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Celebrating Black History Month

Grace Carolonza

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During the month of February, Foundation Medicine celebrated Black History Month through weekly educational events hosted virtually by our employee resource networks (ERNs).  These employee-led networks seek to strengthen organizational health by promoting diversity of thought, creating company-wide connections, and fostering inclusivity. Throughout Black History Month, our ERNs each co-hosted a Lunch & Learn with IMPACT, which is dedicated to celebrating and advocating for communities of color. A driving factor behind the programming was to continue fostering inclusivity within the Foundation Medicine community, drawing upon the intersectionality of people’s differences.  

Foundation Medicine has recognized Black History Month through Lunch & Learns in year’s past, and the ERNs played a pivotal role in curating a robust mini-series for this year’s programming. The topics ranged from racial and ethnic disparities to workplace allyship, and highlighted contributions of Black and African Americans to their communities. Edwina, our Senior Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion introduced each event, beginning with the mission of the series and providing background on the speakers for each seminar. The Lunch & Learns welcomed employees across the company, with attendance mirroring the hosts’ enthusiasm. The supportive, virtual environment was conducive to learning and the open discussion format led to meaningful conversations.  

The series commenced February 4 with IMPACT co-hosting Protect People and the Planet: A Closer Look at Environmental Justice with Sustain, which strives to make Foundation Medicine a more sustainable business. Brandon  from the Revenue and Access team contextualized the concept by guiding participants through an exercise in which they envisioned the ideal place to live—what would be included and what would be absent. The activity highlighted the lack of choice many people - particularly those in communities of color - have when it comes to their living situation. A video was then shown featuring award-winning author and environmental scholar Dr. Robert Bullard, who defines environmental justice as a principle that promotes all communities as being worthy of equal protection, access, and a voice in decision making. In the video, Dr. Bullard explored how institutional racism contributes to the segregation of pollution, particularly in major cities in which housing affordability poses a challenge, and showed how segregation of income and race is closely tied to low-income communities of color living in polluted neighborhoods.  Participants were then presented with the connection between Black Lives Matter and environmental justice through a video featuring environmental activist Leah Thomas. Thomas spoke to the criticality of intersectional environmentalism, which focuses on protection of both people and the planet. After each video, participants shared their observations and recommendations on how to actively integrate what was learned into their lives. People were then encouraged to share these “action steps” in Foundation Medicine’s IMPACT Slack channel, where the active conversation continued. 

The next event, Social Equity Disparities: Trans Women of Color, was co-hosted on February 11 by IMPACT and PROUD, which serves our employees that identify as LGBTQ+, in addition to their allies. Tyler from the Lab Operations team and co-chair of PROUD’s Committee for Education and Communication began the presentation by introducing the guest speaker, Charmaine Eccles. Charmaine is a trans woman who acts on the Board of Directors for the Center of Black Equity. Charmaine transitioned in September 2015 and has been dedicated to the trans community for over ten years, focusing on topics such as employment, safety, and wellness.  The featured topic was the social disparities that disproportionately affect Black trans women, and she personalized the talk by drawing upon her own experiences.  There can be “fear in the unknown,” Charmaine shared, and for Black trans women this often results in violence and discrimination. She spoke of the need for conversation about the challenges trans people face, such as adequate access to medical care and education. Charmaine acknowledged her own privilege, which she has harnessed to educate people about trans rights, such as using appropriate pronouns. Charmaine advised participants to recognize that everyone is in transition, whether it relates to gender identity or other facets of life. After the presentation, Katie from the Creative team and co-chair of PROUD’s Committee for Education and Communication reviewed questions participants placed in Slack, and asked Charmaine to share advice for those contemplating transition. She promoted self-love, patience, and open conversations. Charmaine’s powerful story and insight provided a strong foundation for ongoing conversation across Foundation Medicine.  

The February 18 panel conversation, Centering African-American Female Leadership in the Workplace, was co-hosted by UPLIFT, a network dedicated to supporting all those who identify as female, and IMPACT. Three panelists shared their experiences navigating career formation and growth in corporate America. Erinn from the People team introduced Dionne from the Client Services team, and Jocelyn, the Head of Global Patient Advocacy at Eidos Therapeutics. Jocelyn spoke to the compromising effect societal stereotypes can have on a Black woman who wishes to bring her “whole self” to the workplace. This led to the topic of self-advocacy, a necessity when attempting to combat discrimination in a constructive manner. Jocelyn noted that it is crucial to first know what you want, as having a strategy will develop a stronger message.  Both women shared that acting as a self-advocate can be overwhelming, which prompted them to speak to the invaluable asset of sponsorship. They distinguished between mentorship and sponsorship, noting that the latter is more challenging to obtain and can increase diversity in the workplace. Our executives voiced their dedication to continue to grow sponsorship in the company in an effort to create a diverse and uplifting culture.  

The final presentation, Allyship in the Workplace, took place on February 24 and was hosted by IMPACT. Award-winning author and career development advisor Jackie Glenn shared insights from her experience as an immigrant working at a Fortune 500 company. Her book, Lift as I Climb, chronicles this journey, and the need for allyship. Jackie reminded people that being an ally is a verb, and it can be performed through small actions, such as a smile or kind email. She gifted the “gem” of resilience to her listeners, recalling how this enabled her to act with integrity even in trying situations. Jackie continues to dedicate herself to building awareness and centering education around diversity, equity, and inclusion, understanding the need for courageous conversation about this topic to continue. Jackie generously invested in this conversation at Foundation Medicine by donating copies of her book to all in attendance. 

The ERNs leveraged our open and inclusive culture in order to both celebrate and honor Black History Month. Foundation Medicine promotes ongoing, positive change within the company in order to serve a diverse array of people. 

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