At the T.D. Jakes Foundation, we want to amplify proven programs, not recreate the wheel. As part of our Take Five blog series, we’re asking business and nonprofit leaders to answer five questions about their work and what we can all do to bring greater diversity, inclusion and gender equity to STEAM fields.
This week, we meet Bob Pragada, President and Chief Operating Officer, Jacobs, a global firm with $13 billion in revenue and a talent force of more than 55,000 that provides a full spectrum of professional services, including consulting, technical, scientific and project delivery for both governments and private clients.
1. When did you become interested in science and engineering?
My father was an engineer and worked in the aerospace, defense and infrastructure markets. My mother was a very (positive) influential person in my life and always wanted me to go into a field I felt I could make a positive difference. Coupling my mother and my father’s guidance together – engineering was the natural fit. I actually did not know what I was getting into when I chose it as my major as a freshman at the U.S. Naval Academy, but it turned out to be a great decision.
2. Who were some of your early role models?
Plenty – after my father passed, while I was a young boy, my uncle was a true father to me for the balance of my life. Both he and my mother were—and are—my ultimate role models, not just for their incredible kindness but also for their tireless work ethic and caring. Regardless of how little they had, they were always generous to everyone else and always wanted to help others.
3. Many large tech firms have struggled to diversify their workforces. Is this an important initiative for Jacobs and, if so, what are you doing to attract more women and BIPOC?
Inclusion (and through being inclusive gaining diversity) is our number-one cultural priority. We fully acknowledge that we absolutely need to have an environment of inclusion to get the most diversity of thought, experience and background we possibly can. However, for this TO happen overnight, and we absolutely need for it to do so, we need to be deliberate in our actions to create opportunities and promote historically under-represented demographics. We cannot wait for pipelines to form. Action is being taken now.
4. How can leaders like yourself serve as mentors and role models to underserved communities?
Make the time and put ourselves out there. I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunities I did and had role models and mentors in my own life, especially while I grew up in an underserved community. It’s time I give back and have been trying to do so. I can always do more and will.
5. Now that we’re finally having a long-overdue conversation about race in America, how can businesses like Jacobs help to create meaningful change?
Take action. Having the conversation and recognizing we have an issue is only part of the solution. We need to take material and visible action, both internally (greater growth opportunities for our Black employees, senior and executive management positions, board) and externally, through a commitment of time and resources to our communities. Having grown up in the 70s and 80s, and believing we were making progress, I realized recently I was a bit naïve to conscious and unconscious biases, which continue to stifle progress in our society. We are all in this together and have a part to make the world a more inclusive and accepting place. We will be deliberate and focused.
If you’re interested in answering our Take Five, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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