How much can one person do? Something.

By Mark Sellers, Associate Labs Director

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Mark and his wife hold disarm hate sign at PRIDE parade
ADVOCATING FOR CHANGE — Sandia Associate Labs Director Mark Sellers and his wife, Ann, attended the June 2019 Pride Parade in Albuquerque. (Photo courtesy of Mark Sellers)

Personal growth is not the point of a leadership position, but it has been, for me, a benefit of my time at Sandia. In particular, I’ve gained a better understanding of what it means to be an ally for inclusion and diversity. As an ally, it’s not my place to speak about someone else’s experience. Instead, I have responsibility for fostering a Labs’ culture where people are comfortable sharing their experiences and bringing their whole selves to work.

I’ve thought a lot about this responsibility over the past few weeks, watching protests shift from peaceful to violent and, thankfully, in most cases, back again. (The initial report available at publication surrounding the shooting at the La Jornada sculpture in Albuquerque is stomach turning.) I don’t condone violence. I also have compassion for the feelings behind the current outcry.

That people of color continue to be disproportionately harmed and killed in our country seems undeniable. The tragedy of George Floyd is among a ceaseless procession of heart-rending examples.

As a member of the white male population, my Sandia experience has impressed upon me an accountability for change. I’ve awakened to the fact that people I see every day experience a very different world. We might work in the same building, pick up pizza from Blaze, watch the same newsfeed. Yet if you interviewed us independently, the accounts could be drastically divergent. I am not foolish enough to believe I can truly grasp how recent events might affect any individual Sandian. That doesn’t excuse me from trying.

The fiery scenes unfolding on our screens can underline our smallness. Events in our country may feel beyond our control. It’s reasonable to ask, “How much can one person do?” The answer can’t be, “Nothing.”

Striving for change

Giving me confidence in our ability to change are relatively recent actions we have taken at Sandia with guidance from our Inclusion and Diversity organization. Within the past two years, we began mandating diverse candidate interview slates whenever the pool of qualified candidates allows and requiring that interview panels for manager positions include both a woman and a member of the minority population.

Sandia is on a journey toward greater demographic diversity in its workforce and leadership, and we are not there yet. These modifications were made because research indicates diverse candidate pools and interview panels correspond with more diverse hiring. I am not equating our tiny piece of the world to the macro environment or claiming a magical solution, but change takes the grace to admit we could do better, followed by planning and action to actually do better. This is what we are striving for.

Kindness and acceptance

Speaking to our opportunity as individual Sandians, when fear, anger and much more complex emotions are part of our internal experience, how do we hold true to our value of bringing our whole selves to work? And how do we make it comfortable for others to live this value?

I believe part of the answer is to continue supporting each other. Sandians have met the challenges of our COVID-altered times with kindness. The current circumstances seem to require extension of the same kindness to each one of our colleagues.

Twelve weeks ago, I know I sometimes offered “How are you doing?” as a perfunctory greeting. These days, it has new, more genuine meaning. We’ll keep checking on each other with an impromptu Skype. We’ll keep demonstrating we care for one another with a two-line email of empathy and appreciation. And when we get a response, we’ll listen with care and acceptance.

Among my small, doable steps is to attend monthly Diversity Cinemas and send calendar invitations to my colleagues for these events. It’s a simple and visible sign that you support others in our Labs’ community.

Whatever you are feeling, I guarantee you’re not alone. We’ll persevere through these times like we succeed through all things at Sandia — together.