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Reflecting on Black History Month at Autodesk

As Black History Month comes to a close, I find myself reflecting on the series of events and celebrations coordinated by the Autodesk Black Network (ABN) this year. Since joining Autodesk in 2015, and then shortly after, co-founding ABN, I’ve not only seen a significant evolution in the breadth of programming but also increased participation from Autodeskers throughout the company.

The theme for 2022 focused on the importance of Black health and wellness. This theme embodies more than just our physical health. It includes emotional and mental health, too. And as we curated events, we considered the activities, rituals, and initiatives that Black communities have done to be well.

From fitness classes to cooking lessons, discussions with senior leaders, to rounds of trivia, ABN planned a series of events for Black employees and allies to experience, listen, and learn about meaningful ways to center our wellbeing within our jobs and beyond.

Hear from Omari Brandt, Global Lead of Autodesk Black Network, about how Autodesk is honoring the Black History Month theme of Black Health and Wellness.

Breaking barriers

Wellbeing goes beyond the individual level and is about improving the systems where we live and work. Autodesk aims to build a culture of belonging where all employees have equitable opportunities to succeed and contribute. This means creating an environment where everyone, everywhere, is excited to come to work and feels a sense of belonging.

In early February, Autodesk’s Sheryl Walton, Senior Manager, Enterprise Service Desk and Asset Management, gave her candid perspective to the Power to Fly community through the talk, “Dismantling the Barriers Faced by Black Women in Leadership.”

As part of Power to Fly’s Diversity Reboot Summit focused on Amplifying Black Excellence, she shared comments on the biases Black women face at work the role mentors can play in offering lifelong career advice.

Autodesk’s Sheryl Walton joined the Power to Fly community to discuss the barriers facing Black women in leadership.

As a Black female in tech, this topic is near and dear to my heart. Having successfully pivoted into a new career here at Autodesk, from an executive assistant to a User Experience Designer, over the course of my career, I have had to navigate many barriers to get to my current position.

One part of the discussion that resonated with me most relates to Sheryl’s thoughts about the value of mentorship. Because while I did all of the work to get to my new role, my mentor gave me the chance I needed to make the change.

Lessons from the pros

ABN also brought in experts to help guide interactive activities throughout the month. For example, our Boston team kicked off February with a Southern BBQ Experience, inviting Chef Staci Azzinaro to walk employees through how to prepare ribs and chicken, and how to create the perfect side dish.

Chef Staci Azzinaro guided Autodeskers through how to create a Southern entrée and side dish.

Our Denver office partnered with Black-owned yoga studio Urban Sanctuary on a virtual yoga session, open to employees across the globe. Instructor Davida Wright Galvin led us through a session of Yin-style yoga. Her session guided participants into stillness, directing their minds inward.

Toward the end of the month, we even took a “field trip” through a virtual tour of Amoako Boafo’s “Soul of Black Folks” exhibit at the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) in San Francisco. Attendees were treated to view his more than 20 works made between 2018 and 2021. The tour and discussion focused on history, esthetics, cultural context, and the power of art in forming social representation.

Candid leadership conversations

The fireside chat highlighted how Autodesk supports employee wellbeing at both an individual and company-wide level.

To encourage open dialogue between members of ABN and Autodesk’s senior leaders, Omari Brandt, Senior Principal Experience Designer, and ABN Global Lead, moderated a discussion with Autodesk CEO and ABN sponsor Andrew Anagnost, Cassius Conliffe, VP of Total Rewards, and Rita Giacalone, VP of Culture, Diversity & Inclusion, for a discussion about Black health and wellbeing at Autodesk.

Among other topics, the fireside chat highlighted how Autodesk is helping to attract and retain underrepresented talent.

Feeling grateful for our ABN community

This past November, fellow ABN member David Banyard and I attended the Afrotech conference in Oakland.

ABN members from Atlanta to Los Angeles and Portland to Nairobi have also been sharing health and wellness resources throughout the month. The names of mental health and fitness professionals, beauty and skincare brands, and links to hiking trails have all been circulated to help employees continue to focus on improving our collective health and wellbeing.

Our series of virtual events drew a global employee audience, affirming that Black history isn’t limited to geographical boundaries. I’m humbled and grateful that what once started as a tiny safe space for Black employees to gather and support each other has grown and evolved into what we have today.

We are blessed to have an employee resource group to have open and honest conversations about Black health and wellness. And though Black History Month has come to a close, we are just getting started.

Learn about Autodesk’s collaboration with The Hidden Genius Project.