Finding Community — And Ourselves — In Unlikely Places

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Phuong Le10
Conferences and trade shows can feel like occupational hazards: The travel is grueling, the speakers often snoozy. At a conference last month, however, I had a different experience. The sessions I attended and the people I met opened new windows for me — professionally and personally — and provided the sense of belonging and community that’s essential to the workplace.

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The event was the Hispanic IT Executive Council, or HITEC. One look at my name will tell you I’m not Hispanic. I’m also not an executive. But HITEC’s Summer 2019 Leadership Summit hosted conversations I wanted to be a part of, with sessions ranging from  empowering women to leadership trends. Cognizant thought it was worth my while, and I headed to McLean, Virginia.

Inspiration and opportunity amid community

While there are lots of ways to learn about industry trends and ideas, the HITEC gathering stood out because, like the best opportunities, it’s about face-to-face interactions and targeted conversations. Being at the start of my career, the conference touched me in ways I hadn’t anticipated.  It taught me to:
  • Think of myself as one of the experts in the room: I identify myself as an Asian woman and a young professional — adjectives that often convey preconceived notions about who I am. While we all face the limitations of stereotypes at some point, HITEC reminded me that our talents enable us to rise above these generalizations, that we can break barriers by establishing ourselves as one of the subject matter experts in the room. When we ask ourselves what strengths we bring to our work, we can start impacting our projects and even our entire industry.
    To establish yourself as an expert, it helps to find your passion. For example, I love engineering, and I’m also people-oriented — that’s a big part of the value I bring. My expertise, then, lies in combining technology with business and translating complex ideas into terms that help clients and teams better understand their business. 
  • Define myself before others do: Our culture may toss around opinions left and right, but we’re the only ones who can define ourselves. When we allow someone else to do the defining, our voices go unheard. This theme resonates for me on many levels. As an associate, I define myself as collaborative and visionary and a good communicator. But I’ve also experienced what it’s like to have others label me. When I was growing up, I was bullied because of my name. I wanted a name like Samantha. HITEC encouraged attendees to know our history and heritage, to remember who we are and to embrace it. It’s a lesson that helps us all – and can make every office a better place.
  • Lead with energy: Becoming a better leader is a key area of interest for me. My approach is to be an attentive leader and empower all team members, and my goal is to become a bridge builder through effective collaboration and leadership. The conference introduced us to the idea of examining leadership from a different angle: leading with energy. When you lead with energy, it’s about your attitude and energy in the moment. In other words, leadership techniques are important, as is knowing your leadership style. Factoring in the way our energy influences our ability to lead was a new concept for me.
Back at the office, I began applying what I learned at HITEC right away. It was an invaluable opportunity to step away from my day-to-day activities to connect with a community of leaders in the IT industry and to grow professionally and personally.
Cognizant’s African American and Latinx Group (AALG) is committed to developing innovative ideas through leadership diversity and a multifaceted workforce, which enables Cognizant to be a global market leader. AALG also provides networking and educational opportunities, such as HITEC.  Cognizant and AALG are proud to recognize the contributions of Hispanic and Latinx Americans throughout National Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrated annually in the U.S., September 15 through October 15.
The article was originally published on, and written by Nam “Phuong” Le, a Test Analyst with Cognizant’s Quality Engineering and Assurance Practice.
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