Category Archives: mentoring

lessons learned from a leadership journeys #diversity #leadership

I’ve been asked to speak at a conference this summer.  It will probably be my last national presentation as a leader at the Japanese car company where I have been employed for almost nineteen years.  As a diversity leader, I can make a presentation and share insights, stories, and experiences with attendees around career development or business strategies.  That is bland and dry as over toasted Wonder Bread.  The sound of the teacher from “Peanuts” would be echoing in my own ears as I spoke on that topic.  Blah, blah, blah, diversity, blah, blah, blah, business impact, blah, blah, blah, leadership, blah, blah, blah.  Instead, I want to tell a story.  I want to share some thoughts on standout moments and lessons learned from my leadership journey as a small business owner, karate instructor and brand-new Shodan.

The conference is by far my favorite event of the year.  It is an event designed to bring together multicultural women from corporations all over the globe.  It takes place in NYC and it provides an outlet for high-achieving and high potential multicultural women to be confident, courageous and take the next steps in paving the way for a stronger, more inclusive, and more trusting environment. The theme for this year’s conference, Race to Trust, reflects an intention to create a conference that inspires higher cross-cultural understanding and explores concerns among women that trust in the workplace is on the decline due to the current cultural and social trends.   My favorite part of this conference is meeting powerful and inspirational women of color from different industries and I have made several friends at the event over the years.

If I think about this opportunity as my last, I have to consider what my legacy will be.  My biggest accomplishment at the Japanese car company where I have been employed for almost 19 years are employee resource groups.  We started with 2 in 2001, just as pilots, while I worked with HR, Legal, and senior leaders to craft a policy that made all levels of the organization comfortable.  Now there are over 60 chapters across North America, with new groups being created in offices in Canada, Baja, and Puerto Rico.  I was dubbed the “Godmother of Business Partnering Groups.”  Where’s my fairy dust and magic wand???

However, I think that a presentation about 2016 would be more interesting to me.  We discovered that our dojo was operating without a business license or insurance for years, as we were told that we were losing the lease to our old studio.  I elected to become the small business owner created the S-Corp, purchased all the insurance and licenses, found a location, and continue my quest to become an instructor.  During the Summer of 2016, we taught karate in my backyard, on the stiff grass.  It wasn’t until late July 2016 that we moved into the new studio.

Now I am processing all of the emotions that I experienced last year to get the business launched.  All of this happened while I faced the end of my tenure with the Japanese automotive company where I continued to work full time, my daughter started her senior year of high school, and my boyfriend finalized his divorce.  Stress on top of stress on top of change on top of stress.  2016 weighed heavily on my shoulders…  more to come

#TeamTogisala visits www.thekaratedojo.com

 

Here is how Social Media works in a positive way. Sensei Brian Pena and Sensei Butch Togisala re-connected after twenty years thanks to Facebook. These two men competed throughout the 1990’s all over the world. Sensei Brian and his family visited California and Togisala Shorin Ryu during Easter break and, a little over a month later, Sensei Butch was graciously invited to attend the Carolina Martial Arts Open tournament in South Carolina.

On April 24, 2016, Sensei Brian Pena published the following announcement via Facebook:

“EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT:

We are excited and honored to announce that multi-time NBL World Champion and Japanese / Okinawan Karate Legend: LELAGI ‘BUTCH’ TOGISALA of Torrance, California is set to be at The Karate Dojo in West Columbia, SC for a seminar, private lessons, and to receive a special award on May 14-15, 2016 to coincide with the Carolina Martial Arts Open.

Sensei Togisala is a Japanese Kobudo and Kata MASTER that holds the record of winning the NBL World Title in Japanese / Okinawan Kata for 5 straight years through the 1990’s until he humbly bowed out to his team member Marcus Young at the 1998 Super Grands World Games.

Please make plans today to meet, greet, and LEARN from a great friend of mine, and the single most prolific Japanese / Okinawan Karate & Kobudo competitor of the past 25 years – PERIOD.

Email me at Sensei@TheKarateDojo.com with Seminar interest or to schedule Private Lessons, and stay tuned in the coming days for further information.”

