not free until everyone’s free. Understanding the importance and history behind Juneteenth has been big for me. It’s more than the recognition of a federal holiday, but is about continuing to make sure everybody’s actions are lining up with the words that they speak.
Daishon: For me, I come from a family of farmers on both my mom’s and dad’s sides. So, just hearing their stories and how close in generations it is to me how even when we were freed, there wasn’t freedom because of the [limited] amount of money they were able to make at the time. It’s a reminder of the brilliance and genius of my people, to be able to always be adaptable and to succeed and for me to carry the torch and pass it along to others and motivate them as well.
Bri: I think you all touched on a lot of good pieces: the freedom aspect and wanting to carry this forward from what our ancestors have done in the past and recognizing the fight they had to make for the freedom that we have today. It’s about carrying that forward to continue to move this message within generations and bring exposure and awareness to it.
How have you felt or developed a sense of belonging in the workplace?
Gavin: Having worked at multiple companies in the [IT] industry, here [at TD SYNNEX] I do feel a sense of belonging. I do see people that look like me in management.
I can see a pathway, and that is very important, where I can take my education and experience and move within the company.
At the same time, it allows me to participate in events like this and it’s part of my responsibility to make sure that I can share that story with others and know that I’m telling the truth. So, when you’re looking for a place to work, one of the things I always do is look at the leadership and find leadership that looks like me and I’ve seen that here. That’s something that keeps me going and makes me proud to be able to do that. I’ve been fortunate to have managers that look like me and my intermediate team of site leaders all looked like me as well. But as a manager, it’s a critical requirement that I reach back and help people and give back to others just as I’ve needed someone to mentor me.
Daishon: I developed my sense of belonging through the networking side of things, finding people like Bernadette who could be a good mentor for me and working with people like Darron to build a relationship where we can talk to each other about anything, that’s what gave me my sense of belonging. On my team, I work with people who don’t look like me, but my manager specifically finds the time to call and talk about what I’ve done during the week and provide constructive feedback so that one day I’m in his shoes, and that’s something I appreciate.
Bri: For anyone who is searching for jobs or internships, it’s really hard to know what a company’s values are and how they’re demonstrated in the interview process. If diversity, equity and inclusion are big pieces for you, figuring out how to weave those into conversations to determine if companies are truly aligned with what they say they are and demand clarity around what they’re doing.
Moving forward, when we look at being included in a company, a huge piece is more than the holiday [of Juneteenth], but it’s being a co-worker who can show up truly as you are and not feeling like you have to withhold parts of yourself.
Bernadette: When we were trying to work out a DE&I practice at TD SYNNEX, one of the things we looked at was mentorship. In the past, I would never participate in mentorship opportunities because nobody in management or leadership looked like me and so I wasn’t sure how to navigate that. How would I treat you as a mentor when my struggles to get to the next level are different than yours? I struggled to find a mentor I could relate to and who could relate to me.
I finally met my first Black vice president and when we had our first one-on-one meeting, it was as if I were meeting a superhero for the first time.
Imagine how I felt when that camera came on and I saw a Black VP for the first time in my career. But we’re not going to stop here. I don’t stop at management level, and it starts by having honest conversations.
What are the initiatives and conversations that you have seen to help push forward your career?
Bernadette: [Those conversations] were difficult, initially. We started having these conversations and I was asked to be part of a team to facilitate those conversations. I wanted to be a part of the DE&I conversations and initiatives, but it was challenging. One of the biggest things that I wanted to be a part of was making sure I got involved with our business unit hiring practice because we tend to gravitate toward candidates who are familiar to us. When I would get resumes, I would be very intentional about the selection process. There is something to be said about experience in itself, especially when not everyone is afforded the opportunity to attend a four-year college. I know some people that I went to school with that could do some great things if given the opportunity, so I think that we have to be intentional. I always reach back and fight for the underdog and give these individuals a chance. What makes a resume perfect? What makes a “perfect” resume the right way?
We have to think outside the box and make sure we’re being intentional about the things we’re doing.
Bri: You have to know your worth as a part of this advancement and progress. You want to make sure you’re moving the ball forward after you get that next promotion or title or whatever it is. I’ve gotten to be a part of some of those conversations around subconscious bias and implicit bias in hiring and those are very real things that you’re up against in the interview process.
It’s one thing to be brave and bold enough to have hard conversations, especially around your identity because you’re bringing your whole self to work every day. You can’t leave that Black part of you at home, and that matters in the workplace. A large part of success is making sure you have management and leaders who are willing to listen and then do something about it.
Darron: I did an undergrad degree at Clemson University and finished a master’s program. Clemson hosted something called a Men of Color Summit and so I had gone to that summit and [legacy] SYNNEX was a sponsor there, where I got to sit at the table and meet some of the co-workers there, and the next day I interviewed. I remember everything that was going on with George Floyd was on a Tuesday or Wednesday, and I interviewed that Friday. From my perspective in this environment, let your personality be your personality. When I joined, it was great seeing people be able to speak their minds. You’re able to come from a place of wanting to understand without being reprimanded for sharing your opinion.
What motivates you to continue to show up every day?
Bernadette: TD SYNNEX has an awesome Beacon business resource group. I can’t say enough about them. I’ve also stayed on because of the Darrons and the Daishons. I see the value in individuals, but this has been like a family for me, and we have come a long way, so I’m here for it.
Gavin: I’ve been a member of Beacon since I knew what Beacon was and I’ve been able to participate [in that BRG]. There’s a people component to working in any industry; how you treat your people is something that my bosses emphasize quite seriously.
Treat your people right. Treat your people right. Treat your people right.
Part of my measurement as a manager is how I treat my people. I know how I want to be treated, so I make sure to pass that on to everyone else and my bosses have the same expectation, which makes it easy for me to be here. It’s cool doing things like this and being able to talk to people and field questions because I’ve seen the other side of it. This is a good opportunity.
Daishon: For me, it’s that my work is being valued. [I used to think] ‘oh, are all these things happening for me because I’m the only Black person on my team?’ but once I got past that in my head and said, ‘No, you’re working your tail off and these are the results of that.’ The people that have mentored me in life and how to operate in the corporate environment are why I continue to be happy working for TD SYNNEX. So yeah, definitely the people.
Darron: With our team, management recognizes that you can come into the office, but if you don’t, that’s fine too. Just having that flexibility has been big to me. Also, it’s the group and the community of people that we have here within TD SYNNEX. We have a bunch of different business resource groups that I recognize with where I’m at in my career, this is a great company.
Bri: There’s the saying that ‘people aren’t going to remember what you did, but how you treated them,’ and I think that’s been true of everything that’s been shared. We can recruit in a lot of different places, but we want to be intentional about where we’re recruiting from. A lot of that requires hearing from our co-workers to know where their connections are and to know where we can start from and where we can go further. A few have touched on it, but we do have business resource groups and if you’re job searching, this is something that you should add to your search process. [Beacon] is a group that focuses on Black co-workers, specifically in the recruitment process and promotes advancement, progress and retention as well. Our goal is to figure out how we can align with executive leadership to drive initiatives that are going to help Black co-workers.