#ClouderaLife Allyship April Q&A with Antoine Burrell

#ClouderaLife Allyship April Q&A with Antoine Burrell

This month is Allyship April—a time dedicated to deepening our understanding of allyship and its profound impact on fostering inclusive cultures.

Allyship isn’t merely a buzzword; it’s a fundamental commitment to actively support and advocate for marginalized individuals and communities within our organization. This month, we’ve engaged in meaningful conversations, challenged our assumptions, and committed to tangible actions that drive positive change. Together, we’re creating a workplace where everyone feels valued, respected, and empowered to thrive.

As part of this goal, we caught up with Antoine Burrell, a senior engineering manager here at Cloudera and leader of our Cloudera Black Employee Network (CBEN+) Employee Resource Group, and explored what it means for him to be an ally. From understanding privilege to practicing empathy and amplifying marginalized voices, there’s much to explore and learn together.

Let’s hear what Antoine had to say about allyship.

What does allyship mean to you?

To me, allyship means taking the time to listen to and understand your peers. As someone who isn’t the youngest in the room anymore, I’ve realized the importance of empathizing with different generations and their experiences. My children, who are 19, often remind me of this by introducing me to their friends and sharing their struggles. It’s eye-opening to see how different the world is for them compared to my upbringing.

Reflecting on accepting certain norms today, such as LGBTQ+ identities, I recognize the evolution in societal attitudes. Growing up, these identities weren’t as openly accepted, and we lacked the language to discuss them openly. However, I’ve consciously tried to understand and accept these differences through allyship. Allyship, for me, involves challenging the biases ingrained in my upbringing and actively seeking to understand and support those whose experiences differ from mine. It’s about listening more and judging less, creating space for diverse voices to be heard and respected.

How does Cloudera support allyship across the company?

Unlike any other company I’ve been with, Cloudera takes concrete steps to support allyship, fostering an inclusive environment where every voice is valued and celebrated. One of the standout initiatives is the active engagement of our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). These ERGs are not just placeholders on paper; they’re vibrant communities that actively champion diversity and inclusion.

Our leadership’s hands-on involvement in allyship initiatives sets us apart, from our CEO to our Executive Vice Presidents. Beyond symbolic gestures, Cloudera empowers employees to take tangible action through volunteer opportunities and charity events, reflecting our commitment to allyship as a lived reality ingrained in our corporate culture.

Why do you think allyship is vital in the workplace?

Allyship is crucial in the workplace because it fosters diversity of thought and breaks down barriers that hinder collaboration. It’s about recognizing and respecting individual differences while understanding that they do not impede our ability to achieve common goals. By creating an environment where everyone feels valued and supported, we can unleash the full potential of our team members.

As a leader, I focus on nurturing people, believing that investing in their well-being drives success for both individuals and the organization. Ultimately, allyship isn’t just about being inclusive—it’s about leveraging our differences to fuel innovation and excellence.

What pillar of allyship is most meaningful to you? How do you use elements of these pillars every day?

Allyship has four pillars: education and awareness; listening and empathy; amplification and advocacy; and action and accountability. Although each of these pillars works together to provide a framework for individuals to support marginalized or underrepresented people, the two that stand out to me are listening and empathy. Without active listening and empathy, every other pillar and action loses effectiveness. Listening is the foundation for education, awareness, amplification, advocacy, action, and accountability.

I believe in the power of actively engaging with others, hearing their stories, and empathizing with their experiences. I gain valuable insights that inform my actions and advocacy efforts by prioritizing listening. As the saying goes, “You have one mouth and two ears, so you should listen twice as much as you talk.” By practicing empathy and cultivating a culture of listening, we can create workplaces where everyone feels seen, heard, and valued.

What are some ways you try to be an ally at work?

One of the primary ways I strive to be an ally at work is through my role as the lead of the Cloudera Black Employee Network (CBEN+). In this capacity, I focus on understanding the needs of my immediate team and the broader community of Black employees within the organization. Whether it’s providing support and resources or simply lending an empathetic ear, I prioritize actively listening and responding to the needs of my colleagues.

I also make a conscious effort to put the needs of others before my own agenda. Whether it’s a colleague reaching out for assistance or guidance, I strive to be attentive and responsive, offering help wherever possible. For instance, recently, when a colleague sought assistance outside of my department’s scope, I didn’t hesitate to leverage my network to connect them with the appropriate resources. It wasn’t about personal gain but rather about fostering a culture of support and collaboration.

Learn more about our Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion efforts at Cloudera.

Debbie Kruger
Senior Manager, Social Impact
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