On Friday the 13th in May 2016, before the sun had risen, Sensei Butch and I boarded a flight to ATL to catch a connection to CAE.  There was a level of excitement in both of us bubbling and Sensei Butch had lots of questions regarding the weekend.  We knew that a greeting at the airport by Sensei Brian and a sushi dinner with some of his black belts were on the Friday evening itinerary.  So, we planned on checking into our hotel, resting a bit, getting our gi pressed for the weekend and just going with the flow.

I had cooked up a fresh batch of Kalua pork for Sensei Brian. He really enjoyed that when he was at our house for Easter.  A couple of pounds of frozen Kalua pork were one of my carry-on items. In addition, I packed some healthy snacks for the long flight across the country.  

Early morning flights usually mean a plane full of passengers who are either trying to sleep or overly sparked on caffeine.  We both attempted to catch some Zs after take-off, to no avail.  Because our seats were upgraded to Delta Comfort, we had access to free movies and he selected the film, “Invincible” starring Mark Wahlberg.  Sports-themed movies usually contain messages about hard work paying off, enduring monumental physical challenges, and overcoming adversity.  These themes were threaded throughout the film and I saw many parallels with what Togisala Shorin Ryu is experiencing.

We sat next to each other, sharing earbuds (yes, we looked like “that couple”) and enjoyed the inspirational true story of lifelong diehard Philadelphia Eagles fan Vince Papale. Coach Dick Vermeil called an open tryout to boost interest in the flailing Eagles.  Papale realized his wildest dream, survived try outs, and became a squad member.  The movie shows Papale’s tenacity, grit and heart in a mature and relatable way, beyond Disney’s usual animated fairy tales.

“Invincible” touched our hearts and there must have been quite a bit of dust circulating in the plane, as I had to keep wiping tears away.  No comment about Sensei Butch’s “allergies”.  The feel-good story focused on the importance of hard work and the responsibility of individuals to support their friends, neighborhoods and more importantly, their families. Competing in sports played a critical role in developing both of our personal core values around Respect, Discipline, and Courage.  He and I are athletes who have competed at various levels throughout our entire lives.  Sensei Butch leveraged his raw talent for karate and his incredible support from his father and surrogate father, Grand Master Sensei Richard Rabago, to “pull himself out of the ghetto.”  Disciplined training became a way of life and that led to a successful sport karate career that took Sensei Butch all over the world.

When a competitor sees someone who consistently performs at the level to achieve world champion status, that person impacts him/her in profound ways.  Sensei Butch has fans around the world and social media has connected him with other martial artists that used to compete with him. This is what brought Sensei Butch to South Carolina.

Friday afternoon we landed at CAE airport. Sensei Brian Pena greeted us with some of his senior students:  two of his black belts and one of his brown belts. The Karate Dojo welcomed Team Togisala with warm smiles, open arms, and deep bows of mutual respect.

We felt hungry but wanted to see The Karate Dojo before checking into our hotel. The facility was incredibly impressive. I had never seen a dojo as large as this one. The main floor also housed weight machine that looked more complete than most hotel gyms I train in while on the road. In addition, there is a smaller, more private training room and a large space perfectly equipped for child care and fun. But as impressive as the physical space was, even more impressive was the spirit and atmosphere inside the dojo. The floor, the walls, the equipment all looked pristine. But on the interpersonal level, everyone  from the  staff to the students showed immense respect to Sensei Butch. We heard, “Yes, Sir” and “Yes, Ma’am” in every response.  Such a simple behavior, using consistent and respectful manners, exemplifies the way a karate-ka should hold him- or herself.

Sensei Brian graciously allowed Sensei Butch to use his beefy, tricked out, and gorgeous Expedition.  He drove us to Downtown  Columbia, dropped the car off with the valet, and Sensei Butch spotted a man walking.  He told me, “Babe, that’s Coolio.”  I dismissed him and said, “Leave that man alone.  It is not Coolio.”  What would Coolio be doing in Downtown Columbia?  We checked in, unpacked, and grabbed a nap before dinner.

