Main photo by Heidi Kirn
A key element of a healthy and productive workplace is a culture that celebrates differences in identity, thought and background. At WEX, diversity has long been an implicit fundamental value of our organization. In recent years, considerable efforts have been made to formalize the practice of diversity at WEX, and develop an explicit strategy on how best to demonstrate our commitment to an equitable and inclusive workplace.
Thus far, perhaps the most visible demonstration of this strategy has been the introduction of Employee Resource Groups. Employee Resource Groups, or ERGs, are meant to serve as touch-points for communities across WEX with shared interests, cultures, identities and backgrounds.
We spoke with Chanbopha Himm to learn more about WEXPats, an ERG that promotes a strong community of care and belonging for employees of all nationalities and origins. WEXPats celebrates a global mindset by creating connections, helping others and sharing stories.
In a recent interview with Maine Women Magazine, Himm spoke candidly about her culture and the adversity she overcame as a child refugee from Thailand. When speaking of her own journey at WEX, Himm highlights how intimidating it can be to identify as a minority.
“When you walk in the door, and you see that pretty much everyone else looks the same, you can’t help but feel like a bit of an outcast.”
Despite a warm welcome from her manager and team, the feeling of isolation persisted. “I felt awkward, like I couldn’t really open up,” says Himm. “And then I met Gimbala in HR.”
Gimbala Sankare, director of diversity and inclusion at WEX, had been hearing similar sentiments from other employees at WEX about the need for a space for multicultural employees to connect. Elena Mikuzis, originally from Russia, was a key part of this conversation. When Sankare introduced Himm to Mikuzis, it wasn’t long until the idea for WEXPats took shape.
Currently, WEXPats is led by a board of five members; Mikuzis serves as the Chair, while Himm handles external partnerships. WEXers Thomas Ling, Vincent Chusseau and Santiago Velasco make up the rest of the leadership team.
WEXPats also provides a network of mentors. Himm highlights how important it is for people with shared cultures to connect professionally, stating “it’s good to have someone [you identify with] to talk to in the workplace.”
As WEX continues to grow, it’s essential that all employees feel represented and heard. According to Himm, in the three years she has worked here, “WEX has grown a lot in terms of multiculturalism.”
To this end, Himm states that ERGs are definitely a step in the right direction. She continues, “It’s great that WEX is already so welcoming, but it’s important to make sure all identity groups feel they have a designated place in our culture.”
She encourages anyone who is interested in joining to reach out, regardless of whether you are a newcomer, an expat, an immigrant or even just an employee who works with global colleagues and wants to learn more about other cultures.
“We would love to see all employees embrace their true potential,” says Himm. “One of the easiest ways to get started is by sitting down and talking, hearing each other’s stories and trying to relate.”