Being a D&I practitioner in Silicon Valley is tough (actually anywhere), especially in this environment when you consider that to be successful (in getting things to stick) your skill-set must include a bit of Maya Angelou, Cesar Chavez, Conan the Barbarian, Luke Skywalker and Vann Jones in order to move things forward at times. Keep in mind; you still have to stay abreast of all the geo-political conditions and their impact on the global workforce, while also managing your emotions and those of your internal team (assuming you have one).
The tricky part of your world in the “new now” is also applying everything that you learned at last year’s annual D&I conference, while at the same time worrying if it will be too much change right now. I have nothing against conferences but looking out the window of a Marriott for three consecutive days will certainly affect one’s sanity. In the interim, I have compiled a “to do list” to help you stay on the “D&I yellow brick road”. Even Dorothy needed help! They are industry agnostic and may help you to stay focused in these uncertain times.
Welcome to the Real World
Be prepared for some “pushback” about your strategy, initiatives, your predecessor, your boss (elephant in every room — unconscious bias) and any other random objection you might hear from the leadership team. While getting dressed each morning, be sure to put on your (emotional) bulletproof vest because you are going to take a few punches. I hope that they are not fatal! The magic happens on the other side when you continue to push forward. It is about progress not perfection!
Easy Does It
Make working with you painless. People will avoid you if working with you is too cumbersome. Other leaders have enough issues already so they certainly do not want to inherit any from you.
Things are never as bad as they seem (nor as perfect). Keep grinding, smiling and pushing forward. We all have bad days so avoid the urge to panic and begin second-guessing your ability to be successful. Have someone you can call, email or text to remind you that you are capable, things happen and tomorrow is a new day.
Do Ask and Do Tell
Be prepared to have difficult conversations early when you begin to upset the status quo. You are probably wondering what that looks like per se. It is actually a simple thing. Do not avoid letting them know why you are there and what you hope to accomplish. In the interim, be transparent and candid about what you mean, what is next and do not settle for anything that is remotely ambiguous. If you need something from folks, ask for it and tell them why. Diversity & Inclusion is not something you do to someone but rather for someone.
How to Win Friends, Influence People & Get Stuff Done
Great D&I practitioners make a memorable first impression and they always wear well over time. Why? Their concern for people is real, and it goes deeper than an event, or affinity group. Tell the truth, follow up and be genuinely as concerned as they are about their goals and objectives.
Leave the Comedy Act at Home
Do not spend too much time trying to be Mr. Popular. It is important to be likeable but as important to be respected as well. Are you adding value? Keep asking yourself that question at every interaction you have with different leaders. Paying for lunch is not adding value just in case you were wondering that too. Are you more Rosa Parks or Rosie O’Donnell ?
Introduce Yourself to A Thank Your Note
Write Thank you and follow up notes- A minimum of one per day. With the lion share of communication these days, being text, email, chat, Skype etc… it will be a pleasant surprise for folks to receive a follow up note that just says “thanks”….
Do Take Things Personally
Average folks have a job. Great D&I people are passionate about their positions and it borders on an obsession. They eat, sleep, and drink conversations about their role, the space , that meeting, this week, next month, that new project, this new tool etc… They never do enough, never know enough, and never work hard enough. They can always do more and will never be out-worked. They do not see rejection and internal resistance as a roadblock but rather a challenge.
Wake up, Dress up and Show up
Today is the most important day of your week. Go to work (in office or virtually) and avoid the unnecessary distractions that will kill your productivity. Stay focused on building your platform continuously (why it’s so important), and your influence with the organization.
Less is More
Sell the “big picture,” not every feature known to man about your strategy. It is not necessary to venture into the weeds during every single conversation. You are a leader, not a landscaper.
Pain, Power, and Fit
Say these three words aloud several hundred times, so they become a part of your DNA. They will serve as a sort of litmus test to help you determine if you have real “momentum” or are just dreaming. Is there real pain right now (and where)? Do you have access to power (decision maker)? Is your initiative a fit and is it aligned with organizational values? If you are unsure, not sure or confused then you have more work to do ASAP. Hope cannot ever be your strategy!
You get out what you put in
There are approximately 260 working days per year. Do the math. Success is an acquired taste but one that you will come to enjoy. Young people of color are counting on you.
It is by no means easy but nothing great ever is. Stay focused on creating an authentic experience and you too can differentiate yourself amongst all the other poor souls waiting for things to get better.