At GDIT we believe diversity drives innovation, so when our Black Employee Network (B.E.N.) Employee Resource Group (ERG) convened a discussion on black employees’ experiences building STEM careers, it provided a tangible moment in time for us to examine where we can do even more to ensure that we are creating opportunities for everyone to build and grow meaningful careers with us.
The discussion, moderated by our CTO Ben Gianni, was an important one touching on mentorship, career journeys, workforce mobility, cultivating diverse STEM talent, and ensuring diverse employees can move into leadership roles.
Joining the conversation were B.E.N. members LaLisha Hurt, our Deputy Chief Information Security Officer; Ash Torres, a Cyber Threat Analyst; and Eric Toliver, a Program Technology Manager on our Cyber team. Each of these individuals has built a career in STEM via vastly different avenues. They shared their experiences with the group, along with practical advice for those beginning their careers, as well as those in positions to influence policy, hiring and recruiting.
Torres, who began her career in Human Resources and transitioned into a role on our cyber team, credited two things for her ability to make that move: researching and networking. She told the group about her quest to learn all she could about the job she wanted and the certifications she would need, so that she had the confidence to present herself as a viable – albeit non-traditional – candidate, given her HR background. She also told the group about how she was a relentless networker. She sent emails to GDIT colleagues in the field introducing herself and asking questions. She attended events, asked people for advice, and then followed it. She noted, “Maybe I was persistent, but I was remembered because of it.”
Hurt, who commended Torres on her approach, pointed out that – in cybersecurity especially – professionals are in-demand but there’s not enough talent. She recalled how a neighbor of hers wanted to enter the field. She had 20 years of experience managing people and programs. She was an excellent researcher and loved to learn. But when she looked at job postings for even entry level positions she got discouraged – there were walls of acronyms and required certifications. So, Hurt sat down with her and inventoried her skills and helped her map them to be applicable in the cyber arena. She encouraged the group to be creative and, following Torres’ lead, confident about asking for the roles they want.
Hurt went on to explain how she models that same approach on her team at GDIT. She talked about pairing people who may not yet have the skills or certifications they need with mentors. These mentors can help guide them as they attain those skills and also help them gain practical experience that will make them more attractive candidates. She said, “It helps them, but it also helps make sure our teams have fresh and new perspectives at all times.”
For his part, Toliver was asked about representation and why it matters. He talked about the importance of having role models – and not those one or two levels above you, but aspirational ones. He talked about how, early in his career, his mentor was a black woman who, as he recalled it, “not only acted like she belonged in the room, she owned the room.” He said her advice to him – and to everyone for that matter – was to identify the right people and let them work. He reminded the group that “the right people come in all shapes, sizes and colors – and we should use diversity as a business advantage. We shouldn’t all be the same; we need new ideas.”
Later in his career, he found himself at an awards ceremony held at an HBCU, and there were quotes from his mentor on walls, all around the room. He noticed how the young people in the room read and reflected on those quotes and how important it is to encourage diverse employees and to show them what success looks like.
Gianni, building on the reference to HBCUs, talked about the company’s intentional focus on recruiting diverse talent and visiting colleges alongside companies like Microsoft and Amazon and competing for student talent. To be competitive, he said, employers have to showcase the career potential within their organizations as well as their solid D&I commitments, and GDIT is on great footing in both regards.
The discussion, which was attended by 100+ employees – including several members of the GDIT executive leadership team as well as our President, Amy Gilliland – was a great opportunity for the panelists to share their stories and to dole out practical advice.
Recapping the panel, Gianni noted, “At GDIT, we believe that diversity drives innovation and we can only innovate at our best if we continue to grow diverse technical talent and leaders across the company. This starts with making our technical roles accessible and seeking out diverse populations of talent to bring the best of GDIT to serve our customers’ missions.”
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