Embrace diversity — You need to not fear diversity and embrace it. See it as a strength.
As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview AJ Cartas.
AJ Cartas is currently the Founder & CEO of Syzygy Social, a social media agency that’s minority-led. He also has a non-profit, Our Damn Time, that helps political candidates with progressive policies with their digital strategy. He is also a published author of the book, Startups and Downs that talks about his misadventures in Silicon Valley and dropping out of college.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I was born and raised in the Philippines until I was 7. My grandparents took care of me until my dad and I moved to the suburbs of Chicago where I grew up.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
A significant book that made a huge impact on me is It’s About Damn Time by Arlan Hamilton. The reason why it made such a huge impact in my life was that I finally found a book where the author and I had a similar upbringing. I think this is important because representation matters. Arlan is an unapologetic Black woman who is also part of the LGBT community with the mission of funding minority-led companies.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
“Rejection is redirection” is my favorite life lesson quote because there were so many times I was told no, only to be redirected to a much better path than I anticipated.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is being decisive and owning the results, whatever the outcome. One trait of successful leaders is being able to make decisions with the information they currently have. Sometimes it’s a great call, and sometimes it’s a bad call, but leaders aren’t phased by the bad and aren’t satisfied with settling when it’s great.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
First, I would like to clarify that I don’t like to refer to myself as “busy” because it tells me 2 things:
- I can’t manage my time
- I don’t value your time
I prefer being productive because you can be “busy” and not be productive.
Second, I listen to music that really pumps me up. Some of my favorite artists that I usually listen a few minutes before an important call is Kehlani’s CRZY, Tinashe’s No Drama, or Beyonce’s Flawless or 7/11.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
I think that it’s always been around, but social media platforms definitely accelerated the spread across the nation — even globally. I think the challenge of moderating content has always been an issue and the misunderstanding of what’s allowed on a platform vs what exactly is free speech since the First Amendment is usually invoked.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?
Yes! My non-profit, Our Damn Time, works with political candidates by helping them with their digital strategy and social media. We always and only work with candidates who will be a champion for those that are part of underrepresented communities, and most of the time, are part of those very communities. We’ve been involved in California, Georgia, Florida, New York, New Jersey, and a few more states — local, Congressional, and US Senate.
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
- You are able to get multiple perspectives, thus making your company more inclusive
- You create a culture that makes people be their best selves
- It’s been proven that companies that are more diverse are more profitable
One thing I learned as CEO is your main job is to take care of your people and they will do the rest.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
- Embrace diversity — You need to not fear diversity and embrace it. See it as a strength.
- Share — You need to share your thoughts and encourage others to share their own perspectives as well so that everyone learns from each other.
- Initiate — Make sure to lead inclusivity initiatives because sometimes people are too timid.
- Appreciate — Say personalized thank you to people and really validate them because they deserve it.
- Be open — You need to be open to other perspectives and learn to go beyond what you know.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
I don’t think it will be resolved until everyone has the empathy and emotional intelligence level to be understanding. The best we can do is keep fighting for equality and educating others about diversity.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Dan Price! I think what he did with his company by taking a salary cut to ensure his employees are paid a minimum 70k dollars/year.
How can our readers follow you online?
My Instagram is @aj.cartas and my Twitter is @ajcartas
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!