This Black History Month, we asked the founders of our Black employee resource group what Progress could do to lead on issues of inclusion, diversity and social justice.
Progress people bring diverse experiences to the table and make it a special place to work, but even CEO Yogesh Gupta acknowledges more work needs to be done to bring more people from different backgrounds into the company. That’s why he is one of our executive sponsors for the employee resource group (ERG) Blacks@Progress, which was founded by Rochelle Wheeler and April Turner in 2020.
The two never met until a virtual gathering late last year. Rochelle is a senior campaign lead for the professional services team out of Atlanta. April is a human resources info systems specialist out of the Bedford, Massachusetts, office. But both come from similar backgrounds—Rochelle was raised in Philadelphia, while April is from Boston.
Here’s what they had to say about how the new ERG came about, what they want to achieve, and how their life experiences have helped set their priorities for the group moving forward.
Rochelle: I attended a session back in July that our women’s ERG, Progress for Her, hosted about starting more ERGs at Progress. After being a member in Progress for Her, I wanted to learn more about leading an ERG. Coming from a company like General Electric, where there were many active ERGs, I was interested in learning more and collaborating with my coworkers. At GE, there were lots of activities and a lot of the ERGs crossed paths and worked together—like the Hispanic Forum would facilitate a series of lessons to teach the other groups Spanish. We had financial literacy events. And it wasn’t just Blacks or Hispanics, it was everyone.
We’re trying to do something similar at Progress, and we’re hitting the ground and trying to run as fast as we can; trying to figure how to be allies to each other’s groups.
April: During that meeting for Progress for Her, I saw the potential for how we could develop more groups and do great things. I think ERGs give us a great opportunity to make a difference for each other and the company. It’s really exciting.
April: First, I hope this group can be a safe place where everyone can talk openly and honestly about what they’re feeling, how they’re doing, and how we go forward. When everything was happening after George Floyd died—all that turmoil and emotion—I had so many people globally reach out to me and say, “I didn’t know how bad it was.” It was a real eye-opener for a lot of people who haven’t been directly affected by systemic racism.
When we started this group, I knew of only one other Black female in Bedford. I can’t stress enough how important it is to see more people like you in the workplace and be able to share ideas and talk about these issues in a safe place. But it doesn’t end there. There aren’t Black issues and white issues, we are all part of a larger community that needs to not only grasp the enormity of what’s going on, but be able to truly see it—maybe for the first time for some.
Rochelle: I agree. Representation will go a long way to bringing in not only important issues that otherwise wouldn’t be addressed, but also expertise, points of view and lived experiences that make us better at what we do as a company. Technology companies can do a lot to change society for the better. I want this group to help recruit talent from diverse backgrounds and retain them.
Like April, I remember being in a meeting at Progress with 300 people there, and I was the only person who looked like me—the only Black female there. It doesn’t need to be like that. We can change that. When I was in college, there were programs like INROADS, where you start as an intern, learn the various departments within a company, and in most cases you were hired directly out of school. I’d like to see us do something like that and also mentor in our communities—whether that’s learning to code or other educational paths.
April: The tricky part for us is we’re a global company. We want to involve everyone in our mission. There are people from all over the globe, like our office in India, who want to take part. And we want to work with them. We don’t want them to watch a recording of a meeting, that’s no fun. The point of any ERG is to include people.
Rochelle: We are, in terms of diversity, probably at a C. We are average, and I would love to see change and more diversity within the industry as a whole. The good thing is, our leadership is committed to diversity and cultivating a more inclusive environment at Progress, and overall in the software community in Boston. Yogesh is passionate about it. I just see us getting better—take that grade from a C to a B+. It will take time; it’s not going to happen overnight. But from an inclusion standpoint, Progress definitely scores high marks with a collaborative and team-oriented environment. And we have a culture of listening and taking action. That gives me great hope.
