Black History Month: Reflecting on the Experiences and Achievements of Black U Krewers
At UKG, we are committed to building a culture of positive change and promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. So, in celebration of February’s Black History Month, two members of our employee resource group BUILD (Black U Krewers in Leadership & Development) share their rich cultural journeys and important lessons they learned along the way.
Knickeita B., Public Sector Principal
Origin story: Growing up in a majority Black country, I was blessed to be surrounded by a tapestry of Black excellence, where the contributions and achievements of Black individuals were celebrated and acknowledged every single day. I was privileged to see the representation of myself at every level of success and have the opportunity to find inspiration in those who looked like me, spoke like me, and reflected me. However, one individual who stood out as a shining light of inspiration was my elementary school principal, Mrs. Ellis. She was a formidable leader and a mentor who challenged me to be my best self and never to settle for anything less than my potential.
Mentorship is everything: As a high-achieving epileptic child, I knew that my disability would never be an obstacle to my pursuit of excellence. Despite occasional setbacks, I learned that extra lessons and hard work would ensure that I remained at the top of my class. With Mrs. Ellis' guidance, I graduated as valedictorian and received recognition from the Prime Minister of Jamaica for my academic and all-around excellence. Her unwavering belief in me and her message of ambition and grit instilled the confidence that I could achieve greatness and that my potential was limitless.
Migration journey: Migrating to the U.S. at ten years old gave me a new perspective on the realities of being Black. I came face-to-face with the subtle and insidious ways in which subjugation still exists in our society. I now understand oppression, not just the type that my inspirations like Nanny of the Maroons or Harriett Tubman fought to abolish, but the kind that many of us still struggle with daily. However, instead of being disheartened, this realization only served to fuel my passion for being an ally, mentor, and champion for all marginalized communities.
Culture of change: I am honored to work for a company where our leadership is committed to building a culture of positive change and promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Our advanced software makes it easy for organizations to pay equitably and drive diversity, inclusion and belonging. Internally, we sponsor incredible ERGs like BUILD. Socially, we drive positive change by investing in pay equity for organizations like the National Women's Soccer League and supporting associations aimed at improving access and equality, like HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and NSBE (the National Society of Black Engineers), to name a few.
Our purpose: When asked what I'm proudest of at work, I can say with unbridled enthusiasm that it is our purpose. At UKG, our purpose is people, and we live that purpose daily. I am empowered to use my voice to speak out for marginalized people and to serve as an ally for those who may not have the same privilege. I am incredibly proud to be a part of a company that is making a real-world impact. We are creating a future where every individual and organization can become great, and I am honored to be a part of that journey.
Joan M., Principal Solution Consultant
Defining moments: In Kenya, where I grew up and went to school, the education system dictates a student’s path based on standardized test scores. I really struggled with school because of unavoidable outside factors. Right after high school, I decided not to pursue studies in a Kenyan University but attended a vocational college to study Hotel and Tourism Management. My mother was surprisingly supportive. Her unwavering support for my curious and adventurous mind exposed me to opportunities to work in the hotel and airline industries, to travel to some of the most amazing places in the world, and more importantly to believe in my ability and capability to excel in whatever I chose to do. This support eventually led me to immigrate to the U.S. where I pursued undergraduate and graduate degrees and started my career in human resources and payroll.
Feeling seen: As a Black woman of African descent, I have experienced all sorts of workplace microaggressions that made me feel unseen, misunderstood, and unappreciated. But the hiring manager I met during my initial interview at UKG quickly changed my career trajectory. Elliot W., a white man, saw me, understood me, asked me about my family, my needs, and what he could do to support me so that I could succeed in my career. For the first time in my career, I felt valued first as a person and secondly as an employee. I have always had a leadership team that saw me and tried to understand my unique needs as a first-generation immigrant.
Finding community: I stay at UKG because I like the people I work with, I like my manager, I enjoy working with my customers, and I feel empowered to be my authentic self at work. The ERGs at UKG have been the most impactful programs for me. BUILD has been empowering because it provides people like me a platform where our uniqueness is welcomed, our struggles are heard, and we can collectively come up with solutions that can be implemented.
Looking back: For me, Black History Month is a reminder to honor the Africans who were taken from their home countries, suffered through unbearable and unimaginable trauma as slaves, and fought for their rights as humans. I take time to learn something new about the history of Black Americans during this month, and to pay homage to my ancestors who paved the way for me and generations to come.
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