1. What are some of the primary obstacles you faced while trying to move up the corporate ladder?
A single one, without question, is my personal demographic make-up (woman of color) which precluded me from consideration for opportunities for which I was qualified. I can literally recall each incident in painful detail. Not being able to advance during the normal course of things certainly slowed my trajectory. Fortunately, my growth wasn’t completely halted. It definitely hurt when it happened, and occasionally the pain lingered. However, self-pity gets you nowhere. Unfortunately, there is an ugly reality that exists in this country, which some of us occasionally must contend with. You can allow it to get you down, or you can rise above it and become stronger. I always chose the latter.
2. What role have coaches and mentors played in your life, and how did you go about choosing your coaches and mentors?
Interestingly, although I am a firm believer in coaches and mentors, I have never had one. There have been people that I have admired from afar and tried to emulate. However, without having a close relationship with those individuals, I never had exchanges with them or received specific advice or support from them. I have also had very talented bosses who I have tremendous respect for, and from whom I have received occasional guidance. Though beneficial, that guidance was through the normal course of me executing the responsibilities of my job, so it didn’t constitute overall directional advice.
It is possible that had I received such guidance during the course of my career, I would have achieved my successes sooner. However, I have never harbored resentments for the lack of these opportunities. Rather, I am proud to have achieved the levels I have of my own accord. Moreover, I am thankful to have benefitted from strong positive familial role models during my upbringing. These served as my guidance and helped me to maintain my true north. I may not have always made the best decisions along the way, but I did the best that I could with the resources that I had available to me. Frankly, I feel all the richer for having had some ups and downs, because they helped me develop creativity, resourcefulness and strength.
3. How has networking impacted your career path?
Networking is vitally important. Connecting with similarly situated executives can provide a resource, which can serve as a valuable sounding board, when working through a problem, and seeking confirmation that you are headed in the right direction. Conversely, if you are stumped and not sure what direction to take, a trusted colleague can help guide you.
Beyond information exchanges, people in your network can help you gain entry to others you may not otherwise be able to access. This happened to me very recently, when I was working on a project, and wanted to check with a particular expert in the field. Though our paths had previously crossed, we didn’t have enough of a relationship that he would have necessarily responded to my outreach. However, I did have a close connection with someone who was part of his inner circle. Through this connection, I was able to get immediate access to an expert who, had I approached on my own, would likely not have gotten the same response – if any at all.
I should add that I have not always actively engaged in networking. My work tends to be so demanding, that oftentimes I have very little free time for personal endeavors, to say nothing of being able to carve out time to cultivate a network. Networking done well can be very time-consuming. It typically involves attending industry events or some other form of social activity that can facilitate meeting the right people. Then you have to follow-up and tend to the care and feeding of these connections, in order for them to one-day potentially bear fruit. But once while in transition, I found myself bereft of a deep network able to provide certain introductions, or help me to gain access. Then I realized the true value that networks hold. Thus I learned that networking is definitely worth the time and effort.
The key, however, is not to treat connections like something from which you hope to derive an advantage. Rather, you should accord connections the same level of respect you would a valued friendship. The focus should not be on an eventual benefit. The focus should be on shared interests. It won’t always be the case that connections will bear fruit; but if they are well nurtured, when the time comes that you need them, they can be invaluable.
4. What involvement have you engaged in the local community that you found helpful for self-development or helping others grow?
I wish I could say that I have engaged heavily in the local community, but I haven’t. The hours I spend working generally preclude a lot of free time. I therefore tend to be very protective of it.
However, lately I have become involved in participating in various diversity events. Because they take place during normal business hours, I can incorporate them into my workday. I have had the great pleasure of speaking at a Women Blazing Trails Symposium, Diversity & Leadership Conference, Authentic Leadership Summit, and a DisruptHR event, where I focused on evolving Diversity & Inclusion. Each of these events afforded me the opportunity to share the wisdom of my experiences. Therefore, to some extent, this has allowed me to give to the business community, and help others grow professionally.
5. What is the most valuable piece of advice you would like to share with individuals who are trying to advance into a position like the one you currently hold?
Make sure you truly love the work. Make sure the work is your found passion. Otherwise, you won’t be able to sustain the efforts sometimes needed to achieve success. If you are not engaged in a labor of love, those efforts will come to feel burdensome. I am fortunate to have found work for which I have an abiding passion, so I love going to work. To paraphrase Steve Jobs: Do what you love doing, and you will never have to work another day in your life. When I go to the office each day, I go for the satisfaction I derive from being able to have an impact, not for the job.
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