In honor of Black History Month, we continue our series, Inclusion, Redefined: Celebrating Our Stories. Through conversations with our employees, we are challenging standard definitions of inclusion based on their own personal and professional experiences.
For this installment, Software Engineer Brittany Safford discusses her decision to pursue a career in computer science, the role of family and the importance of creating a safe space in the workplace for all voices to be heard.
Q: Can you share a bit about your background, including your family?
I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and was raised by a single mother as the oldest girl of six children. I attended Xavier University of Louisiana, a historically Black college, where I majored in Computer Science and minored in Mathematics. I am the first person in my entire family to graduate from college, including my extended family, which means I have a lot of eyes on me, but a lot of support, as well.
Q: What is your current role, and what have you enjoyed about your Visa experience?
Right now, I am a Software Engineer. Once a new Visa software application is created, my job is to test the software to make sure it’s working before we release it to our customers. Last summer, I was an intern in the Austin office for the Digital Mobile Product Development team. As a new college graduate in a demanding field like technology, it can be overwhelming. The supplemental resources available to me were impressive. The support and guidance from my managers and Visa overall means a lot to me.
Q: What does Inclusion, Redefined mean to you?
For me, it means being in an environment where everyone can voice how they feel. Sometimes it can be intimidating to voice your opinions, especially fresh out of college, but inclusion is a safe space where everyone can be heard, whether you are in college or have decades of experience. As part of my team at Visa, I am not only able to share my voice but have my voice matter in decision making.
Q: Have you ever encountered a time where you felt excluded? What did you do to overcome that?
Yes, I have experienced exclusion in my life. In high school and college, I was excluded, sometimes based on decisions I made. I was very ambitious. As a first-generation college student, I was driven to be successful and take advantage of every opportunity, and sometimes that came at a cost. There were times when I wouldn’t be able to join in fun social events, sacrificing time on things I wanted to do for things I needed to do. My family really helped me stay focused. I was encouraged to take every opportunity and not be afraid to lose or to be judged. The words of my mom have guided me: “The only lost opportunity is the one that you don’t take.”
Q: Is there a time that stands out to you where you have seen inclusion in action?
At Visa, I have felt very included, which is another reason I decided to come back after my internship. As an intern, there were events and resources to help us in our day-to-day job. Now as a full-time employee, I actively participate in the Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) such as ViBE (Visa’s Black Employee Network), Women in Technology and the New College Graduate Resource Group. In addition to providing information, there are safe spaces where you can voice how you feel about anything and offer suggestions for solutions. In fact, I recently approached the managers of my team about my experience as a new graduate working with experienced developers. With the support and sponsorship of my manager, I’m now working to create a New College Graduate group specifically for Digital Mobile Products.
Q: What is your recommendation for those who want to create a more inclusive environment?
Start by listening. Be inquisitive about the feelings of others. When I voice concerns to my managers, they demonstrate a desire to understand how I feel. They ask why. And I think that approach is the best approach. Regardless of whether we agree, we need to listen and attempt to understand. When everyone feels included, when everyone feels empowered to voice how they feel, you maximize productivity. One of those voices can trigger an idea to take the team or company to the next level.