Employee Voices

Finding Strength in UNITY

Shannon Begay honors her Native American heritage and her grandfather’s legacy by working at McKesson.

Read time: 4 minutes

In World War II, an elite group of roughly 400 Navajo Code Talkers communicated secret messages using a complex Navajo-based code that the enemy never cracked. Their efforts helped win the pivotal battle at Iwo Jima.

Only a handful are still alive – and one of them is the beloved, inspirational grandfather of McKesson Operations Manager Shannon Begay. Shannon is the oldest grandchild of military hero Thomas H. Begay, who served with the 5th Marine division at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and survived both Iwo Jima and the Korean War’s Chosin Reservoir conflict.

Thomas Begay during his time as a Navajo Code Talker

Thomas Begay during his time as a Navajo Code Talker

“He overcame great adversity in the military, particularly with others who didn't like him because of the color of his skin,” she explains. “But he not only did his job well – he also found a way to survive two major, potentially fatal events.”

Throughout her life, Shannon has considered her grandfather her greatest role model, and his influence has fueled her determination to further her own education and career. She’s a full-blooded Native American and member of the Navajo Nation in Arizona, and spending time with her grandfather has also inspired her to help preserve the heritage and values of their ancestors. It’s one of the many reasons she’s involved in initiatives like UNITY, McKesson’s newly formed employee resource group (ERG) dedicated to increasing visibility and the voices of the Native and Indigenous community.

Shannon joined McKesson five years ago, and today serves as a manager of health services for CoverMyMeds, helping people access the medicine they need to live healthier lives.

“I feel I can make a difference here,” she says. “You’re always learning and helping people, whether it’s helping patients feel better or helping team members advance their careers.”

It’s been a solid move for her career as well.

“I had been in customer service in banking, finance, retail, and even aerospace before I moved into healthcare at McKesson,” she says. “I’ve loved seeing the impact we make here – people who once paid $1,500 for a medication, for example, may only have to pay $50 – or sometimes nothing at all – with our help. It became clear very quickly that we do make a significant difference. That’s when I realized I could see myself here for a long time.”

It’s that determination to help others, combined with her dedication to diversity, that led her to help launch McKesson’s UNITY ERG for Native and Indigenous employees.

“It meant a lot to me to see so many ERGs at McKesson – MMRG for the military, ASPIRE for African American and Black employees, OPEN for the LGBTQ+ community,” Shannon recalls. “I knew that these ERGs were just the beginning. So one day when I saw an internal post about an ERG for Native Americans, I knew I wanted to be a part of this.”

Thomas Begay today

Thomas Begay today

And that’s what she did. She was instrumental in developing the UNITY ERG by creating a board, recruiting participants, and, since its official August 2021 launch, encouraging its growth. She also serves as the national board member engagement lead, organizing leadership, mentorship opportunities, and other events. She’s excited by the opportunity to share her heritage and teach others about Indigenous and Native communities.

“Growing up, if I wanted to see somebody like myself, I would have to go back to the Indian reservation, because very few Native Americans were visible in corporate America,” she says. “With UNITY, I can relate to others, learn about them, and help correct stereotypes. More than 570 tribes live in the U.S., and we all do things differently. I get to share what I know about Navajo people, and I also get to learn what the Lakota or Cherokee people do. Just knowing that McKesson is inclusive to and open-minded about recognizing Native Americans makes me feel supported – that I’m not the outsider anymore, and I belong.”

Since her grandfather has had such a significant influence on her life, it’s no surprise that he’s involved in UNITY’s first major event.

Shannon with her grandfather, Thomas, and her daughter

Shannon with her grandfather, Thomas, and her daughter

“We’re partnering with our MMRG ERG on a two-part interview with my grandfather for our heritage month in November,” she says. “It promotes awareness, but it also shows that even though you’re part of a group, you're still interdependent with others. That’s teamwork, which is what McKesson is all about.”

It’s a powerful way to bring her life experiences full circle.

“My grandpa always said that we practice our own traditions, and we know our heritage, but we also live in a world where you have to set yourself apart through hard work to be the best that you can be,” Shannon says. “UNITY helps me do that. I now feel even more united, supported, and engaged with others.”

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