Friday night – sushi dinner in South Carolina.  That was not a sentence I ever imagined saying out loud.  We pulled up to a shopping plaza and found a restaurant called, “Inakaya Watanabe.”  Sensei Brian had reserved the private room with tatami mats and when we entered, there were two HUGEMONGOUS  sushi boats on the tables to greet us.  Sensei Butch felt a bit apprehensive about sitting on the floor throughout an entire meal but thank goodness, the tables were built over a sunk-in floor.  The food tasted fresh and I devoured the fresh yellowtail sashimi while Sensei Brian requested rolls like soft shell crab, chef specials and some terrifyingly hot roll with a mystery chili pepper of some sort.  Eating that hot scary pepper thingy roll was a rite of passage for Sensei Brian’s black belts.  Since I am deathly allergic to peppers, I did not have the opportunity to taste that mystery torture roll. Thank goodness.

 

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At the end of dinner, Sensei Butch presented a special gift to Sensei Brian.  We had a brand new set of rope kama made  by Tenth Degree Weaponary in Southern California for Sensei Brian.  Rope kama are Sensei Butch’s signature weapon and there are multiple videos of him swinging them in sport karate tournaments all over YouTube.  Sensei Brian appreciated the gift and we were delighted to present it to him.

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 May 14, 2016, Saturday morning, Carolina Martial Arts Open tournament day.  When we arrived at the The Karate Dojo, the building was bursting with competitors and their family members.  Sensei Brian treated both of us like honored guests in his dojo and asked for the opportunity to introduce Sensei Butch to all of the participants.  We didn’t know he also had a big surprise in store for Sensei Butch.

And then, Sensei Butch had me bring up another gift for Sensei Brian. It was a vintage heavy weight Team Togisala competition gi, complete with gashes in the back of it from Kama blades. I thought that this one of a kind, irreplaceable gift would be something that Sensei Brian would appreciate. Material gifts can’t beat sentimental gifts, in my opinion. We can all buy “things” but no one can replace memories and experiences. 

A wide variety of martial arts schools were represented by colorful gi and t-shirts.  The number of competitors could have felt overwhelming but the order and precision that Sensei Brian exemplified in running simultaneous divisions impressed me.  Sensei Butch and I split our time between walking the floor and resting and reviewing the seminar format together.  Jet lag crept in every hour or so, we tried to catch cat naps throughout the morning. While out on the floor, we met an enthusiastic competitor.  She cheered everyone on in the rings by yelling, clapping, and sending tons of positive energy.  I pointed her out to Sensei Butch and he said, “She’s an awesome hype man.  We should bring her to all of our tournaments LOL.”  Her enthusiasm was noted by others and pointed out to Sensei Brian.  He recognized her by presenting her with a special “spirit” award.  She found us at the end of the tournament and asked to take a photo with both of us.  Look how her spirit shines through in her smile.

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This tournament had numerous examples of how martial arts influences young lives.  The atmosphere felt supportive and loving and still competitive throughout the day.  It struck me that martial arts tournaments should always feel family-friendly, rather than cut-throat competitive.  We work to build character in our students through discipline, respect, courage, and fun.  Becoming a tournament champion does not have to be the outcome in order to build up our students’ character.  World Championships, trophies, black belts…none of that makes a Champion.   Students living their lives by showing respect for others, acting with integrity, and staying physically fit is the ultimate goal.  Martial arts training never stops.

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As the tournament wound down, I heard tid bits of stories of first-time adult competitors making their debut at the Carolina Martial Arts Open and examples of children showing love and support for one another.  Sensei Brian referred to his event as an “investment in the future.”  A father of one of the participants wrote a “thank you” note to Sensei Brian because his son was crying at the end of the  tournament.  This young competitor was overcome with tears of pride because his sister had won Grand Champion.  Sensei Brian recognized and rewarded this young competitor with a trophy, as well.  But in fact, what that young man gave all of us was a greater gift.  Love and support for our family members and dojo Ohana is the ultimate goal.  Sensei Brian encouraged all spectators to cheer for all competitors and the dojo roof was raised by all the positive energy and Aloha throughout the tournament.

