Black History Month panel discussion: Achieving success in business
In February, to celebrate Black History Month, and drive open and meaningful conversations around race, our Equity, Diversity & Inclusion team partnered with our Americas Black employee resource group, BeBOLD, to host a virtual panel. The discussion focused on the panelists’ experience navigating the corporate environment and career advice for the audience.
Our panelists included, from left to right:
- Drew Jeter, global business line chief executive, Project Management
- Belinda Butler, safety director, AECOM Tishman
- Bridget Ssamula, senior director, Strategic Pursuits
- Donnie Seward, Jr., vice president, U.S. East regional practice leader, Environment
Below are three takeaways that resonated with participants.
Have conviction and clarity in your purpose
Belinda shared that in her career she has experienced many highs and lows—and managing them had to come from within. “If you have not established what your purpose is, when you go out and you’re met with challenges, then you are easily discouraged,” she said.
Being a Black woman in construction in New York City, she has navigated challenges over the course of her career such as being told no, being passed up for promotion, and not being acknowledged for her hard work ethic. But having a clear purpose of what she wanted to achieve kept her from being dismayed or deterred by the lows and negativity. She said, “Once I committed to my purpose, I was able to stand on that and say, this is what I’ve decided to do and I’m going to see it through.”
Be your authentic, true self
Donnie reflected on moments in his career when he felt he needed to pause and reconsider his approach when expressing his opinions in professional settings in order to be accepted. Over time, he realized that he and those around him benefitted the most from his authentic self because that was his unique, individual contribution to give.
Overcoming that barrier mentally and socially has empowered him to be the effective leader he aspired to be when he started with AECOM nearly 22 years ago. Now, he strives to create the type of team environment where being your true self is supported and encouraged because you care about those around you and want them to recognize their contributions are valuable.
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” Donnie said.
To grow, you must engage others
Drew shared the importance of surrounding yourself with people who will give you genuine, honest feedback. “We tend to be more in touch with our strengths than our weaknesses,” he explained, “So it’s good to have folks in your life who can be honest with you.” Being aware of how you can improve and then putting that knowledge into action is how you grow in those areas.
“We need to be able to identify the people in your career who can train and mentor us,” Bridget added. “You have to map these people because they’ll help you along the way. They will mentor you. They see you – more than just your skin color. They see your work ethic, they see your competence, they see your potential.”
Bridget said that one of the obstacles she had to face was to identify those she could trust with her career journey. “We also have to be honest and steer clear of those who cannot look past their unconscious bias,” she said. “I need to be able to get into an environment where I will be able to shine. And when you shine for [your mentors], they will walk with you.”