Today at Berkeley Lab

‘Still They Rise’ — Lab’s African American ERG Seeks Empowerment for All

African American Employee Resource Group founding members (from left) James Lee, LaTonja Wright, Mary Sidney, Colette Flood, and Jacqueline Scoggins

— By Theresa Duque

One day, in 2016, Colette Flood found herself in a dilemma. She had just met with Deputy Director for Operations Glenn Kubiak to discuss whether she would be interested in starting an African American Employee Resource Group (ERG) as part of a Lab-wide effort to improve diversity and inclusion at the Lab.

As the Workforce Development & Education (WD&E) Internship Program Manager, Flood has dedicated her career to improving diversity in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields through WD&E’s extensive internship programs. But an Employee Resource Group for African American employees at the Lab? “I was skeptical,” Flood said. “I wasn’t sure what the role or the expectations of this ERG would be. I didn’t want this group to be just another social group that wouldn’t be focused on issues of retention, recruitment, and professional development.”

But when Flood shared her misgivings with LaTonja Wright, HR Division Partner for Computing Sciences and Information Technology, it didn’t take long to change her mind.

Before joining the Lab in 2015, Wright had advised management in private industry on issues of diversity and inclusion as her previous employer’s diversity council Human Resources representative. “I believe that organizations can be more successful if their workforce represents a diverse population of talent. Diversity efforts should be part of an organization’s recruitment and retention strategies so they can be viewed as an employer of choice that focuses on people, who should be the most important asset,” said Wright. “So when Colette asked me if we should form an African American ERG, I told her that we absolutely should — and that it’s a great idea that will be beneficial to the African American population as well as the Lab.”

Working Together Toward a Common Goal

Wright and Flood then recruited Jackie Scoggins, an HPC Linux Systems Administrator in IT’s Scientific Computing Services Group, and James Lee, IT Team Lead in Computing Sciences, to form a steering committee; and Mary Sidney, who at the time was the Deputy of Operations for the Energy Technologies Area, to lead the group. (Sidney has since then retired from her Deputy of Operations role in ETA but has stayed on as senior adviser to ETA, and to continue her work with the African American ERG. Recently, she was awarded a 2017 Berkeley Lab Citation prize.)

“When I heard how passionate and sincere they were, I knew that leading the African American ERG was something I wanted to do,” said Sidney. “I also knew that to accomplish our goals, we would need to set strategic priorities and collaborate with various managers around the Lab, especially in HR.”

That collaborative process helped them to distill the ERG’s strategic priorities down to four core actions: recruit, retain, empower, and inspire. “The African American ERG – like the other Lab ERGs – is open to everybody, but we do want to move the needle for African American employees,” she said. “If you look at people who work in the sciences, technology, and management, not many of them are African American. And recruitment is important because not many African Americans in the surrounding community realize that the Lab even exists.”

Since its kickoff in November 2016, the African American ERG has sponsored several workshops geared toward career development and communication, including brown-bag sessions on the reclassification and promotion process, a performance review/self-assessment workshop, and an emotional intelligence workshop led by Oakland-based consultant D.B. Bedford. According to Flood, approximately 100 people attended the emotional intelligence workshop either in person or online via Zoom. The African American ERG workshops are open to all Lab employees.

Later this year, the African American ERG founders plan to sponsor another emotional intelligence workshop. And on Feb. 27, they will host a Black History Month Celebration featuring NASA Space Science Education Manager Hakeem Oluseyi, an African American astrophysicist who once worked at the Lab as an E.O. Lawrence Astrophysics Fellow and WD&E Visiting Faculty Fellow. He also worked with the Supernova Cosmology Project led by 2011 Nobel laureate Saul Perlmutter.

“It’s really important to have hope. During our Black History Month Celebration, we want to expose the Lab to accomplished African Americans — technical professionals, scientists, engineers, operations professionals — inside and outside the Lab so that people can see what is possible, and begin to shift mental mindsets.”

And for Flood, her early skepticism of forming an African American ERG at the Lab has turned into pride and optimism. “It’s been really rewarding. I’m proud of our group for building a legacy of community so that our colleagues can continue to work on issues of recruitment, retention, and the empowerment of African American employees,” she said.

Go here for more information about the Berkeley Lab African American Employee Resource Group as well as other Lab ERGs.