Next up, was the karate seminar with Sensei Butch Togisala.  About 20 or 25 students attended the seminar on Saturday.  The game plan consisted of a brief stretching session to prep the participants for the first activity – stances.  Strong, low stances are a signature for Togisala Shorin Ryu and the foundation of our style.  Having a low base is critical to executing our kata correctly.  Sensei Butch selected Pinan Godan as the kata to teach during the seminar.  And we wanted each student to be able to learn the entire kata during the seminar, regardless of belt rank, and be able to perform it.  I will note that Sensei Butch thought I was being too strict during warm-ups but I protested that as I conducted a very short stretching session to prepare their hips and legs for doing basics, just as I do in our dojo every night.  But I digress..

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I have written about one of the mantra of our Sensei, the late Grand Master Sensei Richard Rabago, “Basics are Everything.”  The stance is the foundation for karate.  Not all Japanese karate schools take as a low of a stance as Togisala Shorin Ryu.  But I believe that the beauty in kata is taking a low stance.  It might be from my years of studying hula kahiko, my Kumu Hula taught us that our energy comes from our classmates and from the Earth.  Being connected to both improves the spirit or mana in a dance.  The same can apply to kata.  When the karate-ka applies the movements within a kata, it is a self-defense technique or offensive attack.

Sensei Butch began the seminar with running the participants through exercises to practice:  kiba-dachi (horse stance), zenkutsu-dachi (forward stance), and neko-dachi (cat stance).  We had students as young as six years old, all the way up to adult aged and yellow belts up to second degree black belts participating.  Everyone worked hard to adjust to the style of Togisala Shorin Ryu to learn a new kata, Pinan Godan.  This is a required kata for advancement to purple belt in our dojo but it isn’t taught at The Karate Dojo so it became a nice addition to their kata toolkit.  One of the black belt students in the seminar stated, “So very impressed with Sensei Togisala.  He captured my family with his calm yet strong patience.  He led a seminar with a 6 year old all the way to us older folks and NEVER lost our attention.  We all left not only being taught a kata but also being taught a lesson in humility and strength.  Thank you sir for graciously giving us your time and energy this past weekend!  Deep bow of LOVE and RESPECT!”

Personally, I learned a lot through the process of helping to teach our kata during the seminar.  In addition, it became clear to me that Sensei Brian teaches all of his students how to be Champions in life.  His dedication to teaching the martial arts is a gift.  Sensei Brian runs The Karate Dojo as a very special school, filled with exceptional students.  I humbly bow to him.

After the seminar, Sensei Butch and I went to the Club Lounge to relax with appetizers and a glass (or two) of wine.  He felt pleased with the outcome of the seminar.  We chatted with the lounge hostess, a student from USC (Gamecocks, not Trojans) and discovered something that Sensei Butch found amusing.  A big old school hip hop concert was held nearby and Salt N Pepa stayed at our hotel the night before.  They were hot during the early 90s, the height of my clubbing days.  Sensei Butch and I sang a bunch their songs, most of which the hostess had never heard of because she was an infant at the time.  And, unfortunately, it was revealed that Coolio was also staying at our hotel! BThat means Sensei Butch did see Coolio the day before and he reminded me over and over throughout the rest of the weekend that I blew a fantastic photo opportunity for him.  Ugh.

At dinner time, we walked about a mile down the road to a restaurant ironically named, “California Dreaming.”  It came highly recommended by the nice man sitting next to me on the flight from ATL to CAE, that recommendation was co-signed by our lounge hostess and others.  They were right!  We had a fantastic walk and a lovely meal.

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After dinner, we called Uber so we wouldn’t have to take the one mile walk uphill.  A tricked out GMC SUV on 22″ tins rolled up, bumpin’ some hip hop. We looked at each other and laughed. Our driver was so chill, we talked about USC (Gamecocks, not Trojans) being on summer breaks. Then we asked about the concert and I had to hear how I blew an opportunity for Butch to take a pic with Coolio. Again.  They both laughed at me about that. Every person we encountered in Columbia, SC was gracious and welcoming. We had such a lovely time.

On Sunday, Sensei Butch was in his element, working one-on-one or in semi-private groups with students on their kata.  His innate talent for performing kata spills over into the incredible gift in customization and teaching.  Sensei Butch excels at making subtle shifts to sequences and moves that suit the individual’s strengths to transform a dojo kata to a winning sport karate kata.  Let me have some of the participants speak for themselves.

