In my 20-plus years in industry, I’ve seen great work environments – and quite the opposite. So as a mentor and a teacher, I talk to people about the importance of three factors (beyond excellent skills) that will help build a successful career:
- A healthy company prioritizes diversity and inclusion
- Show me leaders who listen and learn, and I’ll show you a culture that values what every employee brings to an organization
- To grow (and be happy) in your career, practice patience and empathy
Let The Record Show
A company that values diversity and inclusion creates an environment where people feel good about their contributions; where they can take chances and make mistakes.
That makes diversity and inclusion more than a nice-to-have; it’s an imperative if you hope to reach your full potential.
But how do you know what a company values until you’re within its walls?
Here’s how: Has the company been recognized for ethical behavior? What about its diversity and inclusion practices?
Organizations such as Ethisphere® Institute and Catalyst do the research, and companies that earn this recognition are a good place to start your job search – or expand your career.
Good Leaders Listen (Then Act)
Corporations are microcosms of our bigger world, so there will be problems. It’s not a lack of issues that tells you if a company prioritizes a healthy culture; it’s how those issues are addressed.
Leaders listen, because before you can solve a problem, you have to admit there is one.
Does your company have employee resource groups (ERGs) and a consistent way to get feedback? Once issues are identified, is there a path forward to resolution, through employee surveys, advisory councils and work teams? Are leaders inviting employees to collaborate, learn more, and solve problems together?
It’s Up To You
Now you’re in a great place. How do you get where you want to go?
My grandparents taught me my greatest lessons about success. My grandfather had an unquestionable work ethic. He said, “Work hard every day and eventually you’ll find yourself in the place you want to be.” Truth.
That mindset requires patience – and sometimes that’s a struggle. There’s the path (maybe it’s to a bigger role or to managing people); now let’s go. And you just might reach your goal quickly, but you won’t feel successful when you get there. You missed the lessons. You missed the relationship building. You missed the mark.
If I had gotten the promotions I thought I should at a younger age, I would have been a lesser engineer and a horrible people manager. I needed to learn my craft, work cross-functionally, and appreciate different perspectives. Moving fast might feel like you’re saving time, but mostly it means you’ll have to go back and fix mistakes.
My grandmother instilled empathy. “Confident people will never demean another to feel good about themselves,” she would say. “Try to understand another person and the struggles they face.”
So you have a blocker at work; what’s the reason? What could be happening in the background that you don’t know?
When I’m not empathetic or patient, I regret it. I commit to doing better next time. Our measure should not be the mistakes we make; it’s how we recover that matters.
It’s The Culture and It’s You
I just read Dr. Joe Dispenza’s book, Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Gain a New One, and here’s what I took away: be mindful of the things in your environment that impede your progress. Are you holding a grudge? Are you blaming others, or excusing behavior that you know is wrong?
You might not be able to control your situation, but you control your choices. School, work, home – every place has challenges.
I don’t expect my work culture to be utopia. I want to be surrounded by people asking questions and listening to the responses so we can identify what’s holding us back, and fix those systems.
Our company is not perfect but the effort is real. It’s a journey we’re taking together, patiently and with empathy.
As a lecturer at Morehouse, I want to sustain the energy and enthusiasm of youth, and create realistic expectations of what they can expect at any company. My advice is, look at the culture. Is there a vision? How are people treated?
In an environment that embraces diversity and inclusion, people take time to build relationships; they feel more creative and able to take risks. And that’s the company where you can build your career and feel good doing it.