At Zscaler, we pride ourselves on many things, but most of all, we take pride in our people and the wide range of expertise, cultures, and life experience they contribute. Our goal is always to build working connections among employees in a way that fosters learning, understanding, and collaboration.
This Black History Month, we’ve been celebrating not only the beauty in diversity and collaborative success that comes with bringing together people of varied backgrounds and experiences, but also important Black pioneers in history that paved the way for a brighter future.
For me, Black History Month is a time to stop and reflect on the numerous Black people who contributed to building our country—too many of whom were not celebrated during their time, nor are mentioned during our school-age years when we learn about U.S. History.
We spoke with several Zscaler employees to get their thoughts and reflections on Black History Month and how they’ve chosen to celebrate and remember.
Brian Simmons, Senior Manager, Creative Services at Zscaler, sees Black History Month as an opportunity to reflect and honor those that came before, and also educate and inform future generations of the importance of digging deeper.
“I would say what Black History Month means to me personally, it’s a focus on a history that is neglected. In school, we always learned about the same Black history figures—it’d be Rosa Parks or Frederick Douglass, the same history kind of regurgitated,” he said. “Black History Month taught me that I should take it upon myself to learn about my culture and history beyond the month. I have expressed also to my children, beyond Black History Month, the importance of knowing your roots and culture, especially since I had to search for it myself. Taking the opportunity to learn about the history, and the fact that they’re living history now, is important to us.”
Allison Doughty, Global Benefits Manager at Zscaler, also reflects on Black pioneer representation in American history.
“Black History Month has driven the process of un-learning and re-learning American history that was not taught when I was in school,” she said. “It concerns me how much I do not know as an adult, and how little oversight there is on what is taught in the classroom on the Civil War through The Civil Rights Movement to give a better picture of how to we got to where we are today. I hope that today's students will have a more balanced curriculum and they will continue to educate me with these history lessons they've learned back in grade school.”
Tyrin Ford, Regional Sales Manager – Large Enterprise at Zscaler, explained the origins of Black History Month and how it has evolved.
“Black History Month began as ‘Negro History Week,’ and was created in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson,” he said. “He built Negro History Week around traditional days of commemorating the Black past to extend the public’s study of Black history. It became a national month-long celebration called Black History Month in 1976.”
For Ford, the month holds significance in honoring the past and also reflecting on the values it instills in his life.
“I celebrate Black History Month all year long, but the month of February is extremely important because this is an opportunity for me to live out the legacy of my ancestors while the rest of the nation celebrates Black culture,” he said. “Black History Month is a time of rejoicing, celebrating, and reflecting on our past. Black History is about integrity, leadership, and determination—it’s about showing your true character and embracing your heritage.”
The importance of communication and understanding
At Zscaler, we launched an Employee Resource Group, called [email protected], on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2021 to “recognize the culture of Black employees at Zscaler, and drive initiatives that educate, celebrate, and develop a purposeful sense of value for the experience of the African/Black Diaspora.” Our group, though developed to be active in every month of the year, took on a special significance during Black History Month.
Additionally, throughout February, group participants have shared daily facts and participated in film viewings and discussions to foster understanding and gain perspective. Personally, I’ve enjoyed facilitating film discussions through our [email protected] Employee Resource group. So far, we've discussed The Hate U Give, Black Panther, 13th, and will discuss Hidden Figures this week. It's important to have a safe space for people of different backgrounds to come and discuss, with the intent of learning and action.
Wendi Lester, Director, Global Real Estate and Workplace Operations at Zscaler, and Ambreen Lakhani, Business Operations Manager at Zscaler have made efforts to contribute one Black History Month fact per day in the [email protected] group discussion.
“Black History Month is American History Month viewed through the lens of a minority population in this country,” said Lester. “I was fortunate this year, because of the [email protected] group, to be able to share daily Black History Month facts. Through this, I learned about the Negro Motorist Green Book, which was a way for Black people to (mostly) safely drive throughout the segregated south.”
The [email protected] group not only aims to remember and honor the past, but also look toward the future and what improvements can be made at Zscaler, in the tech industry, and in the country as a whole to promote learning, understanding, and communication.
“Being part of the [email protected] Employee Resource group is such an honor. It's a collective group of like-minded Black professionals that are looking to be change agents for diversity at Zscaler,” Ford said. “I'm really impressed with the progress we're making in such a short amount of time. We're just getting started, and there are many positive things in store in 2021 and beyond. We have to increase the percentage of Blacks within our organization and it starts with sourcing and recruitment.”
Sandi Lurie, Vice President, Talent Acquisition at Zscaler, made clear the efforts the company as a whole is making to ensure Black representation and diversity in hiring at the company.
“At Zscaler, instead of focusing on making sure every role has one diverse candidate to interview, the talent team has worked diligently to make sure every open role has a diverse pipeline. We have seen the results change quarter over quarter.”
Honoring Black pioneers and inspirations
Black History Month is a time to not only reflect on the countless Black trailblazers that have made significant contributions to our nation, but also honor other inspirational figures in each individual’s life that have made an impact promoting Black pride and strength.
“Robert Frederick Smith is one of the monumental figures that I admire,” Ford said. “He is an American businessman, philanthropist, chemical engineer, and investor. He is the founder, chairman, and CEO of investment firm Vista Equity Partners. Forbes has named Smith on several business lists, including its list of the 100 greatest living business minds, and the wealthiest people in America. Robert's actions are motivational for other African American males in Tech and his philanthropic efforts are unmatched. I'm striving to replicate his success in many ways.”
Other inspiration and motivation is pulled from musical means.
“Bob Marley was and is very influential to me,” Simmons said. “When I was first introduced to Bob Marley’s music, and then the man himself, it was his early works, when they were just the Wailers, and the music was a bit more pro-Black. It was definitely more focused on standing up for your rights. What I find inspiring is that there was a point in time when he realized that this was not just an internal cultural concept, and it was the world that needed to gravitate toward, not only just a pride for yourself, but also an acceptance and a oneness—one love—combining the world and stepping outside of your bubble, and that’s what I learned from that music. From this, I started to feel more confident about myself as a person of African descent.”
For others, Black History Month is a time to appreciate ancestors and family members that not only paved the way during many divisive moments in history, but also taught important lessons.
“My biggest inspiration is my mother because she ensured I learned as much of the history about People of Color as possible, despite it not being included in the history books or taught in schools,” Lester said. “She taught me to question and ask "Why?" It is through asking those follow-up questions that we get to the root of the challenges our country faces and how we can overcome them.”
Personally, my influence and inspiration come both from home and Hollywood.
Cicely Tyson was my favorite actress, and while I was sad at her passing, I am proud of the full, unapologetic life she lived. She was such an inspiration for so many Black actors, both male and female, and it was lovely to see so many that celebrated her during her life and upon her passing. Cicely reminds me of my grandmother, in size, stature, and age—my Grandmother will be 97 in April, and she has been my absolute rock of strength and encouragement.
At Zscaler, we plan to celebrate Black history year-round and honor the significant contributions Black Americans have made to the company, the industry, and the nation. To learn more about some of the Black pioneers that have been featured in the [email protected] group this month, see the links below:
The History of Black History Month
Amelia Boynton Robinson - Civil Rights Pioneer
Arthur B. Woodson - Author, Editor, Publisher, and Historian
Eunice Hunton Carter - First African-American woman to work as a prosecutor in the New York County District Attorney’s Office
Fritz Pollard - Pro Football Pioneer
Nina Simone Tribute