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“What an incredible experience to be instructed by Sensei Togisala, honored to have the opportunity, I hope to see him again one day to Thank him once more (or a thousand more) for helping me with my competition Kata.  He is an exceptional man.”

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The photographs above are from a semi-private lesson with two black belts.  They perform the same competition kata but Sensei Butch provided direction for each of them to customize a section of the kata to make it their own.

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“Very cool to have met someone I’ve only ever heard about (and seen in kata videos).  Sensei Togisala embodies who a leader and instructor should be – knowledgeable, caring, and patient.  Respect!!”

Sensei Butch started the morning off with a private lesson refining a kata specifically for competition.

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In this private lesson, Sensei Butch shared a few tricks of the trade to make this Sensei’s competition kata really stand out.  His strength could be amplified with a few tweaks at key points in Go Gi Shi Ho, which happens to be Sensei Butch’s signature open hand kata.

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Three private lessons were with junior colored belts.  Each of these students worked very hard and earned a lot of praise from Sensei Butch.  He reinforced the importance of basic stances and precision in strikes for competition.  As intense and serious as all these photos look, there was plenty of laughter and smiles during these private lessons.  Best of all, each of them asked questions when necessary, took the gentle criticism to heart, and applied their learnings in real time.  It was a delight for me to watch.

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The last lesson for the day was a semi-private session with two junior blue belts.  Each of them paid close attention to Sensei Butch.  Their high energy sustained him as he closed out the long day of teaching.  These two are well on their way to a bright and shining career in sport karate competition.

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Sensei Brian’s Team Dojo will “Never Give Up.”  The future of karate lies in our children continuing to learn and train from experienced instructors and competitors like Sensei Brian Pena and Sensei Butch.  Being open to new lessons and learnings was my key take-away from the weekend. Hard work is nothing to shy away from in karate or in life. As instructors, we need to be open to receive the lessons that our students teach us every day. On behalf of Team Togisala, I send a deep bow of respect and gratitude to Sensei Brian Pena and all of his students, staff, and parents at http://www.thekaratedojo.com.  We were honored and humbled by the experience we shared with all of you during the 2016 Carolina Martial Arts Open karate tournament.  Sending much respect and Aloha to Sensei Brian Pena.

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Late Train Blogging; DiversityNerd Owes You

My last post was on July 21, 2014. That was a full five weeks ago. My day job has been cray cray busy and I am surrounded by people experiencing anxiety and stress. Because I’m in a position responsible for the tone and culture in the company, I’m fielding questions and holding counseling sessions and facilitating dialogue across the company. My poor little INFJ personality is inundated with the challenge of managing everyone else’s angst. That is part of the curse of being intuitive, I absorb everyone else’s pain and emotions when they come to me for help. I would be a lousy massage therapist because I would take in too stress and pain from my clients’ aching bodies.

I owe myself some quiet time to blog about July and August. My travels took me to conference in NYC, where I facilitated some same race and cross race discussion groups on Mentoring and Sponsorship. Then I spent some time nerding out at San Diego Comic Con with my two loves, my daughter and my boyfriend. Highlights: my daughter and I met Aisha Tyler and we all attended a live podcast recording of @girlonguy.

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I also scored press passes from @shakefire and had access to events with two critical members of the #TWD_Family: Greg Nicotero and Norman Reedus.

After SDCC, I drove to Las Vegas with the boyfriend for a work conference. Well, I worked and he got to explore Las Vegas for the first time.

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From Vegas, I spent a week back home before I set out on a work “expedition” with about 35 employees from all over the company to explore our new home in Texas.

During the time, there were numerous diversity related tragedies in our country, Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall both passed away and the internet has been spammed with ice bucket challenges that are spilling over into the workplace. I owe myself time to do some writing.

I promise to address most of these events in a future posting.

Mentoring & Sponsorship @WMConferences

Last week, I spent time at Working Mother Media’s annual “Multicultural Women’s National Conference.” This event has provided me more personal development than any other conference that I have attended. I’ve even made a couple of new friends because of my participation and that is an extra special bonus. Imagine being in a room with 500 ambitious, driven, and successful women. The invitation to this conference is especially targeted towards women of color and Working Mother takes this opportunity to create a safe and honest dialogue about what is really going on with women in the workplace.

