As Flatiron continues to grow, the company has recognized the importance of how one’s sense of inclusion impacts their work life experience. This sense of inclusion must be viewed as a priority alongside adequate company representation. One of the numerous ways Flatiron has addressed inclusion is through the establishment of various Employee Resource Groups (ERGs).
ERGs are employee-led groups in which members are united by shared experiences or characteristics. Now the norm across midsize to large companies, ERGs provide a support structure for historically underrepresented groups by promoting a sense of belonging and fostering both personal and career development. Flatiron Health currently has five different ERGs that serves the company’s internal community, including:
- Notorious ERG (Female employees and allies)
- Blackiron (Black employees and allies)
- Desi (South Asian employees and allies)
- Velvet Mafia (LGBTQIA+ employees and allies)
- Next Generation (Parents and allies)
At Flatiron, the ‘Blackiron’ ERG facilitates the professional development, community building, inclusion, representation, and leadership of Black and Black affirming employees. Blackiron has grown tremendously in 2019 and introduced various programming for its members. More recently, Blackiron hosted “Blackiron Presents: Homecoming,” an event that celebrated the culture and legacy of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). The event brought together over one hundred attendees from both within and outside the company. Discussions focused on how just a generation ago, Black Americans were still restricted from attending higher education institutions, so they formed their own colleges and universities to educate themselves. A recognition and celebration of these often overlooked institutions is one of many ways to acknowledge the contributions Black Americans have on our communities and workplaces.
We took some time to talk to Blackiron leadership to learn more about the ERG’s overall impact on our Flatiron co-workers and guests attendees from the Homecoming event. One of the co-leads of Blackiron, Jonathan Bryan, senior quantitative data analyst, isn’t a stranger to leading Black affinity groups in his community. Prior to Blackiron, he led his local chapters of the NAACP and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. while in college. Our other Blackiron co-lead, Dez Udezue, was compelled to take a leadership role based on his previous experiences where he found that it was challenging for new Black professionals to tap in to existing affinity networks. They were both motivated to take a leadership role knowing how important it is to build a sense of belonging, especially within a technology company where Black employees are often a minority in the workplace.
According to Jonathan, “The first step in creating a sense of belonging is through visibility, and a celebration of HBCUs does just that.” The first activity at the event required attendees to dive into a scavenger hunt as a way to facilitate introductions. The activity included a task to find someone who went to an HBCU, a member of a Black Greek Letter Organization (BGLO), and someone who played in the marching band. As a member of a BGLO myself, I (Kassim) proudly wore my Alpha Phi Alpha hoodie for the event and was surprised to learn how many of my co-workers were also members of these organizations, which provided me with an extra level of comfort knowing that there are people at the company who share similar personal experiences and values. As we worked our way around the room, we heard the excitement and witnessed the immediate bonds formed when people who went to HBCUs were introduced to each other. Those “magical moments,” as Jonathan calls them, are unique, as they are rooted in a shared legacy and history that goes unspoken between the once strangers, now friends.
“Blackiron Presents: Homecoming” did not feel like a typical networking night. There were genuine conversations ranging from the latest happenings on ‘Black Twitter’ to the house rules for ‘Crazy Eights,’ all while Beyonce’s Homecoming Netflix movie played in the background. An attendee from Blink Health emphasized how this type of event allowed her to open up and share her goals and aspirations in a supportive environment. An attendee from the legal team at IBM highlighted how meeting people from different companies was not only exciting, but also of great value as it provides an opportunity to meet with those outside their company’s affinity network.
In addition to the community building endeavors within Flatiron, the event created a sense of belonging for people who may not feel as comfortable at their own companies to share their personal experiences. These sentiments are exactly what motivates Jonathan and Dez to invest time and effort to cultivate a strong Black community at Flatiron.
Throughout their careers, Jonathan and Dez have come to value a workplace environment that recognizes their presence as Black individuals while supporting themselves and their peers to bring their genuine selves to work. This event further illustrates their thoughtful approach to creating empowering spaces for Black professionals in New York City to help one another reach their fullest potential. We hope that by opening up Flatiron’s spaces and resources to employees and visitors alike, we are showing how the broader tech community can seek to cultivate a workplace that values the background, shared experiences, and individuality of every person.
Employee engagement and company culture are two driving factors that affect how people view their workplace. Flatiron seeks to promote a culture where our mission, “to improve lives by learning from the experience of every cancer patient,” is front and center. With this ideal in mind, Flatiron continuously seeks to hire and retain individuals from diverse backgrounds.
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