As part of Maxar’s Black History Month celebrations, we caught up with Joe Okafor, senior DevOps engineer in our Public Sector Earth Intelligence segment and leader of our Black and African Americans at Maxar (BAAM) Employee Resource Group (ERG), to learn more about BAAM and its work, his perspectives on Black History Month and what he believes we need to do to create a more inclusive industry.

Joe Okafor has been leading Maxar’s BAAM ERG since January 2022.

Q: What do you do at Maxar?

Joe: I am currently the lead integration engineer responsible for migrating custom applications from a commercial cloud to an on-premises cloud solution for one of our government customers. My role is to develop tools that streamline the migration of virtual and containerized workloads from one cloud environment to another to get our customers up and running as quickly as possible.

Q: What is the mission of the BAAM ERG and what drew you to it?

Joe: The mission of the BAAM ERG is to promote an environment that fosters and supports the advancement of Black and African Americans at Maxar. The BAAM ERG strives to attract, retain, empower and inspire Black and African American employees through professional development, career management, mentoring and networking opportunities. Additionally, it provides Maxar with a critical perspective on issues facing the Black community. I was drawn to this ERG because it has the potential to make a real impact within the organization by creating a more inclusive and diverse workplace. In addition, it leads several outreach events that support some of our underserved communities. I love Maxar’s commitment to creating an environment where everyone feels welcomed and valued, including with support from senior leadership.

Q: What does Black History Month mean to you?

Joe: Black History Month is an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the achievements of Black and African Americans throughout history. It’s an opportunity to honor the often-overlooked accomplishments of Black people and to acknowledge the ongoing struggles for equality and justice. It’s a time to celebrate the rich cultural heritage of Black people, including our arts, literature and music. It’s a chance for everyone to learn about the diversity and richness of Black culture and its role in shaping the many facets of our society. Most importantly, it’s a time to reflect on and renew our commitment to building a more equitable and just society for all.

Q: What types of activities does the ERG regularly organize, and what activities are planned for Black History Month?

Joe: Starting this month, our ERG will be hosting a recurring monthly open discussion with the support of our senior leaders. The event will provide a space for BAAM ERG members and allies to come together and engage in meaningful dialogue on issues affecting the Black community. For Black History Month, we also hosted a career development keynote led by Tony Frazier, Executive Vice President and General Manager of our Public Sector Earth Intelligence segment, and Jon Love, Vice President of Global Business Development for Public Sector Earth Intelligence. During the session, which was also attended by our CEO Dan Jablonsky, Tony and Jon shared advice based on their own career experiences, leading to some engaging conversation about career growth.

Q: Looking ahead, what are the opportunities and challenges to continue to build a more inclusive culture, both within Maxar and across the space and geospatial industries?

Joe: There are many opportunities and challenges. I’ll start with the challenges to the industry, which include structural barriers and lack of understanding. Barriers, such as unequal access to resources, education and job opportunities, as well as limited funding for initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion, make it more difficult for certain groups to succeed. Lack of understanding of the experiences and perspectives of others is equally challenging as it can cause resistance to change.

To overcome these challenges, we need more diverse representation, broader understanding of unconscious bias, and generally more awareness and education. Increasing representation of diverse groups in leadership positions and decision-making roles is the best way to ensure that the voices and perspective of different groups are heard and valued. Understanding unconscious bias, through training or guided discussion groups, can help eliminate social stereotypes and foster a culture of inclusion. Finally, educating people on the history of discrimination and systemic barriers that different groups have faced is important to addressing lack of understanding and resistance to change. Maxar is working to address these opportunities, including with the recent launch of a Global Inclusion Course.

Overall, building a more inclusive community requires a multifaceted approach, and I believe we can achieve this goal if we all work together and stay committed to the cause.

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