Events | Read Time: 9 Minutes

Inclusion Is on Us

May 20, 2021

By: Tarra Seawright

There’s lots of buzz at Applied around Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DI&B) as we speak boldly and courageously about our efforts to ensure our employees feel respected, appreciated and that they belong. To do this, our leaders must be intentional about showing inclusive leadership.

During the month of May, we are celebrating our first-ever Diversity Awareness Month – themed Inclusion Is on Us – and Applied leaders have stepped up to the plate to share stories of inclusion from their past or present.

Applied CEO Taylor Rhodes recently shared this powerful quote from Harvard Business Review: “What leaders say and do makes up to a 70 percent difference as to whether an individual reports feeling included. This really matters because the more they feel included, the more they speak up, go the extra mile, and collaborate – all of which ultimately lifts organizational performance.” Taylor kicked off the month by sharing his story first. Take a few minutes to read his story along with other stories from more of our leaders. Don’t worry about lifting a few of these ideas for your teams. We expect you to do just that!

  • Taylor Rhodes, CEO

    Taylor Rhodes
    Taylor Rhodes

    As a young Marine, I had the chance to learn from a great leader who taught me a simple rule: If you believe your people matter, get to know their names and something about them. The colonel would walk around and make it a point to stop those he didn’t know and ask their names, where they were from, why they joined the Marine Corps, what their family was like, etc.

    “If you believe your people matter, get to know their names and something about them.”

    Eventually, he learned the names of all 1,200 of the Marines in his care – and you know what? It made a huge difference in our engagement, esprit de corps, and willingness to follow him. Why? Because the colonel was showing us that we weren’t just a number, but that to him each of us mattered. That is powerful!

    I carried this with me as I left the Marines and went into tech. At Rackspace, I was known for knowing everyone by name, and for getting to know them as people. As the company got bigger, I did cheat and asked that the font on our ID badges be enlarged so I could see someone’s name from 20 feet away. My goal wasn’t to be superficial and pretend I knew someone when I didn’t, but to be able to greet someone I didn’t know – usually a new teammate – by name.

    At Applied, pre-COVID, I was starting on this journey. I spent time walking the Support floor, going to various team meetings, trying to get out and learn the names and stories of our employees. I’ve tried to do this on Zoom for the past year. Post-COVID, I plan to re-embark on this mission in person as often as possible. But in the post-COVID world, we will be hybrid and not all in the office together, so I am learning new tricks.

    My goal? Simple. Team Applied matters to me and aren’t simply numbers. Each individual matters, and what they do here matters for our team and for our customers. Getting to know their names and something about them is how I try to connect and communicate that.

  • Laura Lee Gentry, Chief People Officer

    Laura Lee Gentry
    Laura Lee Gentry

    As I reflect on inclusion and how it manifests itself in our day-to-day work, I think about relationships and trust. If you have authentic relationships with your colleagues and teams, almost anything is possible. Traditional corporate America told us to leave our personal selves at home and walk into the office every day with a veneer of what they deemed as “professionalism.” Why did they think it was impossible to be both professional and real? It took me years to unlearn this and, it was only when I found a workplace that truly valued personal connection that I saw what this could unlock.

    “I didn’t have the right words, I couldn’t ‘fix it,’ but I could be present for her because of the love and trust between us.”

    When you have real trust with people, communications are open and frank. People act with confidence when they know where they stand with their co-workers. They venture out of their comfort zones and speak their minds. And that behavior unleashes an unbelievable level of creativity, innovation and impact. But this behavior also makes space for compassion, empathy and connecting at a very human level, which can help people and teams navigate some thorny and emotionally charged situations.

    As the Black Lives Matter movement really gained momentum last year, I called one of my closest Black colleagues. We had a strong relationship, and something just told me that she wasn’t OK. She shared some stark and troubling speeches that were being posted and this was what she was getting battered with every day. It cracked my heart wide open to hear her pain, witness her struggle, see these images. I didn’t have the right words, I couldn’t “fix it,” but I could be present for her because of the love and trust between us. That was a moment of pure inclusion on both sides and, while it was incredibly sad, it was also beautiful.

  • Trevor Bunker, Chief Customer Officer

    Trevor Bunker
    Trevor Bunker

    Early in my career, I had the opportunity to participate in a truly magical experience that has shaped my career and leadership style ever since – how to get the most out of a truly diverse team. I was invited to participate in a CEO-led transformation project to modernize our billing and licensing system and while honored to be included, I recall feeling incredibly insecure as I didn’t know anything about billing and licensing systems and was by far the most junior employee in the workshop.

    “Everything we did was intended to bring out or support various learning styles, personalities and group dynamics – truly ensuring that everyone felt comfortable and safe contributing.”

    It was an amazing experience and after three days, everyone was more excited than when we started. We had a clear solution design developed and I genuinely made some friends who I continue to keep in touch with today. I recall feeling so good that I spoke to our CEO at the end of the event and stated, “I don’t know what you did but this was the best workshop ever. It was fun, everyone engaged, and we actually accomplished something.” He laughed and said that was all by design.

