Sandia LabNews

Two Sandia leaders recognized with Black leadership awards

David Gibson: Lessons from his great-grandparents

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Deputy Laboratories Director and Chief Operating Officer David Gibson. (Photo by Craig Fritz)

Deputy Laboratories Director and Chief Operating Officer David Gibson said his great-grandparents had a profound impact on the leader he is today.

“By the time I was born, my great-grandparents had seen the nation make tremendous progress, and they knew more needed to be done. They were optimistic and hopeful for the future,” David said. “They shaped my perspective about this nation. Their greatest gift to me was motivation rooted in the hope that I could make a difference.”

David encourages employees to have the courage to be curious, ask questions and learn about cultures other than their own. “It’s important for employees to feel safe, and it benefits our mission when we have contributors who bring different experiences and perspectives to our work,” David said. “I think we have a lot more in common than we have differences. I think at Sandia, we’re motivated by a sense of service and wanting to make a difference.”

David’s impact has earned him a Black Leadership award from Profiles in Diversity Journal.

David became deputy labs director and COO in December 2021. He’s proud of some of the changes made during that time, including improved compensation and benefits, and a revamped performance management system that focuses on employee growth. He’s also looking forward to what Sandia can accomplish with its two focused goals: to accelerate innovation and lead in modern engineering.

“Today our mission is as important as it’s ever been, giving us an opportunity to serve in ways that are significant,” David said.

David started working at Sandia as an intern in 1998, during his senior year at the University of New Mexico. He has held various positions throughout his time at Sandia. In 2017, he became the center director of Sandia’s California site operations.

He left Sandia for a couple of years to serve as senior director of Environment, Safety, Health and Quality at Argonne National Laboratory before returning to the Labs in late 2021 as the COO.

When asked what his great-grandparents would think about his accomplishments, David said, “They would be proud. We live in a country where my story is possible.” David added that stories like his are also becoming more mainstream. Referring back to what his great-grandparents would think, he said, “They would be super proud.”

Larry Thomas: Creating a sense of belonging at Sandia

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Chief Diversity, Equity and Belonging Officer Larry Thomas. (Photo by Craig Fritz)

At a young age, Larry Thomas knew he wanted to advocate for hardworking people at the bottom of the financial hierarchy. The son of a factory worker and an auto mechanic, Larry is now advocating to create a stronger sense of belonging at Sandia.

“The goal is to cultivate an inviting, safe, ethical, hospitable, respectful, enjoyable and appreciative work environment and culture so our employees bond, belong and thrive,” said Larry, Sandia’s chief diversity, equity and belonging officer. “Over time, I hope we become a community that, differences aside, celebrates and honors what we have in common.”

Larry was the first in his family to attend college. He earned a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees. Now a senior manager at Sandia, Larry says his leadership philosophy centers on compassion, innovation and relationships. Larry’s work and advocacy earned him a Black Leadership award, and he’s featured in Profiles in Diversity Journal.

He partners with many others at Sandia, including a belonging, equity, diversity and inclusion strategist and an affirmative action and equal opportunity specialist to ensure compliance with federal and state laws.

What is belonging?

“To thrive, Sandians need to believe they belong. To belong, Sandians need to feel bonded to one another and the organization. To bond, Sandians can’t feel like they’re struggling or barely surviving,” Larry said. “To create, enhance and maintain an environment for belonging to thrive, Sandians must believe their originality and impact is celebrated, reciprocated and appreciated by their supervisor.”

Larry pointed out that belonging and inclusion are different. He said he likes professor and author Brené Brown’s definition of belonging.

“Brown’s research found that belonging is the opposite of fitting-in or inclusion. True belonging requires every person to be who they are. Belonging honors your originality, which includes the intersections of your identity,” Larry said. He added that originality enhances a team and organization’s creative thinking, communication, collaboration and productivity.

Since joining Sandia in August 2022, Larry said one of his biggest accomplishments is engaging with external stakeholders from historically excluded populations. Those stakeholders include the New York State Collegiate Science & Technology Entry Programs, the Vivien Thomas Scholars Initiative at Johns Hopkins University, the SEED Scholars Honors Program at the University of California at Berkeley, the Chief Diversity Officer’s Forum of Disability:IN, and the Board of Corporate Affiliates for the National Society of Black Engineers.

Larry is also proud of introducing the concept of belonging and encouraging Sandians to look for the common threads that tie us together. “Belonging is Sandia’s most significant long-term priority. Getting to belonging will be quite the journey,” a journey Larry knows Sandia is ready to take on.

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