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Podcast: The value of shared experiences

February 17, 2021
clock 8 MIN READ

SEI Black Professionals Network board members Tamara Hobbs and Parys Hall join Leslie Wojcik, Head of Global Communications, to discuss the group’s mission. Listen as they chat about the network’s origin and why it’s important for our company.

“Employees organizing around a shared experience provides a sense of belonging.”

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Announcer: Hi, everyone. Thanks for joining us back at The Intersection, a podcast that brings you candid conversations with members of our community and leaders in our industry. Enjoy today's episode.

Leslie Wojcik: Hello and welcome. I'm Leslie Wojcik, Head of Global Communications at SEI. Today, we're joined by Tamara Hobbs and Parys Hall, the board members of SEI Black Professionals Network. Welcome, Tamara and Paris. We're really excited to learn more about the work you're doing to further the mission of the group.

Parys Hall: Thank you.

Tamara Hobbs: Thank you. Great to be here.

Leslie Wojcik: Awesome. So to kick off our conversation today, I would love for you both to share with the listeners a little bit about the SEI Black Professionals Network. How did it come to be, how you're each personally involved?

Tamara Hobbs: The idea of the network was actually floated by Parys, coming out of the Let's Listen series that we did last summer. She proactively reached out to the panelists that participated in each session to gauge interest in forming a network for the Black employees at SEI. So I would definitely say that she's really been the driving force on establishing the network.

Parys Hall: Yes. After every Let's Listen series, I sent out emails of encouragement to all of the panelists. Through our email conversations, I asked each about their thoughts on forming a network. Since most of the panelists were interested, I put together initial planning sessions and set up meetings with affinity group leadership, [inaudible] and Krista Deguffroy, who were thrilled and supportive of our formation.

Tamara was one of those panelists from our lesson series who provided sound guidance during the early planning and development stages of our network charter and communications. She's the one who dived deep into the details to ensure that nothing is unplanned and overlooked. This ensures that our events are running smoothly, and our communication is clear and concise.

Leslie Wojcik: That's terrific. And it really does show the power of pure grassroots, and that's a huge part of our culture at SEI. Why is it important for organizations to offer resources like a Black Professionals Network?

Tamara Hobbs: Employee resource groups or affinity groups have been around for a long time, and SEI has several affinity groups impact the SEI community in a positive way. So I mean essentially, employees being able to organize around a shared experience and have a sense of belonging, it can increase employee engagement, it can lead to higher retention rates.

And most importantly, it can give a voice to employees where there otherwise isn't an opportunity to be heard. So I think that's personally why I think it's important for these organizations to exist.

Parys Hall: Networks like ours allow people to learn and test skills that they would normally never need in their role. It becomes a proving ground for those who would like to learn event planning, or even just program planning, data analysis, how to draft promotional communications, how to be a better collaborator, or even how to lead in your current position.

We know that leadership is not necessarily a position, but it's a person who people agree to follow. These groups allow people to build confidence with the little wins so that they have the confidence to apply for that next promotion, and they have the experience to demonstrate their competence in that role. They also have the references to speak to those competencies. Really, I would actually encourage those who are not even necessarily part of the network's audience to volunteer and help as well, because it's a great resume builder.

Leslie Wojcik: So what is your vision for the SEI Black Professionals Network?

Parys Hall: My vision is to see SBPN grow into a vibrant, supportive community that includes all professionals, from executive leadership to entry level, who are symbiotically contributing to and benefiting from the programming series and events that we offer.

Tamara Hobbs: Yeah, and as you know, we are very early in our development of the network. But we are working to get organized around several goals, mainly education and advancement. So assisting in creating professional development and mentoring programs, advocacy's very important to us. So that's around creating alliances through strategic partnerships within SEI. So we're looking for those champions and sponsors at all levels, supporters and upstanders for our organization.

And I think the one goal that is near and dear to most of our hearts is recruitment and retention. So to the extent possible, how do we work with workforce development in the hiring, the advancing and the retention of Black professionals at SEI?

Leslie Wojcik: That's great. How has the community here supported the formation of the SBPN?

Parys Hall: The SEI community has been amazingly supportive. From assisting with the early formation of SBPN and giving us the resources that we need for our events, to showing up to the events and providing feedback. It's incredible to me that the leadership just steps back and lets us create content. I think that it speaks to SEI's entrepreneurial culture, which I appreciate very much.

I realize that I probably shouldn't be that surprised, because there is a need for the resources that SBPN provides. However, I am always pleasantly surprised when I receive an email with gratitude, encouragement, or even just support. It helps me to put the late nights that I spend researching for an event or typing out promotional materials into perspective. It definitely makes the hard work worth it.

Tamara Hobbs: Yeah. And I would start by saying that what we've found as part of the planning committee for the SEI Black Professionals Network is that many of the Black employees at SEI don't know one another, or have a means to connect, unless they work in the same business unit or were on the same team.

And I've actually seen the surprise from people internally. And so there was this realization that this lack of connection can actually leave employees feeling isolated, especially when you're part of an underrepresented population. So to answer the question, I've been encouraged by the mostly positive feedback received around forming the network. Just like Parys said, the number of people who have reached out in support of, or wanting to take an active role in the network. It's absolutely been refreshing. And I hope we can continue that momentum as we go forward.

Leslie Wojcik: Yeah, Tamara, you just touched upon that lack of connection. And we're quickly approaching one year, I can't believe I'm going to say it out loud, in our remote work environment. Has this current environment presented many challenges to launching the network?

Tamara Hobbs: Well certainly, launching an affinity group is a significant undertaking by itself, right? So launching remotely, it has presented some challenges, but I would say that the remote environment has also forced us to lean on corporate resources early in our formation. And that experience has been awesome. And then there's this accelerated visibility at the corporate level as well, which has both been exciting and also a little stressful.

Parys Hall: And at the same time, the remote environment has helped our launch because people are home and interested in engaging with their colleagues, now more than ever. I have also noticed that since everyone is meeting through Webex, it has leveled the playing field and allowed our global counterparts the ability to connect and engage and collaborate more fully.

Similar experiences around the globe have led to a common shared bond. So SBPN is fortunate to have board members from the UK office. Their non-US perspectives have already helped us consider global counterparts when planning programming.

Leslie Wojcik: I think that's terrific, especially recognizing the positive things that could come out of our current environment and the ability to unify, especially globally.

So if you both could go back to the beginning of your career and give yourself a piece of advice, any advice, what would it be?

Tamara Hobbs: Yeah, I'll take this one first. I would probably say to take more risks. Change doesn't necessarily equate to instability in the workforce, workplace. So don't limit yourself to just one thing because you perceive it to be working well and other great opportunities aren't available for people who look like me.

Parys Hall: I would actually say just to take more courses in modern African-American history in college, since those courses aren't necessarily offered in elementary and middle school, or even high school. And you don't really learn about it in regular American history textbooks. So I would just say, "Take more courses in African-American history and know your history well."

Leslie Wojcik: I think that's great advice. Thank you both so much for joining us today and sharing the great work that you're doing. And I look forward to welcoming you both back to give us an update of all the awesome stuff that you're doing with the SEI Black Professionals Network. Congratulations to you both. It's awesome.

Tamara Hobbs: Thank you so much.

Parys Hall: Thank you for having us.

Announcer: Thanks so much for joining us today. Stay tuned for more conversations with members of our community. Until next time, stay well, and of course, we hope you'll meet us back at The Intersection soon.

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