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Speaker Spotlight: Joy Harjo Highlights Creativity and Community at Paycom

A.J. Dronkers | March 14, 2024

According to recent Gallup data, employee engagement has slowly tracked upward after the “post-pandemic slump.” However, fewer employees feel connected to their organization’s purpose.

One of the many ways Paycom infuses its purpose and values in team members’ lives is through unique “connection points” like the organization’s recurring speaker series.

Recently, Paycom welcomed Joy Harjo, the 23rd poet laureate of the United States and renowned author and musician, as part of the series.

During her visit, Harjo shared new insights that inspired listeners. Her talk highlighted the importance of finding community and joy despite challenges.

About Joy Harjo

A citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Harjo served as U.S. poet laureate from 2019 to 2022. Her many awards include Yale’s prestigious Bollingen Prize for American Poetry in 2023. Harjo has authored 10 books of poetry, including her memoir, Poet Warrior, and the acclaimed Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light: Fifty Poems for Fifty Years.

Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and at a young age, went to New Mexico to attend the innovative Institute of American Indian Arts. Later, she attended the University of New Mexico and began writing poetry. Her talent was quickly apparent, and she was accepted into the esteemed Iowa Writers’ Workshop before beginning her career teaching, writing, and performing poetry and music internationally.

Her works include themes of self-definition, social justice, the arts and creativity. Harjo’s Native American heritage is crucial to her; she integrates Native American oral history, myths and values into her work.

Harjo’s message: perseverance, community and allyship

Today, we know Harjo for her myriad accomplishments. But as a young writer, she was new to poetry and faced unique challenges because of her background.

Harjo told Paycom’s team members how she had overwhelming feelings of inadequacy and almost left the University of Iowa after her first semester. At the time, she was raising two kids, and while hard to believe now, publishers consistently passed over her poems.

“Challenge is how we grow muscle,” Harjo said during her Paycom talk. “When you make it through something, you’ve grown. You’ve grown spiritual muscle; you’ve grown mental muscle.”

Throughout her talk, Harjo focused on community and her belief that most people look to help and serve others.

For Harjo, it’s essential she keeps a community of people with unique gifts and talents around her. It inspires her work and brings new perspectives to the table.

“I love people. I have great faith in humanity despite some of the horrible things I have seen. Most of us just want to take care of our family, live and learn,” said Harjo.

It takes a village to achieve success, no matter your profession. Harjo encouraged Paycom’s employees to engage in new ideas and perspectives by connecting with their friends, going to different cultural events and showing support for one another.

Paycom’s speaker series

We’re on the right track as an organization when team members are curious and exposed to different ideas in a safe, dynamic environment.

In 2023 alone, Paycom hosted the following individuals who brought fresh ideas to our team members:

  • Black Wall Street Chamber of Commerce President Kuma Roberts
  • Interfaith leader Tamara Lebak
  • Latino community organizer Miriam Campos
  • National Juneteenth Museum CEO Jarred Howard
  • Courage Foundation Executive Director Sid Ellington
  • Oklahoma State University Spears School of Business assistant professor Dr. Lex Smith Washington

Paycom continues to create an environment where employees feel connected and inspired through investing in employee resource groups (ERGs), hosting regular speaker series and prioritizing spaces throughout our campuses where people can meet and learn together.

Learn more about our efforts on Paycom’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) page.

About the author
Author picture, A.J. Dronkers
A.J. Dronkers
A.J. Dronkers heads Paycom’s culture; diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI); and engagement program. In this role, he and his team maintain a DEI strategy and overall engagement for Paycom’s 6,000+ employees. This includes DEI governance, growing and maturing employee resource groups (ERGs), leading listening sessions and DEI training, strategizing process improvements to talent management, maintaining compliance, managing benefits and policies, and overseeing employee engagement. He previously worked on a DEI team that supported over 30,000 global employees and is most proud of launching an award-winning digital magazine and podcast. He has extensive experience in designing and delivering multiyear change management and strategic communications campaigns. Major influences in his personal journey are hearing stories from his father and grandparents who immigrated from Indonesia, as well as his own experience being queer. When he’s not at work, you’ll find him leafing through his collection of cookbooks, antiquing, perusing a nearby farmers market or eatery, and cycling.