I came to CGI with the Sunflower merger in 2019, and have come to truly appreciate the culture here. The company is sincere in its principles and core values, and calling its employees “members” is not an empty gesture, says Jeffrey Polyak, Senior Vice President, National Security and Justice.

At a listening session I attended, we talked about what it means to be a member, and to be a part of an organization where there's a concept of ownership. Those are important concepts for me as an individual, a piece of CGI’s culture that really resonates with me. During the session, Rashida Ricks, who leads our Strategic Engagement and Inclusion team at CGI Federal, spoke about how she didn’t always feel like a member because of her ethnicity. She didn't feel like there was an inclusive room when she went to her first VP's conference, where she saw very few faces like hers.

Jeff Polyak in a swimming pool
Jeff Polyak on a day off.

It really hit me. Here’s a woman who has risen to the pinnacle of her career, and she doesn't feel comfortable in a room of her peers. How on Earth could that possibly be in an organization that, in my opinion, doesn’t have challenges in encouraging diversity and inclusion? Yet she told this very passionate story about feeling alone in that room even though she was with people she could trust. It made me think we might need to look deeper at what inclusion really means.

In that same session, Tim Hurlebaus, who was President of CGI Federal at the time, was questioned about the organization’s plans to increase diversity and improve inclusion. He shared the company plans, but also challenged us all to think of ways we would personally, contribute to advance diversity, equity and inclusion.   

I left that listening session thinking that maybe continuing to act the same way that I’ve always acted wasn’t the way to make a difference. I was inspired to do something proactive and deliberate. I started to think about who I knew and trusted, someone who could expand diversity here but who I hadn’t worked with before for any of a number of reasons.

It didn’t take 10 seconds for me to realize that there is one human being right now who would be a phenomenal addition to the organization that didn't have the same background that I had, a man named Jamarr Staples.

From the gym to the office

There was an opening for a consultant in my organization and I started to think Jamarr would be a strong contender.

Jamarr didn’t have a traditional IT background; he was a fitness trainer at the time. All of the things he did have, however, are things that I can't teach. I can't teach somebody to be compassionate, have a strong work ethic, or have the ability to make people feel comfortable. I can teach advanced IT skills.

Jamarr Staples with CGI backpack
Jamarr Staples at CGI

As a fitness trainer, Jamarr had worked with me, and he had worked with my wife. I knew he could push you beyond your limits without making you uncomfortable, as paradoxical as that sounds. It’s a skill my consultants need too. When we change a system, we need to provide the individual users comfort as they're learning this new system. Perhaps their role has changed and we need to be there to help them understand what their new role is and what their career path is going to be. We need to be compassionate toward them as they learn new systems and processes.

That listening session inspired me to go out and intentionally recruit a candidate with a background different from my own. He happened to be the best candidate for the job at the end of the competitive hiring process, but it was the first time I specifically sought out a historically underrepresented candidate to encourage, because of the inspiration that came out of that session. It helped me understand that it’s not enough to be neutral; you have to take positive and deliberate action if you want to drive change.

I know CGI is serious in its commitment to diversity, but Tim Hurlebaus was right: If we want to support that commitment, individually we have to be proactive and deliberate about it. Neutrality isn’t enough. I hope that by sharing this story, I can inspire others to act.

To create a sense of belonging in the workplace and your community, what will you do to make a difference?

Read more CGI member stories in the Life at CGI blog series.

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About this author

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Life at CGI

Life at CGI is a different experience for each CGI member. Some of them tell their stories in this dedicated blog.