Your leadership positions in diversity and inclusion span companies like Comerica Bank, Blue Cross Blue Shield, DTE, and now the Ford Motor Company. What should college students and graduates be aware of about diversity and inclusion initiatives at their present or prospective place of employment?
They are ever changing, and it is your role to be agile and adaptable to the changes. It’s also imperative to understand the DEI efforts are not just for leadership, but rather everyone within the company. Driving these efforts forward includes the actions and commitment of everyone. So, make sure you play an important role in creating a culture of belonging and do your part to ensure everyone is included.
What if the place where they work doesn’t necessarily embrace dialogue and celebrate differences, how can they navigate that environment?
While many companies are well along the diversity, equity and inclusion journey, there remains some companies who have yet to address inequities in the workplace. Often times, it isn’t because they are avoiding the dialogue, but rather because they may not know what to do. If you find yourself in a similar situation, be courageous and ask if you can begin to hold focus groups with employees to engage them in dialogue about what they want or need. Often times, many company surveys can tell you quite a bit about the culture and what employees are feeling. It’s a good place to start and perhaps could lead to future opportunities to engage in efforts to advance diversity, equity and inclusion. Grassroots efforts are another way to engage in the space and support the effort within your company. Never underestimate the power of one person!
Diversity and inclusion has a huge impact on daily interactions in the workplace. What type of people skills, intercultural communication skills, or other best practices can students become more nuanced in so they can excel at an internship or a job?
One of the most important skills necessary to navigate the current workplace is adaptability. Adaptability is the foundation of working in the DEI space. Having a strong ability to navigate a changing environment will allow you to quickly respond to a diverse audience, emotions, and behaviors. In fact, one of the assessments I use to determine a person’s cultural competency is called the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI). The IDI is a linear scale that highlights a person’s ability to navigate circumstances and experiences that are culturally different than themselves. Ideally, a person who is culturally competent is adaptable. This is not to be confused with knowing the details of every culture, but rather having the ability to adjust your behavior, interest, and actions to be genuinely and authentically adaptable to someone else’s needs – someone who is different than yourself.
From your experience, what are the biggest obstacles for new employees, for example, adjusting to workplace culture, dealing with work demands, culture shock, assimilation, or feeling included in the dialogue?
I believe one of the biggest challenges within the workplace is adjusting your way of thinking from academia to corporate. They are quite different and the generational complexities within the workplace add another layer of challenges. One of the best pieces of advice I received as a new employee was to learn the company as fast as possible. Often, we believe a strong network is most imperative and begin developing relationships. While that is absolutely important, the relationships come when you are able to articulate your understanding of the complexities of the company and industry in which you work. I’m still learning the automotive sector as it is extremely complex!
If you could give someone only three pieces of advice for how to do well in the early stages of their career, what would they be?
Become a sponge! Say yes to every opportunity you are offered and learn all you can. The second piece of advice is to do what you say. Delivery in the workplace is essential to your success. And lastly, while it may sound a bit soft, treat people with kindness and genuineness. In all my years of experience, I find some of the best relationships I still have started with a kind act. As you can imagine, my professional network is extremely powerful and genuine. You never know how a random act of kindness could open up doors for you in the future. Trust that every interaction, regardless of level, title, or credentials of the person, will lead you toward a prosperous future. I once worked for a CEO that started out in the mail room. His people-driven leadership resonated throughout the company and he is still one of the most influential leaders I have had the pleasure of working for and with. One bonus skill is to be yourself and drive for the success of the team – no one wants to work with someone who is an opportunist or doesn’t support the team.
Scenario: You are hiring a team of interns. What types of key skills and traits are the most important?
For me, I look for a person who can demonstrate the ability to be a team player, proactive, energetic, and curious. I find these skills help drive success, especially as an intern in a complex environment. You are competing with so many other interns who have similar credentials, interests, and skill sets. So, it is important to stand out in an authentic and energetic manner, highlighting your achievements and genuinely showing a high level of curiosity to learn.