Black History Month Spotlight: ‘I’ve grown more resilient over the past 10 years and so has Boeing’

Originally published on Boeing is No. 27 on the 2020 Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list.

In celebration of Black History Month, a Space Coast native, second-generation Boeing employee, first-time mom and HBCU alum shares how resiliency helped advance her career and increase access for others.

Chasity Watson is the talent acquisition manager of university recruiting in Global Talent Acquisition in Seattle, Washington. She has worked at Boeing for 10 years. Watson’s story is the first in a three-part series celebrating Black History Month this February, in which multi-generational Black employees share stories of resilience — and how they are making a difference at Boeing.

I grew up in Florida on the Space Coast. We lived across the river from the Kennedy Space Center in Titusville, and I used to watch space shuttles take off and land. Our area code was actually called “3-2-1” for the launch countdown.

My parents were engineers for Boeing at the Kennedy Space Center. They were the only Black members of their teams.

The space shuttle program brought a lot of multicultural families to our towns, but I was still the minority in a lot of my classes. I learned how to understand different backgrounds and seek out relationships, which helped me in my career later on. I had to; it was a way to navigate space for awareness and sometimes safety.

I didn’t know that I was growing up in this melting pot of diversity during a historic time in aerospace when I was a child. It was a way of life. And I didn’t think I’d work in aerospace — I thought I’d work in accounting.

Chasity visiting her mother, Sharon Leek, on take-your-daughter-to-work day at Kennedy Space Center in 1998.

Watson attended Florida A&M University, an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), that her parents and grandparents also attended. She graduated with her Masters in Business Administration in five years.

When I went to Florida A&M University, it was the first time I was part of a majority group. It was super exciting — I had the freedom to be myself and celebrate what it means to be Black without external expectations than can affect how you see yourself. It boosts your self-awareness.

A big part of my training focused on building inner resilience in the workplace — helping you navigate spaces when you’re the only one, when you’re pioneering and furthering what your parents and grandparents did.

I took these tools from my university to Boeing when I started my career as a young Black woman working with teams where I was the only one my age and gender who looked like me.

Chasity continues to advance Boeing’s partnership with HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and increase access for generations of HBCU talent.

In college, Watson had interned at NASA as a financial analyst. She realized she wanted to pursue a career in Human Resources (HR), and landed an internship in HR at Boeing South Carolina, where her parents had relocated. She was hired as an HR Business Partner, and grew her career, supporting site manufacturing and people strategy, engineering and finance, Boeing Capital Corporation, Corporate Law and Global Talent Acquisition. In 2018, Boeing made a $6 million investment in HBCUs, and as an HBCU grad, Watson raised her hand to drive the development of Boeing’s investment strategy. 

I was proud to lead our HBCU strategy, but it felt really heavy and important to me to get it right. I didn’t want to let our collective enterprise community down. And we knew we could be doing so much more in that space.

I leveraged all my skills and experiences of managing stakeholder relationships. I looked at the data, and started to build allyship, understanding and educating about the incomparable talent trained and professionally developed at our HBCUs. With the help of a team, we created scholarship programs, freshmen and sophomore pipeline programs, and recruitment strategies to help Boeing be the employer of choice.

Within our first year, we increased recruitment by 400% and our acceptance rate by 61%. It was surreal to be at the forefront of caring for what many have been doing and building over the years.

This year, I was promoted to manager of university recruiting, and I’m a first-time mother. It’s been a challenge. The resiliency skills I learned in college and throughout my career, including having a network, have helped me take a step back and say, this is hard. How can I strategically build relationships with the people around me? How can I give myself and others grace?

I’ve grown more resilient over the past 10 years, and so has Boeing. I’m proud of how far I’ve come and how far the company has come since my dad started working here 35 years ago.

Robert Leek, operations and manufacturing manager for Florida Space Coast Operations, and his daughter, Chasity Watson, manager, talent acquisition manager of university recruiting in Global Talent Acquisition in Seattle, Washington.

I feel lucky to work at Boeing with my husband, younger sister and parents. We are all continuing to create legacies and redefine what’s possible within Boeing for generations to come.

We still have gaps, and I know I have a unique opportunity to lend my voice and affect that talent arc of diversity.

Chasity’s father on his 35-year Boeing career

Chasity’s dad, Robert Leek, has worked at Boeing as an engineer for 35 years alongside his wife, Sharon Leek, who recently retired. An HBCU grad himself, Leek was excited for his daughter to not only work at Boeing but to champion HBCUs and the benefits they provide.

“Advancing their cause was always of interest to me, and for her to be working in that statement of work, I don’t think it could have gone to someone more passionate,” he said. “It’s a dream come true as a parent. I’m really proud of her.”

Leek began his career at Boeing in 1986 in quality engineering at the Kennedy Space Center. Upon his start, he said he and his wife were the only Black members of their teams.

“I didn’t lose sleep over being the only one,” he said. “I know I had an opportunity that my grandparents and parents never had. I wanted to be successful for my kids, for the next generation. For me, it was key for me to have mentors and coaches early on to grow my career. My family didn’t have close contacts in engineering — they had more blue-collar careers.”

After a 20-year career at the Kennedy Space Center, Leek and his wife relocated to Boeing South Carolina, where they worked on the 787 program — beginning on plane No. 28 and returning to Florida when the program was in its 800s. Leek is now operations and manufacturing manager for Florida Space Coast Operations, overseeing a team of mechanics.

Leek, who attended a segregated school until fifth grade, said he has seen growth in equity and equality over time, but recognizes the ongoing struggle for dignity and equal rights that racial and ethnic minorities face.

“We want success for all our kids,” he said. “Outside the Boeing gates, we’re in hard times right now with people still struggling for their rights and their dignity. I’m optimistic, and I tell my kids and people I know to not get distracted. You get up every day and be excellent.

“We need diversity, because when you have diverse people, they open up the circle for other people. And that’s the strength of Boeing. It’s good business to have a diverse group of people because when you have different thoughts, talents and experiences, you’re going to have a successful mission. Everybody wins. Boeing gets that. As a result, they’re going to change the world.”