The finalists for WashingtonExec’s Pinnacle Awards were announced Oct. 13, and we’ll be highlighting some of them until the event takes place virtually Dec. 8.
Next is Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Industry Executive of the Year finalist Bridget Chatman, who’s vice president of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging for SAIC. Here, she talks proud career moments, learning from failures, primary focuses going forward and more.
What has made you successful in your current role?
I have always been a results-driven collaborator and a fierce advocate for women and people of color. All of these traits were key as I transitioned from a business development executive role into a corporate strategy position leading Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging.
As I researched and began to follow the leading best practices, I immediately knew that the expectations of the role for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion practitioner were quickly evolving following the death of George Floyd and other events impacting companies across the nation including COVID, vaccine mandates, hybrid work, the great resignation, burnout, social justice and so much more. People were exhausted and wanted to see meaningful and enduring change.
In less than two years, DE&I re-emerged from not only the right thing to do, but as a critical business and operational imperative that includes additional requirements of executive orders for government contractors.
I am successful, because I did the heavy lifting to understand the industry, trends and SAIC’s company culture. I listened to SAIC’s Employee Resource Groups and leaders across the organization and reviewed the results of other internal assessments.
I collaborated with other leaders across the company and developed a solid strategy with stretch goals to accelerate change.
My team remained laser-focused on executing our priorities by being intentional about empowering leaders across the company with the right analytics, tools, language, education and resources to meet our people priorities and create a differentiated employee experience.
As a result, we have seen changes in everyday acts of our leaders — including requests for more resources to address DE&I; discussing DE&I along with their financial goals in meetings; and engaging employees in a more meaningful way than ever before. I am witnessing change in everyday acts of inclusion and seeing more women and people of color being elevated into leadership roles.
The more leaders continue to embrace DE&I, the more that I feel successful in my role. I am always ready for a challenge, so this is a very exciting time to be a DE&I practitioner seeing resiliency in leadership and impacting real change.
What are you most proud of having been a part of in your current organization?
I am very proud to work among leaders who are problem solvers. Over the past year, SAIC leaders reimagined what the employee-differentiated experience should be — one grounded in flexibility, inclusion, well-being and empowerment. That keeps me excited, proud and showing up authentically to lead DE&I, to help accelerate the change across the enterprise and to move the needle collectively as One SAIC.
What are your primary focuses going forward, and why are those so important to the future of the nation?
In addition to my everyday acts of executing impactful DE&I strategies at SAIC, I have a very strong desire to bring our industry together to leverage our collective best practices in diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. This will not only help our individual organizations, but it will also help the government reimagine DE&I to better serve and protect our nation.
Although I engage with industry-leading DE&I practitioners around the world, there are nuances in reporting that we capture — as well as executive orders that we follow — which are unique to government contractors. I want to make sure that we have a forum to not only discuss them, but to develop an avenue as a community to engage federal, state and local government DE&I leaders as well.
To achieve this, I spent a weekend envisioning the mission and goals of a new council or think tank and presented my ideas to WashingtonExec leaders. Within a couple of months, we launched the DE&I Council.
Today, over 20 leading government contractors have joined as founding members ready to make lasting impact for DE&I in our nation. Every company has its individual goals, but collectively as a community, we can do so much more to improve DE&I at the national level. I am both humbled and honored to chair such a very important council to serve our nation.
What’s one key thing you learned from a failure you had?
I learned at an early age to be proud of the sage wisdom of my southern elders. One pearl of wisdom that I used to hear often around failure was, “If what you see currently isn’t what you saw in your vision, then what you see is temporary.” So, when I fail at something tied to a goal, I take the lessons learned, improve on it and I try again. The failure is only temporary, and at some point your vision and goals will be realized.
Looking back at your career, what are you most proud of?
This question has me reflecting back to my years in high school. In my junior year, my high school English teacher, Mrs. Ward, challenged the class to tell her who we were or wanted to be without saying our name. My classmates and I were perplexed by her request and she gave us a couple of days to think about it.
I remember to this day my response. I said that I was a descendant of Queen (my great, great, great grandmother), Odessa (my great, great grandmother), Delilah (my great grandmother), Lorese (my grandmother) and Margaret (my mother), believing in God and my purpose was to help others be the best that they can be.
I only scored a B+, but I look back at my career and recognize that most of life work to date has been in the area of inspiring people to deliver, be the best that they can be and sharing innovative solutions to our government so that they can best serve our nation.
I have held roles as a business development and capture executive; a fierce advocate for women, people of color and children with autism; PTA president; ERG leader, ambassador of foreign missions for my church and now as vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion. In all of these roles is a common thread. I am most proud that the person that I described back in high school is the same one who now serves as SAIC’s leader of DE&I.