I'm an African American woman. And I work mostly with white men.
My situation is not unique. What is different is that I joined the company in a supply chain role, and based on my experience here – which led to my aspirations – I now recruit people to join this company.
It's my passion. And it's not without its challenges.
When I talk to potential employees, it's easy to cite competitive pay and benefits. I can talk about where we're located and what we do.
What's hardest to convey is our culture. I need to help people understand who our company is, and what they can expect from their career here.
In my opinion, the single most important factor in your career success is joining a company with a culture that makes you feel like you belong.
It's that culture that will enable you to grow your career. To do your best work. To be rewarded for that work. And to feel like you're contributing to the company's mission, and to your own growth.
I know what ‘you don't belong here' feels like. While I attended a historically black university, as a black woman, for most of my life I've been the minority in any given situation.
And I'm a minority at Rockwell Automation. So what brought me here, and what keeps me here?
The company's inclusive culture.
Here's just one example. Our company has 12 employee resources groups (ERGs). These ERGs bring together people who share a common experience – women in engineering; African American professionals; military veterans; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and allies. In these ERGs – and throughout the organization – people are encouraged to network and talk about what's working in the company, and what's not.
But the dialogue does not stop there. The next step is answering the questions, “What can we do to facilitate change?” and “How can we make this a place where you want to stay, grow your career and do your best work?”
Why is this important?
Because enterprise-wide support of non-dominant groups is one of the clearest signs of a healthy company culture. Leaders are inviting groups to share their experiences, to be strong and challenge stereotypes and norms, and do hard things, together.
I have an MBA in supply chain management. And yet, today, I spend my time talking to people about their careers.
That didn't happen by accident. And I didn't do it by myself.
The company helped me to grow my career the way I envisioned it, not a prescribed ladder approach. Career planning tools, mentoring, sponsorships. I employed all of these in my effort to grow.
And now, when potential employees tell me that they want proof of what I'm saying, of a culture that's flexible and structured for support, that appreciates and values differences – I tell them, ‘I am the proof.'
I came here to do one type of work. I became involved in the African American Professional Network (AAPN) and served as its president. I volunteered as a campus recruiter. I found my passion.
I started having conversations with people doing what I wanted to do. I did the work to prepare. I asked for advice. I took action. I owned my decisions and my career – with the full support of my manager and my organization.
During my time here, I have stepped into my identity as a woman and as an African American. I've been part of the company's culture of inclusion journey.
This journey has not been without trials. I've been defensive – and now I see the reaction in others as well – and assumed that when something happens, it's because I'm a woman or I'm African American.
I get it. For many, it's a protective response based on a lifetime of experience. They default to, “That just happened because I am (fill in the blank: a woman/Latino/young/old/gay).”
If that is part of your past – and it likely is – then I am here to say that's not our present and it's certainly not our future. We consciously and purposefully address diversity and inclusion, through dialog and action.
Do we always get it right? Probably not. Are we always trying? Absolutely.
I am here to offer proof that company culture makes a difference, and it's worth considering when you decide where you want to grow your career.
If you want to talk, visit me at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing event October 19-21 in Houston. Or send me an email. I want to share my story, and I want to hear yours.