We do have a talent pool here, but we need to grow it in terms of mentorship. It’s like kids like my son realizing and recognizing that if they like to play video games, well how cool would it be to code and make those games? Just creating that mindset, that’s the bigger picture. It’s available to them. That’s where I am, and it’s also where I see Progress moving forward within the community.
April: I think they’ve done a great job with women. They are making a lot of changes. But from a Black perspective, that’s a tough one. The numbers are low. Hiring a chief inclusion and diversity officer will help. And not only is our CEO one of our ERG’s sponsors, so is our Chief People Officer Katie Kulikoski. So we have the ear of our leaders, and they are genuine in this pursuit. That will definitely help. I’m very hopeful.
April: This is the one. Out of all of the events I’ve seen, which hit more personally for me, this one hurt. I felt this one more. It was very hard to see it play out on TV and social media every day. And with kids, it’s harder. I have six kids between the ages of 15 and 24, and three of them are still with me. They’re dealing with it too. That has made it so much harder. It was just in your face every day.
We used to live in a community where there were not a lot of Black people. And my kids had to deal with a little more racial stuff, but we have since moved to a much more diverse city, and it’s been a real positive thing for my family. The schools have done a great job addressing it here. It was a huge change for them, and a good change.
Rochelle: It was difficult. You have two sides of America, so from an African American perspective, certain things are different. I have a son, and he’s had issues. He worked in a retail store, and he made a mistake scanning in a price, and he was called the N-word. He was shocked. It’s hard to explain someone’s ignorance to an 18-year-old. There are conversations, as a Black mother to a Black son, that other people don’t have to think about. It’s hard to have those conversations. Your child is in a diverse environment, so they don’t understand it’s different for them. It’s not right.
Rochelle: All of it was great. I’ve known (voting rights activist and former candidate for governor) Stacey Abrams from way back. We were on a PTA board together, and you saw her qualities back then. She was starting the community leadership classes back then, classes you’d take if you want to be involved in politics. She’s always been no-nonsense about this. And I think back to those PTA days up until now, and it’s amazing what she’s done. All the hard work she put into getting people registered to vote—the door-to-door canvasing, the work to check their registration ahead of time—all the efforts that I saw leading up to the election. It was a slow build, but look at what came out of it.
Now, it can be a model for the rest of the country.
April: I think it’s important for people to learn more about achievements of Black people and be better informed about their many accomplishments and contributions to society. People have a very skewed idea of Black people, men and women, from what they see on TV. We need to break through each other’s bubbles. But the responsibility shouldn’t just fall on the Black community to educate everyone else. We all need to challenge these perceptions and expose ourselves to a broader reality. It’s never been easier to read about history. It’s just a matter of taking the time. And I would also say it’s not just about educating people, it’s about becoming more accountable and respectful.
Rochelle: I enjoy my time with friends and family when I safely can these days. I’m a workout fanatic, and I miss the gym, but I’ve helped develop a virtual spin class at the onset of COVID-19 that’s been great. Right now, I’d say I’m on Level 10 of COVID-19 quarantine, as the inner gardener in me is coming out. I am great with outdoor plants, and now my 10-year-old indoor plants are now thriving as well. It’s like, “Look how much happier I am now that she’s paying attention to me!”
I’m also active with the local University of Pittsburgh alumni chapter. Because we can’t get together at events or some community involvement, we’ve had Zoom meetings. We have like 20-30 people, which is kind of surprising to me, but just shows how popular Atlanta is as a place to settle.
April: I have six kids, so I don’t have a lot of me-time. I did spend a lot of time at their sporting events. But ask any one of my colleagues, and they’ll tell you how I’ve got it all mapped out come 2023, when the last one is off to college. The biggest thing I plan to do is travel. And once the nest is empty, I plan to move out of Massachusetts—someplace warmer, puh-leeze! But I know that when that time comes, I’ll be bored out of mind not having my kids around anymore, because my life has centered around them for so long.
To get to know other Progressers like Rochelle and April, read more of our Progress employee interviews here.
Dave Pierce was the employer brand manager for Progress.
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