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In Commemoration of Black History Month – An Ode to Unsung Heroes & the Path Ahead

Debra McCowan
black-history-month-1024x576There is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it. Powerful words by any measure   but especially when written and delivered by the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, Amanda Gorman. These lines are the closing of Amanda’s poem “The Hill We Climb,” presented at the 2021 U.S. presidential inauguration.  

As we reflect on the unexpected challenges and uncertainties of the past year, we experience a sense of heightened awareness – awareness of the health and future of ourselves and our loved ones due to the global pandemic, and of the ongoing racial injustice and social unrest – all of which have disproportionately impacted communities of color.  

Sometimes, it can be difficult to see the light when experiencing adversity.  

But then…we see and hear someone like Amanda. A young, wise, dynamic and strong African American woman shining her light on the grandest of stages, and we are reminded that there truly is always light, and hope even in the darkest of times. 

As Black History Month begins, we have an opportunity here at NetApp and around the nation to celebrate the often-overlooked achievements and contributions of those within the African American community 

There is no question, we must never forget the contributions of prominent civil rights icons including: Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Thurgood Marshall; and political leaders like Barack Obama and Kamala Harris – but, I encourage each of us to give homage to our unsung heroes as well. Unsung heroes who have made – and continue to make – just as important a contribution to a more just and equitable world. We can find the spirit of these unsung heroes in our own communities, in our colleagues and even in our families and friends, speaking truth to power and advocating for those who have yet to find their voice. 

We each have an important role to play and it is our responsibility as individuals and collectively, to foster an environment of respect, acceptance, and appreciation for the strength that diversity affords us. 

At NetApp, we have taken an intentional approach toward advancing Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (D,I&B) as a business imperative and foundation to our culture and business success. We are committed to making steady and thoughtful progress and I am truly proud of all that we have accomplished thus faras one NetApp team. 

In the past year we have launched our first Global Inclusion Council, DI&B Executive Steering Committee, and an Unconscious Bias Training for our entire workforce. Our key objectives for each  being to ensure we strengthen and better leverage our affinity groupsmaintain a united approach for greater impact and continue to educate and learn together. 

In December, we hired our first Vice President of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging, Gerri Mason Hall, who has set out her strategy and vision, taking us to entirely new levels as a company. With a “talent first” focus – recruiting, hiring, career development, representation at senior levels – we are confident that we are on the right path forward. Gerriother senior leaders, and I will continue to listen to the concerns and perspectives of our underrepresented employees, and we are using that input to build a stronger, more inclusive NetApp where intent turns into meaningful action. 

Externally, NetApp continues to emphasize social and community programs through our philanthropic program, NetApp Serves, providing opportunities for employees to utilize their volunteer time offand use their skills in support of projects in overlooked and underserved areas around the globe. Our commitment to external partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and organizations such as, Advancing Minorities Interest in Engineering (AMIE), also remains strong. 

Lastly, we are excited to join forces with CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion by appointing one of our employees as a CEO Action for Racial equity fellowOur very own Autymn Harris will be the first person in our organization to take on this opportunity; she will use her skills and passion to work on public policy projects that advance social justice to drive lasting societal change. Autymn will collaborate with leaders of other organizations from across the nation, while developing new skills in support of advancing racial equity. At the end of her yearlong ventureAutymn will utilize her learnings to help improve and educate our internal processes.   

It is my hope and the hope of our NetApp leadership team that the opportunities we set in place empowers our employees to be the change” within their communities, teams and throughout our organization; and it is by the grace and drive of those like Autymn Harris, Amanda Gorman and the many other unsung heroes that we are able to continue to make progress and lasting change.    To reiterate Amanda’s closing line –  There is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it. I encourage everyone to reflect on the light within your lives – whether it be your loved ones, passions or the light we experience through the kindness of others.     To our underrepresented employees around the globe, want you to know that I see the light in all of you – not just during Black History Month, but always. I am thankful for all that you do, and I am here as your partner and advocate. I would like to pause and give a special thank you to our NetApp Blacks in Tech (NNBT) affinity group for all the work you continue to do to move us forward in the D,I&B space year-round. 

Let us continue to work toward progress and never settle for less than what is just. Let us all stay committed on the journey ahead, recognizing that there is still much work to be done and that anything is possible when we work together. 

And so, let us stand by one another, embracing whatever else comes our way through focus, collaboration, and hard work, to continue to successfully break barriers and foster an environment of belonging, respect, and inclusion – I have no doubt that we can and will accomplish this together. 

Debra McCowan

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