In light of increasing marginalized voices in the tech community and February being Black History Month, we sat down with Brittany Braxton, an Executive Business Partner and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Ambassador here at Pantheon. Check out the interview in the following post.
“I just want to gather my people together all the time. I feel like when we gather, magic happens.”
Brittany Braxton on co-founding the Black and Latinx ERG at Pantheon
Omar Muhyar: Currently, aside from your day job as executive business partner, you are leading the Black and Latinx Employee Resource Group (ERG) here at Pantheon. Is that correct?
Brittany Braxton: Yes.
Omar: You obviously have a passion for this, seeing your deep level of involvement. What’s the driving force behind this passion and being involved in the day-to-day activities of this ERG? And why do you think it's important to bring these diverse voices to the table, especially in the tech world where they're not always heard?
Brittany: That part! Well, I think that's the starting point. There isn’t enough representation overall. And representation really matters. There is this quote, ‘You can't be what you can't see.’ What I want most is for us to be seen and our voices to be heard. Creating space for people to feel seen and heard is actually the best characteristic of ERGs, creating a real community where its members are celebrated because of their unique and collective differences, while simultaneously amplifying the voices of those so rarely heard. This is really important to me, because at my core, I just want to gather my people together all the time. I feel like when we gather, magic happens. When there are multiple brains in the room, you feed off of each other. People get creative and it's in those moments, that the impossible becomes reality, it’s really magical.
That quote also speaks to the isolation so many people feel working in corporate environments, especially tech companies where there are often so few people who look like them. This is the space where questioning if you belong dwells. For me, creating ERGs was born out of being in academic and corporate spaces where I didn’t see many people who looked like me. In some instances, I was told that we have these employees. And I was like, ‘Well, where are they? How do I find them?’ In others, the companies simply didn’t have a focus (a metric) on hiring Black, Indigenous, Mixed People of Color (BIMPOC) — meaning there was no specific individual responsible for ensuring that they were hiring talent from underrepresented groups in Tech, so the status quo was maintained.This lit a fire in me because in my opinion it’s a privileged and lazy excuse to ignore the disparity in ethnic representation at your company because you didn’t think to make someone responsible. Do Better!
To disrupt the status quo, I started my first ERG with a coworker and it grew from 2 to about 200 people engaged globally before I left, which was really amazing. And so, I want to do the same, if not more here. What’s nice about the size of Pantheon right now is I can physically see the employees of Black and Latinx heritage, I see the new hires and the veterans while we are in our growth stage. And I'm like, ‘Okay, how do we come together? How do we amplify our voices? How do we create space for other people to get the spotlight as well?’ Those are some of the things I'm passionate about creating and supporting — community, whatever it is — that will uplift all of us.
Omar: Part of Pantheon’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategy really lies in getting the message out. Could you explain how the programs we're doing right now for Black History Month, especially around telling lesser known stories of highly influential Black people, really build on our efforts to make the company a more inclusive place to work?
Brittany: Yeah, we have several events planned throughout the month highlighting the contributions of Black Americans throughout history in various fields, technology, medicine, hair/beauty, athletics, science and mathematics, social justice and racial equity, we really wanted to cover a wide spectrum and introduce these stories incrementally over the course of the month so they are easily digestible. The idea for our trivia night was trying to rebut the ideology of viewing Black History month as an activity we do once a year, in February, and then it's over. For example, in school during Black History Month you typically learn about the most common people, like Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, MLK, Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X. And then it's like, okay, we (the schools) did our job. But there are more than five people who have contributed to not just Black history, but the history of this country, which is actually American history.
And that's what we're trying to focus on — giving people this information. Yes, it's learning about contributions that Black Americans have made to the country. But it's also about realizing that this history is your history as well, whether you are Black or not. We benefit from these contributions, things like traffic lights, like a broom and a dustpan, and hair combs. These things that we use every single day, a lot of people don't know were things that were invented by Black people.
Honoring these contributions, hearing these stories, and really focusing on how essential these things are for everyone, also underscores how essential Black people are to this country as a whole (and not just because of their excellence). Lastly, linking storytelling to our DEI/ERG strategy overall, how can we recognize the contributions of our team members to our community? How can we highlight and celebrate this diversity? And really center voices that are different and diverse.
What’s that metric? The McKinsey study says that more diverse teams perform 35% better? Actually, that's the success of the company. The company is 35% more successful if you have diverse teams is the metric. We want to have diverse teams. And so a way to do that is to get diverse voices in the room and get them heard, hence my ask to you about creating blogs for the ERGs. It’s important to appropriately utilize the diverse talent you have in the room as it relates to conversations about DEI, recruitment and retention especially if your focus is to create an environment that attracts BIMPOC talent.
Omar: Just going back to Black History Month, though, it is crazy to me: How many stories from the Black community have been, you know, removed from the curriculum? Recently learning this, I'm trying to educate myself — it’s just astounding to me. And I know it's probably hard to pinpoint just one relatively unknown Black person of significance. But do you have one that you'd like to share, that you just love to talk about?
Brittany: The one that's coming to mind right now is Madam C.J. Walker. She's the first Black woman millionaire who created her own business with a product that helped Black women care for our own hair and nurture our crowns. Our hair is a delicate situation in multiple ways. As it relates to work environments, delicate in the sense that European beauty standards have made Black women feel as though our natural hair is less than and undesirable. Walker subverted this standard by creating products that allowed us to support, care for, grow, manipulate our hair, to make it more manageable and so that we could feel empowered and beautiful. Black women are constantly told that we aren’t beautiful (for so many reasons) so any person whose purpose and passion is to combat this stereotype is a cause I will always champion.
Omar: That’s an awesome insight. Thanks for sharing.
I'm going to round it out with just one final question: Do you want to briefly tell me about Pantheon’s collaboration with the East Oakland Collective, especially for the Beats N Bingo event we have coming up?
Brittany: Yes. When we were brainstorming about Black History Month events, we wanted to host a fun COVID-safe event that included our communities inside and outside the company, incorporated philanthropy and also created ERG visibility. Our focus was, 'how could we reach in and give back, so we aren't that tech company?' You know, 'Come to our events, we're very social, but not actually doing anything to support their communities?'
Two of the pillars of focus for the Black and Latinx ERG are Partnerships and Philanthropy. The goals of these pillars are to establish partnerships and expand our reach into our communities while simultaneously identifying and directing resources towards racial equity and social justice organizations. I’ve witnessed firsthand some of the amazing work East Oakland Collective has done in the community, so it was an easy decision to support this organization. Their COVID-relief efforts, along with their initiatives focused on social justice, racial equity, housing and food justice, economic empowerment, civic engagement, and neighborhood and transportation planning — are all aligned with our ERG’s mission. So, working with them feels like we are working with and gaining community at the same time.
This interview took place before Pantheon’s Beats N Bingo event, which was a virtual fundraiser that donated all proceeds to the East Oakland Collective. On top of the ticket sales to this event, Pantheon donated another $5,000, making a total contribution of $7109.96 to the East Oakland Collective’s ongoing efforts to provide COVID relief, work on racial justice issues, address homelessness, and effect change for vital issues in East Oakland.
Hero image taken by Jacob Lopez.
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