September 27, 2017 BestCompaniesAZ

Turning Personal Struggles Into a Support Network at Work

By Lee Vikre | @LeeVikre

Do you like being inspired by others? Dareion Johnson inspires us. He’s a great example of overcoming adversity and using his own difficult experiences to help others. At USAA, Dareion, CPM, Program-Project Manager is the chair of the Phoenix chapter of DUNAMIS, a Diversity Business Group that supports those with disabilities. (DUNAMIS stands for Disabled United iN Action to Make an Inclusive Society.) Read on for some of Dareion’s insights on diversity, disabilities, courage, and connections.

BCAZ: Why did you decide to get involved in DUNAMIS?

DJ: I like the saying used by both Mikhail Gorbachev and Emma Watson, “If not me, who? And if not now, when?” I felt it was important to be a part of something that is greater than myself. DUNAMIS is an Employee Business Group that promotes diversity for our disabled community, both our fellow employees and the members we serve, through employee engagement.

This is the one minority group any person can be a part of without ever wanting to and without any notice. It is one of the minority groups that is often forgotten, but has the largest membership of all the minority groups. There are two reasons I wanted to be involved with DUNAMIS:

  1. I have been in and out of this minority group for various reasons over the years. I have been in two severe car accidents (one which took the life of my daughter), a freak jumping accident that left me dependent on a walker and a wheelchair to maintain my independence. A couple years later, I was diagnosed with life-threatening disease, which requires strict medication intake regiment. All too often individuals only look at the physical disabilities and forget about the hidden ones that affect individuals every day. To put it in full perspective, imagine the psychological hurdle I had to endure after finding out my daughter killed while trying to still maintain a household psychologically and financially. Or having normal autonomy ripped from you and having to learn a whole new skillset to maintain that same level of value and contribution.
  2. I wanted to a part of a group that sets the grassroots for making a difference for not only the organization as a whole, but for the advancement of understanding and awareness for both employee and member experiences. DUNAMIS has a dual purpose: it provides a platform for people to be welcomed, valued, heard and respected; and if someone’s voice is not loud enough, we will speak loudly on their behalf.

BCAZ: What types of activities does DUNAMIS focus on?

USAA Service Dog Panel

2017 Service Dog Panel

DJ: We recently just had our 1st Anniversary event since our launched in Phoenix, July 2016. Since the launch, we have held several events on campus which included a Service Dog Panel, bringing awareness to the proper etiquette when approaching a service handler and dog team. We also held a mental awareness workshop inviting our internal DUNAMIS members to listen to a USAA Executive provide his personal store and how he dealt his own situation. This event inspired the DUNAMIS team to launch DUNAMIS Shares, which will focus on various disability topics in which members of DUNAMIS can listen and share their own experiences. We feel this platform will provide others they are not alone and there is a platform within USAA that can be supportive and help when/where needed. We strive to ensure we get out into the community (internally and externally), bring awareness through impactful events, and provide educational opportunities via fairs and other meaningful activities.

Community involvement is extremely important to USAA and DUNAMIS. Recently DUNAMIS sent volunteers to United Cerebral Palsy of Central Arizona for a painting project outside of their normal working hours so they can remain focused on their mission. We will continue to be heavily involved in the community by volunteering at other various non-profit organizations that need assistance (e.g. Wounded Worrier Project, feeding the homeless project, veteran service support, and other disability organizations). The plan is to make a difference in Phoenix that can be seen and heard.

BCAZ: How is DBG leadership chosen? What potential impact does DBG leadership have on careers?

DJ: We specifically reached out to our Executive Sponsor to support our mission and goals. It was an easy “yes” from him as he saw our passion in making a difference here at the Phoenix Campus. Getting involved — taking action for a cause that is greater than ‘you’, shows commitment to the organization, its members, and your fellow employees. Nothing is ever promised, but leadership can be an advocate for you during your career progression. How I see it, positive work tends to be accompanied by positive conversation about the end results and those that made it happen.

BCAZ: What sorts of experiences have you had by being part of DUNAMIS?

DJ: When I hear the words, “I thought I was alone” or “I am glad I am not the only one experiencing…” I know we’ve made an impact. Our DBG is about showing the value of change and one way we do that is connecting with people with real and true personal stories. I was one of five employee panelists during the official launch of Phoenix DUNAMIS DBG, broadcasted to all our campuses in the U.S. I shared the story of what happened to me after my car accident and loss of my daughter.

After each event my team and I host, we are often thanked for being so open and honest. We let our passion shine by being our authentic selves. When we are those things… we tend to connect with people at a much deeper level. That connection tends to provide others with the courage to move forward and to speak up (e.g. DUNAMIS Shares). In the end, having that real one-on-one conversation with someone about how my story had a positive impact on his/her life always puts a smile on my face.

The only way we are going to be truly inclusive is to know when we are not being all-encompassing. Often not knowing is blocked by fear or the unknown consequences. DUNAMIS hopes to wipe away those fears and encourage real conversation without worry of any kind from all levels of USAA employee population.

BCAZ: Why do you recommend your company as a good place for diverse candidates to apply?

DJ: Diversity is not just about race or gender – it is about more than that. Diversity is about the people and is defined broadly as the collective strength of unique characteristics, experiences, skills, backgrounds, perspectives and cultures that help achieve organizational cohesiveness. USAA strives to deepen its employee population with the most qualified candidates that fit within the core values, standards and meet the mission.

Would you love to work for an organization like this? Learn more about USAA’s Phoenix campus, check out their current career opportunities then apply!

You can meet hiring representatives from USAA who are just as passionate as Dareion at our 3rd Annual Diversity & Inclusion Career Event! Join us Wednesday, November 1 from 9 am – 12 PM. It’s free for job seekers – secure your spot today!

About the Author
Lee Vikre – Hiring Jedi
A workplace culture maven, writer, and speaker, Lee Vikre has helped numerous companies develop “best company” cultures, gaining recognition at the local and national level. Lee has been called the Jedi Master of hiring because of her exceptional recruiting abilities and friendships with people who love Star Wars. Her favorite activities involve matching people with their dream jobs at award-winning best companies. Lee coaches CEOs but still hasn’t been able to train her three dogs not to bark during conference calls.