Recently we sat down with two of the founding members of EPAM's LEAD (Lifting Employees of African Descent) Employee Affinity Group, Stacey Solomon, Lead People Advisory Specialist, and Joe Anugo, Senior Manager of Intelligent Automation Consulting
Can you tell us a little more about the LEAD group and how it came to be?
It has been a journey. In 2019, I was part of a small group of passionate EPAMers that got together to create an internal initiative to support and create awareness for Black History Month. Afterward, we realized that we needed to continue to collaborate, spread awareness and communicate. We spoke to our leadership team and quickly gained support to create EPAM's first Employee Affinity Group—LEAD.
When we came up with the name LEAD, it was an acronym, and it turned out to stand for something great—Lifting Employees of African Descent. What has really been great about this group is the camaraderie that we've been able to build with each other and sometimes not knowing that there was someone that looks like you in the workplace —maybe in a different part of the organization, a different business unit, or a different area. It's great to be able to have people to lean on and to talk to and be able to share your stories. And just to be able to look at them for encouragement and support.
How has the group evolved?
We knew that we could provide something of value here at EPAM based on our collective experience. That small group that we had were all the black people at EPAM, really. But the funny thing that happens is that we start to have these conversations, and people start pulling from different areas, and you put things out there, and people start to get interested.
When you think about building a network, it allows you to connect with people that look like you and are like-minded in that way. So, it's been great. Everything has to start from somewhere, and we are continuing to grow.
What areas are you focusing on in the group?
The education part is there, but we've already expanded into creating a number of important things, including a safe space where people can talk about fun things they're doing. We’ve even created channels where people can go in and talk about interesting topics about people they admire or what movie they’re seeing this week. We've had people reach out to us and say, ‘I’m excited to see so many faces of people who look like me; it’s amazing! Retention and recruitment are also important, as well as putting ourselves in positions where we start to serve our communities outside of EPAM. It's a fun time!
Being a member of LEAD will afford you opportunities to become a mentor for different ESG initiatives that we have within the organization, and it allows you to also be a mentor and/or a partner for someone within the membership group. We're also looking outside of our own organization to figure out other ways to give back to the community and participate in other adventures.
What is your vision for the future?
Just like an alumni network, we want our group to be a place where you can reach out to your connections, ask questions and people will pick up the phone to speak to you. Everybody here wants to be successful and grow. With LEAD, we want it to be a place where someone comes to you—that's sort of like our North star, that vision that we're looking forward to.
We also want to impact the organization, not just our members. We want to help EPAM retain and attract talent that looks like us as well—supporting our inclusive and diverse workplace, where others look like us. The more you know about a culture, about a person, and people, the better and the more able you are to work with them, be engaged by them, have an affinity with them, and understand how they work. So, for Black History Month, I'm incredibly excited about educating people on the success and leadership that we have within our community.
To learn more about diversity and inclusion at EPAM, visit www.epam.com/about/who-we-are/diversity-and-inclusion