Charlene Gairey: See People as Who They Are vs. What They Are
Diversity. Equity. Inclusion. Three significant words often strung together with the power to shape a stronger company culture and workplace environment for all.
At Samsung, it’s part of our company’s heritage to push boundaries and defy barriers to achieve meaningful progress and power bold innovation. But innovation doesn’t just happen — it is designed by humans for humans. And a critical ingredient is our inclusive culture and diverse workforce. Our company is made up of nearly 270,000 people around the world of different ethnicities, races, genders, sexual orientations, identities, religious beliefs, and abilities. But together, we’re ONE global team united by Samsung’s purpose and values.
Action is another noteworthy word. Samsung is continuing to make progress on our journey towards driving meaningful change. And we want to spotlight the DE&I champions within our organization that have been and continue to be instrumental in enabling us to make an impact and helping to create a rich sense of belonging where everyone can thrive.
Timed to Black History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by Black Americans and the central role they played in U.S. history, we sat down with Charlene Gairey – a proud Samsung employee and member of the Galaxy of Black Professionals (GBP) employee resource group (ERG). Here’s what she had to say about DE&I…
1. What does diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) mean to you, both personally and professionally?
To me, DE&I means creating a company culture or environment that empowers people to show their true selves – without judgement. Both personally and professionally, I see people as “who” they are and not “what” they are. There is no distinction between personal and professional DE&I. We should always allow people to feel comfortable expressing their authentic selves and provide a sense of belonging for all. I’m often told, “Charlene, you are always the same – no matter the setting or circumstance. And you treat everyone the same, regardless of who they are.” That’s an individual quality I’m proud of.
2. What has been your greatest learning or most exciting experience in your career journey as it relates to DE&I?
Two of my most exciting DE&I experiences were when I worked at Sony Music Entertainment.
I had the opportunity to co-found the S.O.N.Y. Black Employee ERG. In addition to designing programs to support advancement and growth within the organization and organizing philanthropic activities for our members, we were able to influence change in our company’s retail display windows to showcase greater diversity.
Earlier in my career, I had the opportunity to lead a presentation on company retirement benefits with employees. The original presenter became ill suddenly and was not able to travel. Instead of cancelling, the Head of HR suggested that I go in her place. I had two days to learn about the program and prepare to present before heading to our warehouse location in Georgia. Reflecting back, it was progressive of the head of HR to send a non-executive Black woman to present and meet one-on-one with employees. In the end, the evaluations showed that the employees appreciated not having a ‘fast-talking New York executive’ and felt extremely comfortable meeting with me and sharing their stories without judgement. From that point forward, I became the go-to presenter for that location and others.
3. What obstacles have you overcome as a Black woman in the technology industry?
As a Black woman, there are still too many obstacles to overcome in the workplace. Unfortunately, structural inequities persist and have become the “way of life” for many of us. But I remain hopeful as I have perseverance and pride. My parents encouraged us to believe in ourselves and to have the confidence to keep pushing forward and not get hung up on the thoughts or actions of others with biases.
4. What’s one simple way your fellow colleagues can turn allyship into action?
Allyship is recognizing that privilege is power. Every single one of us has some type of privilege. It’s important to use the privileges we have to advocate for those who do not have the same access, advantages, and opportunities.
5. What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would advise my younger self to be authentic. Don’t water down your moral standards based on circumstantial factors. And, no matter what obstacles and challenges you may face, remember that your character speaks louder than words… or a title.