    What he went on to explain was that the entire experience was intentionally designed, and it all started with having the right people in the room, a diverse group of backgrounds, experience levels, those with and without context of the problem, and a mix of those in different roles and leadership stages.

    He explained further that everything we did – from doing pre-reads each night, sharing retrospectives each morning, documenting goals and achievements but also reading them in the group, having a mix of large group, small group, and individual breakouts – were all designed and planned experiences. Everything we did was intended to bring out or support various learning styles, personalities and group dynamics – truly ensuring that everyone felt comfortable and safe contributing. This was an incredible life lesson in the power of inclusion and diversity. There was something for everyone, which meant that everyone brought something.

  • Caroline Schweppe, VP of Insurer Solutions

    Caroline Schweppe
    Caroline Schweppe

    “The mutual respect for the talent and skill of each of our team members allowed us to do the right thing and do the job right.”

    I worked for a startup with a small team building a completely new data analytics and data sharing platform. We came from many different countries and wildly differing backgrounds, both personally and professionally. The glue that held us together was the determination to see our business succeed and grow. We worked, debated and created in a flexible, respectful and caring environment. We became a work family – a word I use a lot. We had no dress code, no formal business hours, and no vacation policy. We worked hard and shared all the highs and lows of our business and life journey together. The mutual respect for the talent and skill of each of our team members allowed us to do the right thing and do the job right. Everyone on that team felt that their work and input was valued and respected. The business grew and became an integral part of the industry. That team remains part of my real family to this day. The learnings from that work experience remain the foundation of my professional and life philosophy.

  • Jeff Purdy, EVP of Sales

    Jeff Purdy
    Jeff Purdy

    I was raised in a relatively small community an hour west of Toronto, Ontario. The community wasn't particularly diverse, although at the time, I certainly didn't know anything different. Basically, I was raised in a small town and pretty insulated from the larger world that existed.

    “We had a fantastic team, made up of different races, religions, genders, and orientations. For us, it didn't matter. We were joined by a common cause and had a fantastic time building Applied.”

    I was fortunate to begin my career with Applied in 1989 in our Toronto office. Our office was in the heart of the city, and this small-town kid was exposed to an entirely different world. Toronto was (and is) one of the most multicultural cities in the world, as well as one of the most diverse cities in the world. Our Applied office in Toronto represented the diversity of the city. For me, diversity in the workplace was just normal. I entered the workforce in a diverse city, and our company represented the city. We had a fantastic team, made up of different races, religions, genders, and orientations. For us, it didn't matter. We were joined by a common cause and had a fantastic time building Applied.

    Applied has provided me many interesting opportunities over my career. More recently, I was able to spend significant time in the UK, specifically London. Whilst I thought Toronto was a diverse city, London took it to a new level. I've heard more languages and been immersed in more cultural experiences in the last seven years than in my entire life. At first, it felt strange, like the feeling I had when I started working in Toronto, but it just became normal over time. London has become my favorite city – it has history, culture, and incredible diversity (not to mention fantastic pizza, believe it or not). To close, my life has been enriched due to being exposed to diversity and I appreciate the many benefits diversity provides.

  • Rana Singer, Controller

    Rana Singer
    Rana Singer

    People who knew me before I had my two kids know that I really wasn’t born with the “mom-gene.” What can I say – I was more interested in my career and other things. Pre-kids, I just couldn’t relate or understand a lot of the parent and mom talk in or outside of the office. In fact, I must admit I had a bias towards some working parents in the office.

    “Relating to someone with different life experiences is an attribute that should be a requirement to lead a group.”

    Earlier in my career, while others were leaving at reasonable hours for their kid’s soccer practice, I was volunteering to stay late to meet deadlines and pick up extra projects. The work environment I was in at the time rewarded this point of view. It took my first born to open my eyes and see the bias I had with colleagues.

    I can now relate whole heartedly to a working parent’s struggle in the work environment and the need for work-life balance. I wish my younger self was able to acknowledge or try to understand another person’s hurdles without having that exact experience. I am thankful that I’ve grown as a person to learn this lesson that can be applied in my career. Relating to someone with different life experiences is an attribute that should be a requirement to lead a group. I am still a work in progress, but in my personal and professional endeavors I work on acknowledging and empathizing without requiring the same exact experience as that person. I encourage my team to keep lines of communication open with me and each other. We’ll continue to share our experiences and stories to move closer to all our goals.

We’d love to hear from you. Share your own diversity and inclusion story and the positive change it’s had on your work and/or personal life.


Tarra Seawright

Tarra Seawright is Sr. Manager of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at Applied. She has been involved with Diversity and Inclusion for more than 10 years and her objective is to drive the DIB initiative making a powerful impact to our workforce, workplace and marketplace. Seawright is a graduate of Florida A&M University with a degree in Journalism and a minor in African American Novel.