Inside Uplight’s UNA-POC Employee Resource Group with Leah Wills

By Rachael Silverstein on

UNA-POC Meet-up

Uplight embraces all life experiences, backgrounds, and diversity of thought to foster a welcoming and inclusive space where employees can confidently bring their best selves and whole selves to work. Uplight’s ERG (Employee Resource Group) members enrich our inclusive and engaged work environment by actively contributing to our mission, values, and efforts specific to our Inclusive Excellence Journey. 

I recently spoke with Leah Wills, who is an Executive Assistant at Uplight.  Leah is a representative of the UNA-POC group along with Stephaine Hsiung. Here Leah talks about her experience at Uplight as a BIPOC (Black, indigenous, person of color) woman and the work of the group.

What is your role and what do you do at Uplight?

I am an Executive Assistant where I support several C-suite executives including Justin Segall, Angela Tucci, Indy Ratnathicam, and Jenn Kinney. 

Tell me about UNA-POC BIPOC, its members, and the goals of the group.

“UNA-POC” stands for “United States North American People of Color.” Our colleagues in our Pune, India office come from a majority culture (where brown-skinned employees are the majority) where in Vancouver and the United States, we (people of color) are not-we are in a minority culture, so our experience is very different than our Indian colleagues. There are many differences between being in a majority versus minority culture. We formed this group to create a safe space for Black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) in white spaces.

Our members are all people living in North America who identify as BIPOCs.

The goal is to create a safe space within Uplight for our BIPOC community. This is not to say that Uplight isn’t a safe space, but it is nice to have a group to turn to when you come from a majority white space. Majority white cultures can have blind spots with micro-aggressions aimed at people of color (POC). We’ve all had this happen where something is said to us, either a micro or macro-aggressions, and without having others to speak with or relate to, it is very lonely. It can become alienating when you don’t have a space to say “I had an interaction with a coworker, this is what happened, this is how I feel, what do you think?” and be able to speak about it with others who can relate to your experience and offer their perspectives. The group is self-organized by BIPOC staff including executives. 

What makes working at Uplight great for BIPOC employees?

Around the time of the George Floyd murder, it wasn’t new to see Black bodies brutalized in the media. Between that and COVID-19, I was at my breaking point. I reached out to my direct manager, a white man and said, “I’m not ok. I need to take a mental health break. I’m not doing well.” Without hesitation, he said, “yes, of course.” There was no “can you close this out?” My role is supporting several Executives and I have to manage-up-there are always a lot of things going on at once. 

Yet, he had my back and said, “Take your time. However much time you need, do whatever you need.” There was no questioning, no “how does this affect you?” and no gaslighting. This is why I love working at Uplight! He saw me as Leah, the Black woman who reached out as a person and needed help. He saw beyond my position. I am seen and respected at Uplight.

I’m an introvert but decided to take a leadership role in the group due to the support of my Executives, who care deeply and whom I had frank conversations with about my experience as a Black woman. We (BIPOC) often have to hide ourselves and code switch. In majority white spaces, bringing up micro-aggressions can often be met with hostility and where I’m seen as a loud or angry Black woman simply for standing up for myself.  I can walk into Uplight as a fully realized Black woman and bring my full self to work. In our job listings, we include that we won’t discriminate against natural hair-this was brought up by our group. The company included this, from our group’s request, because Uplight wants to attract and welcome all people of color.

What would you say to other BIPOC who are looking at working at Uplight?

I don’t want anyone to walk into Uplight having to search for the other POC. Companies will sell you a bill of goods about how inclusive the space is, but then you’re not included in conversations or respected. Since I have experienced that in the past, I would never want a BIPOC to walk into Uplight and feel that way. That is not how our company culture is. It is led by its members and we are here to support one another. 


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