When I meet people somewhere in the conversation, I am often asked, ‘Wow… how did you get here?’ I describe my career as a black girl growing up in a white house. Imagine all the nuance there, being amongst people that do not look, talk or come from where you do. The daily compounding pressure of trying not to stand out and blend in simultaneously. All the while, neither is possible because you are the only black person in the room. Trying to solve the burning puzzle of moving up and out of the rat race of being the only. Well… this was my journey. It has been challenging, beautifully healing, inspiring, and motivating. Here are some lessons after my first year as a VP.
Stepping into this role, I realized the importance of representation. As a black woman in a leadership position, I became a role model for aspiring professionals from diverse backgrounds. It’s humbling and empowering to know that my journey can inspire others to dream big and pursue their goals without limitations. I felt a high level of accountability with how I handled myself and for every decision, and action I made. I was the first VP of HR in the company and the only person of color at that level. (Sad but true) It was never lost on me; I was representing ‘Us’.
Inevitably, I faced stereotypes and biases along the way. Thanks to 2020, microaggression was a term people became conscious of. It was nice to get a bit of reprieve from these behaviors. Although, I still had to navigate these behaviors along with being second-guessed, and underestimated. Rather than being disheartened, I used them as fuel to prove that competence knows no gender or color. Demonstrating my skills, knowledge, and leadership abilities allowed me to break down these barriers and challenge preconceived notions.
Building a Diverse and Inclusive Workforce
Diversity and inclusion have always been essential to me, but in my role, I had the opportunity to actively promote it within the organization. The proudest moment of my career was putting people of color into positions while in this role. Notably, getting seats at the table for Director level department heads. This was a dream moment for me! I’ve learned that fostering an inclusive environment isn’t just a box to check; it’s a duty, a continuous effort that requires intentional actions, like diverse hiring practices and inclusive policies.
Owning My Voice
When I arrived, I was the only black female executive at the table and a part of the senior leadership team. When I shared my pov, I would often be challenged or drilled with questions asking for the background context, examples, facts, and figures in front of a 15-person senior leadership team. As uncomfortable as this was, it brought me to another level of preparedness. At times, it was intimidating, but I learned to confidently own my voice and perspective. Being the only Black voice in the room, I understood I had a unique experience and perspective, regardless if this was understood or accepted by my counterparts. My perspective and experience needed to be shared because it was a value add decision-making discussion. The decisions being made impacted a number of people of color. Being vocal was my advocacy for those with no voice.
Mentorship and Sponsorship
Throughout my journey, I’ve met some incredible people who played a crucial role in my growth. They provided guidance, opened doors, and believed in my potential. As VP of HR, I’ve made it my mission to pay it forward by actively mentoring and sponsoring young talent, particularly women and people of color.
Dealing with Microaggressions
Microaggressions can be subtle but impactful. I’ve encountered them throughout my career, and addressing them constructively is essential. Stepping into the courage needed to address and educate colleagues about the impact of their words and actions has been an ongoing process. As an executive woman of color, I understand it is my duty to address these things; I am called to clear the path for those coming behind me. Promoting a more inclusive and understanding work culture is not a choice but a duty.
Self-Care and Resilience
Navigating the challenges of this new role while addressing issues of diversity and inclusion can be emotionally draining. Practicing self-care and building resilience have been vital to maintaining my well-being and staying focused on my mission to drive positive change.
Embracing Uncomfortable Conversations
As VP of HR, I’ve had to facilitate uncomfortable conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion. It’s not always easy, but creating safe spaces for these discussions allows for greater understanding and progress for those coming after me.
Advocacy for Employee Growth
My experiences have fueled my passion for advocating for the growth and development of all employees. I’ve worked to implement programs that empower individuals, particularly those from marginalized backgrounds, to reach their full potential.
Lastly, I’ve learned to celebrate both personal and team milestones. It’s essential to acknowledge the achievements and progress made in the journey toward a more inclusive and diverse workplace. The biggest lesson never had a shortage of memories on how far you have come!
In conclusion, my first year as the first black female VP of Human Resources has been an incredible journey of growth, challenges, and triumphs. I’m grateful for the support I’ve received and the opportunity to make a positive impact on the organization and the lives of others. Together, let’s continue breaking barriers and building bridges toward a more equitable and inclusive world.