Celebrating Black History Month at Novolex: “The World is Your Oyster”

2.23.2024

Black History Month in the United States represents a moment to reflect on groundbreaking achievements of African Americans in various fields and their central role in US history. Historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans first initiated a week of celebration in 1926, which eventually evolved into an official Black History Month in 1976 during President Gerald Ford’s term in office.

To commemorate Black History Month, Novolex held an inclusion panel on February 16, inviting several employees to share their professional journey and what diversity and inclusion in the workplace mean to them. Moderated by Frank Lawson, Vice President of Sales, the panel included Novolex employees Ted Jackson, EVP of Operations; Shawn Truss, Plant Manager at Heritage Bag; Bernard Gay, Chief Information Officer; and Chika Ogburia, Vice President of Finance, Corporate FP&A.

Although each panelist comes from a different background and operates in a unique sector of the Novolex business, they all expressed encountering challenges stemming from a lack of representation in their respective fields.

“When you look within the Finance sector, you don’t see a lot of black women,” said Chika. “So, for me, being the only black woman in my function in many of my previous companies, I felt an extreme amount of pressure.” That meant pressure to uphold a positive image of what a successful black woman in Finance looks like. She faced the challenge of not coming across as too assertive—falling into the traps of some of the stereotypes against black women—while also not being perceived as subservient. Chika noted that this also impacts how many black women show up to work, how they dress, how they wear their hair, and how they talk. She experienced a constant pressure to toe the line between being who she is and fitting in.

During his time in the steel industry, Shawn Truss also experienced a lack of representation but was energized when he met Ted Jackson during his interview with Novolex. “I’m proud to say it’s because of Ted and the environment at Novolex that I’m here today. It’s why I chose Novolex. When I met Ted Jackson at my interview, I said okay, I see representation here. I can move up here. I see a pathway to do something better,” shared Shawn.

All panelists articulated the challenges they have faced navigating corporate America. For Ted and Bernard, finding a transparent company culture was critical. Ted and Bernard both also stressed the importance of networking and relationship-building with individuals from all backgrounds and ethnicities. “Having a strong network of people who have confidence in my ability to drive a positive experience in their lives has been a key factor in terms of how I’ve grown,” said Bernard.

These close relationships between even unofficial mentors and mentees have proven invaluable, especially for Ted when grappling with the challenge of authenticity. “One of the phrases that was shared with me by a mentor is don’t dim your light. That means that if you’re in a situation where you’re underrepresented, you can lose confidence and dampen aspects of your personality to better fit into the culture and work environment or just the status quo. But that would have been a career-stunting mistake for me, especially in situations where I was brought in to be a change agent.”

Novolex looks forward to continuing to engage employees in these important conversations and foster connections and relationships between all of the diverse talent we employ. As Bernard says, there are a plethora of opportunities for diverse talent at Novolex which we are confident will enable us to retain and attract great people.

“It all starts with building trusting relationships. It all starts with lifelong friendships. And truly, when you do have both of those going for yourself, and people can trust and have confidence in you, the world is your oyster,” said Bernard.