5 Questions for Black Business Network Leaders
Our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) bring an opportunity to create connections, build community and foster a diverse and inclusive environment where every voice is heard and valued.
In the third of a seven-part ERG series, we highlight the importance of our Black Business Network. This group promotes career advancement and professional development and enhances cultural competence through education, recruitment and retention of Black employees.
1. Tell us about the Black Business Network. What’s the role and goal of BBN?
Tony Shaw, BBN Global Chair: I’m very intentional about calling it the Black Business Network. We are inclusive, we welcome all employees independent of their race or gender, but it is important for Black colleagues to know they have a safe place to go. The Network is a place for thoughtful discourse, where you can share the most intimate things with people who understand.
I’m in my 17th year with AbbVie, and outside of the U.S. Marines, I’ve never stayed anywhere this long before. That’s because I keep getting opportunities, and because I need to inspire people who are Black and Brown, who are underrepresented. I want to provide what I didn’t have myself as a young professional. It’s important to provide ongoing opportunities and career development for our current employees as well as prospective early career mentoring and sponsorship.
Abigail Garcia, Puerto Rico BBN member: BBN means bringing diversity and inclusion into everything you do. Being a part of the Network inspires me to take a closer look at what I’m working toward, for all future generations. It’s equality, inclusion, respect and opportunity, which are what make this world a better place.
Kiearrah Lawrence, BBN Co-Chair: We could all recite the mission for the Network, but for me, it’s beyond the written statement. And that’s because of what’s happening in our society. The Network is no longer a cultural hangout; it’s about elevating people’s careers, providing a safe space and ensuring that people feel seen. It’s acting as a liaison for people who otherwise felt like they didn’t have a voice.
Alysia Terrell: It’s being resilient. It’s being a change agent. It’s calling out things that were ignored in the past. It’s improving our overall experience. It’s bringing the confidence to have uncomfortable conversations with our managers and our teams and getting to know each other on a more personal level within our workgroups.
Kenneth Bruton, Puerto Rico BBN Member: It means that you have a unique perspective and that we need to create an environment where we all feel comfortable sharing that perspective. Everybody contributes more and better when they’re at ease and happy.
Dr. Nombini Habangana, South Africa BBN member: It means remembering that you earned your place at that boardroom table, which gives you the right to use your voice loudly and proudly.
Tony Shaw: It means cultivating Black talent to advance, grow and take on more responsibility. It’s paving a path to success for people who are underrepresented. It’s the ability to influence a Network that continues to grow, to take something that’s been shepherded by key leaders and bring it forward yourself, to help the next Alysias and the next Kiearrahs.
Abigail Garcia: It means being better and working together to make the world a place where color, sex, race, limitations and diversity transcend beyond what the eye can see.
Kiearrah Lawrence: It’s a weight on your shoulders, but a good one. You have people lifting you up. It’s living in two different realities and trying to maintain them both. Hopefully one day that will change. The ability to navigate through unknown spaces makes you a natural adapter, a chameleon.
3. How has the addition of AbbVie’s Chief Equity Officer Rae Livingston impacted the work and elevated the profile of BBN?
Alysia Terrell, BBN Co-Chair: It shows the great commitment AbbVie is making to change. We have people like Rae committed to carrying out initiatives and opportunities for employees connected to important moments like George Floyd’s death and the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement.
Kenneth Bruton: For me, diversity either is or it isn’t. It’s not a matter of saying it, you have to make sure you implement the right practices. We’re all different people and we bring different perspectives, and as a global organization, we are in a position to make a change in this world. By bringing on Rae, it’s living it. It’s doing it. It’s not just saying it. It makes me think that my personal beliefs and the beliefs of this organization are aligned.
Tony Shaw: It brings credibility because Rae is leading from the standpoint of equity and equality. She has taken our EED&I mission and translated it to facts, behaviors and ways to measure our progress. She has a seat at the table, and she brings her experience and her perspective to advocate for underrepresented populations.
4. How has the Network evolved recently, including as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Kiearrah Lawrence: During the pandemic, we’ve been able to help members around the world access events that would have typically been in person at our Lake County, Illinois headquarters. We’ve also worked to bring more accessibility to these events for people with hearing and sight impairments.
Beyond the pandemic, the Black Business Network and really all ERGs over the years have transformed into a business imperative that helps drive the mission of our broader organization. They give us the tools and resources to do better work here at AbbVie
Tony Shaw: This evolution has been in the works for years. We have always been very purposeful about elevating the social consciousness of Black colleagues and our allies as well. A lot of what we’re trying to do is improve cultural competence, for people to understand the history of their Black colleagues over the last 400 years because our history doesn’t start with civil rights. We’re intentional about sharing what it has meant to be Black in America. Bringing in dynamic speakers like Dr. Bernice King and lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson helps us bring this to life and increase understanding.
5. BBN brings compelling speakers in for all employees to learn from. What has it meant to hear from Dr. Bernice King, the daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson and Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin?
Alysia Terrell: It’s so important to have these speakers because they are part of our history, of American history. The fact that we’ve brought them to speak to employees makes it more tangible. It’s not just a news story, it’s not just a hashtag. We’ve all heard about the events with Trayvon Martin, but now we know much more. We hear firsthand about how she’s taking an event that was a tragedy and turning it into her life’s work to prevent this from happening to someone else.
Kiearrah Lawrence: These are my personal heroes and sheroes. I was fangirling over being able to speak to them one-on-one as we prepared for their talks. We heard from employees that many mothers felt a connection to Sybrina Fulton. And it doesn’t get any more personal when celebrating MLK Day than having a meaningful conversation with Dr. King’s daughter.