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Veterans Day: Lessons in Leadership and Inclusion

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Nov. 11 is Veterans Day. We spoke with Intel’s Vernetta Dorsey about her experience serving with the U.S. military. The conversation is edited for clarity and length. 

5 fast facts about Vernetta Dorsey: 

  • She is the director of product security assurance in the Intel Product Assurance and Security Group. 
  • She joined Intel in December of 2014. 
  • She was a member of ROTC during college and spent 9½ years in the army. 
  • She’s a member of the Intel Veterans Leadership Council and is working toward developing an AVI Atlanta chapter. 

What did you learn during your time in the military that you still use every day? 

What I learned about myself in the military is that I love developing, leading and coaching people. I love getting them to achieve the things that their hearts desire, figuring that out, helping along the way, and asking them the right questions. That’s what made me move toward people managing roles. One of the things I learned in the military about managing folks is that it’s really all about connection; connection to people, understanding what motivates folks, understanding what people need and making sure they have that to do their job. People are people. If they don’t trust their boss or the company they’re working for, they’re not going to be able to accomplish what you want them to accomplish. That’s what good leaders in the military understand — you need to take care of your people. 

Another thing I learned was how to be nimble. You can always make a plan, but things change. In the military, we learned how to change our plan and still get to where we needed to go. We didn’t just get stuck. Now, I understand that things change, and I pivot when I need to pivot. 

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Vernetta (left) during her time in the military  

Another thing vets are taught is that learning is critical, especially learning and repetition. In the military, we always went back to building our skills, or training and refining our skills. In technology, things are always changing, so you have to be able to be sure that your baseline skills are always up to date. You have to make it a routine to continue to hone your skills. At Intel we have Learning Fest, that’s super important. 

As part of a team, you have to be super-skilled in your role because someone else is counting on you and you can’t fake it. If you fake it in the military, someone could lose their life. So something that’s still second nature to me and to most vets is that we stay focused on the skills that our role requires, and we ensure that we’re always learning and refining the skills that we need. 

You mentioned the importance of being able to be authentic at work, do you mind touching on that a little bit more?   

Yeah, I talked about the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy that was in place while I was in the military. It’s a good thing that’s gone. The benefits of that authenticity are just huge. As a leader, as a manager, to have a group of people who don’t think like you surrounding you when you’re making tough decisions is so critical, because you’re gonna see all of the different approaches or avenues and you’ll be able to get a better decision. You want naysayers. You want someone that has a totally different experience than you and you need to be able to hear them out. Sometimes people say, “diversity of thought.” Yes. Diversity of thought and diversity of everything. You have to be very intentional about making sure you have that. 

It’s interesting because some people think veterans all think the same and it's true, veterans have a commitment or an “ethos,” if you will. There’s a work ethos that’s similar because you have to have a certain mindset to go through the things you go through (in the military). But you still have people from all walks of life that got them to that point that are radically different, and so they bring to the table the radically different approaches. Our work ethos is just the connection point, but you have all these different experiences brought together. In the military, the differences in background were the keys to success of missions, because of different techniques and tactics. 

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Vernetta's father (middle) and mother (right)

Does that lesson still resonate with you here, at Intel? 

Yeah, you just take that to a corporate setting. It’s the same thing, especially in Intel. We’re trying to, you know, provide this digital way of life to the whole world. In order to do that, we need people from all corners of the whole world, from all the different ways of life that the world has. You want to be able to leverage that, and leverage all of the ERGs, to access different thoughts and different ways of doing things so that we can develop our product, develop our hardware, our chips, our software. We have to be meaningful to our customers in many different ways in order to compete. 

What does Veterans Day mean to you? 

Being a veteran, to me, means a type of trust, and a way of getting through things that I may not have been able to do before. I’m thankful that I was also able to see the world and meet lifelong friends. Those friends, we went through similar things, that’s where the trust comes in. I can pick up the phone at any time and they’re there. So, to me, it’s just a time to be thankful for decisions that my parents made to give me choices and for the opportunity to do the things that I wanted to do with my life. 

It’s a reminder that people are out there making huge sacrifices, and it’s a memorial for the folks that have given the ultimate sacrifice. So, Veterans Day is an opportunity to say thanks.  

How would you like to see veterans being celebrated?   

To support and to celebrate would be to have more awareness of what veterans bring to the table and to abandon that mindset that “all vets are one way.” Like I said, there’s that similar work ethic, but there’s such a range of skills and mindsets that vets can bring to Intel, just like how differences amongst other ERGs and other groups of people bring different strengths to Intel. 

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