Juneteenth: An opportunity to celebrate Black history and employee resource groups
June 19, 2023
June 19, 2023
Stantec’s BLK ERG provides a space to mentor, grow, and develop Black professionals
Juneteenth is an annual commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States after the Civil War. It has been celebrated by African Americans since the late 1800s and was made a US federal holiday in 2021.
How did it start? On June 19, 1865, about two months after the Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia, Gordon Granger, a Union general, arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform enslaved African Americans of their freedom and the end of the Civil War. Granger’s announcement put into effect the Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued nearly two and a half years earlier.
For Carla Artis, Stantec’s director of supplier diversity and compliance, observing Juneteenth is a personal struggle.
“I have mixed feelings when I think of Juneteenth,” she says. “I’m glad that we’re taking time to just acknowledge history. And I hope people will take the time to understand what this date in history really means.
“But I’m also extremely saddened that we are still facing some of the same struggles.”
While Artis finds the holiday challenging, she appreciates how it is celebrated at Stantec and how the Company’s Black employee resource group (BLK ERG) supports her and others. Artis served as chair of BLK ERG for two years before turning leadership over to Ryan White and Brittany Stahl. She now serves as the group’s executive sponsor. While her day-to-day work is focused on helping grow minority, women, disadvantaged, and veteran-owned business enterprises, her BLK ERG experience is something that keeps her optimistic that real change is inevitable and/or on the horizon.
“By Stantec honoring and celebrating not only Juneteenth but Martin Luther King Day and Black History Month and having the Black ERG it reflects a vision forward,” Artis says. “And it’s not just the BLK_ERG, there’s the Latinos@Stantec, the Pride@Stantec, the Indigenous Connections@Stantec, etc.—we’re taking steps to honor all cultures and backgrounds.”
The BLK ERG’s focus is on increasing the representation of Black professional talent at Stantec. It works to mentor and develop members across the globe.
White says the BLK ERG fills a role as a village, which is valuable at a 26,000-person firm that stretches across the globe. White is the design services growth leader for Southeast Transportation and the Raleigh, North Carolina, office leader, but his ERG connections cross time zones, cultures, and professional backgrounds.
“We get to advocate for anybody because these ERGs aren’t exclusive, they’re open to anybody,” he says. “The training we do, we feel like it is universal.
“And it’s a great opportunity to help Stantec be the change that leadership wants it to be. But to also create this village for all people.”
For Stahl, stormwater team lead in Calgary, Alberta, Stantec’s ERGs are a great way to connect and grow a career.
“I believe joining an ERG is a great way to expand your network really quickly,” Stahl says. “It helps you understand the culture of the organization quickly. It can help you accelerate your career because you get to understand how the organization works.”
Here is a little more from Artis, White, and Stahl about the BLK ERG and diversity at Stantec.
On differences within BLK ERG members: “Because even within the Black community, you know, we use that term as a generalization. There are so many different cultures. We especially see this within Stantec because we’re such a big company.
“We have people of African descent in Europe. I’m from the US South, so I see a lot of things from the Southern US point of view, but that’s so different from somebody who grew up in the Midwest or on the West Coast, or Brittany, for example, who grew up in Calgary. We’re on our journeys as professionals—we’re both engineers—but our life journeys are different.”
You get more creative ideas because you’ve got such a diversity of journeys and backgrounds.
On what ERGs offer to Stantec employees: “Recently, we had three employees speak at the Minnesota Transportation Conference. We had a representative from the Developing Professionals Group, a representative from Latinos@Stantec, and then me to represent the BLK ERG.
“It created a space for the three of us where you can have these conversations about culture. People become more well-rounded, and you get more creative ideas because you’ve got such a diversity of journeys and backgrounds. The Company’s giving us the space to outwardly show what we’re doing. And I think we’re doing it better than a lot of other places.”
On how ERGs support people and projects: “We have people from all sorts of backgrounds, but we all are excited to work together. If we don’t understand how to connect with our clients or understand how connect with each other, we’re not going to produce some really great results.
“So, I think the ERGs are important. They are the heartbeat of the organization.”
On how the BLK ERG empowers employees: “Something I’m proud of with being a co-chair with Ryan is that we really care about people. We demonstrate that by creating an environment where people are comfortable to gather, to engage, to converse, to learn.
“With that has come opportunities for us to help people in critical moments in their careers. People have felt comfortable enough to reach out to us when they’ve had challenges on the job and they’re looking for advice on how to navigate some career changes, shifts, or challenges.
“And we’re able to provide practical advice because of the things we’ve learned and understand about the organization as well as how we’ve progressed in our careers. We’re able to help someone, make a difference in their career in that moment, help them make a decision, help them engage with the right people, connect them to people that are going to help them solve a problem. We love solving problems.”
On what diversity means to Stantec: “As an organization, we look at how we can be supportive of women, minorities, and disabled professionals. I think that’s a huge step towards equity. Not just equality but towards equity—meaning that we’re all in the same space within the organization.
“There’s no way an organization can grow if it doesn’t embrace all cultural and ethnic backgrounds.”
On how diversity is reflected in projects: “Your design aesthetics reflect who you are and where you live. Everyone brings a level of who they are to a project; that authenticity will make Stantec project designs directly relatable to the communities that we serve. Building diversity into the project supply chain is a powerful engine for economic growth. And diverse knowledge leads to more positive project outcomes.
“Why not share culturally where the differences are? Share why we may design a project differently because of where we come from. It’s an amazing feeling to design a project knowing the fabric of the community that you’re designing it for. At Stantec, we design with community in mind. I think that ethos should be revered.”