This year’s theme was powerful: “Vision and Impact: Charting What’s Next.” A brief website description read: “Together through collaborative conversation and vision planning we can launch real progress and ignite action in our careers and in our lives – thus positively impacting the future for the advancement of multicultural women in the workplace.

Our vision, values and goals shape the way we work, along with the expectations we have for our careers, and our lives. Knowing what we want – and being able to articulate that – is vital to live lives and build careers that have impact.”

Given the circumstances that my company has thrust upon the employees, it seems more than fitting. What is next in my career and my life? This conference presented me with time and space to evaluate my current professional career path. I set out very deliberate intentions to consider all the possibilities ahead of me, in the back of my mind. Externally, I agreed to play the role of a “Thought Leader” in the same race and cross race discussion groups.

Participants were asked to choose two topics related to a professional area that they needed to strengthen. My role became “facilitator” and I helped the guide a discussion to explore how the participants approach this area, how the power of their belief system shapes and influences that behavior, impacting career decisions and possibly impeding advancement.

We used a technique loosely based on Open Space Technology. No formal structured agenda existed in the beginning, each group had a topic area and began the conversation from there. The desired outcomes were simple: to raise issues that were most important to the participants in the group, engage everyone in the discussion, and share the findings in the cross-race discussions on the same topic. The six topics were based on six critical components for the career advancement of women:

EXECUTIVE PRESENCE
BRANDING
MENTORING
NEGOTIATIONS
WORK LIFE BALANCE
OFFICE POLITICS

What I want to share came out of my same race conversation circle on the topic of Mentoring and Sponsorship.

We were given a few questions to begin our discussion:
Do you have a personal board of directors? A mentor? If so, what is the value add? If not, what are the barriers to enablement? Do you believe someone in your organization is your sponsor—someone who is telling others about your value to the organization?

Questions:
Do you have a broad range and influential level of mentors and sponsors?
In what ways are you – or are you not – sponsorable?

Goal 1: Ensure race is part of the conversation—how does this group uniquely experience the topic at hand?

Goal 2: Encourage timely and actionable focus—is this something they’re dealing with right now and can impact in the near-term?

Goal 3: Avoid redundancy—seek to build on others’ thoughts, in the same conversation and from the session prior.

Goal 4: Go beneath the surface—use probing questions to uncover the “why”, “who” and “how” of the experience.

As always, I elected to start our dialogue with brief introductions: name, company and why they selected this topic. I find that this helps the participants hear their own voice in the room and therefore, “warm them up” to participate more fully. As an Introvert, I know this tiny step helps me. If I had more time, I would have asked each participant to share one thing they are excited about this summer. Having people talk about something they are excited about helps to elevate their levels of engagement. Adults really enjoy talking about themselves. Little touches like using an adult’s first name when addressing a question to them or following up a comment they made does wonders for an individual’s enthusiasm. This isn’t an ego thing, it is a human thing. Also, I’ve found that the higher one moves up in the organization, the less “human” their interactions become. People seem to lose their minds when speaking to high ranking executives and don’t give them honest and candid feedback for fear of harming one’s career progression. Also, people don’t treat high ranking executives the same way they would treat a person who doesn’t sit in the corner office. This is a ridiculous way to function in corporate America. The world is shrinking and communication needs to be transparent. We do not have time for politicking anymore. Work needs to get done through authentic and meaningful dialogue. Everyone adds value to the workplace -regardless of title, age, race, level of education, sexual orientation, gender and any other aspect of being a human being that people use to divide us into groups. Just keep it real and cut out the bullshit, people. We will all get a lot more accomplished.

Back to my Thought Leader same race discussion group…

We, as a group, decided to define “mentoring” and “sponsorship” before we went any further, I offered two very brief definitions: Mentoring is talking TO someone about career development and that someone is NOT in your direct reporting chain of command. Anyone can find a mentor or a mentor. Sponsorship is when someone is talking ABOUT you when you are not in the room. This usually happens during talent review or when leaders work to identify participants for stretch assignments. Sponsorship is usually earned through showing consistently strong performance and building a reputation for delivering solid business results. Interestingly enough, participants in both of my small groups said that they had never had a problem with finding mentors. However, only a handful of them knew whether they had a sponsor or not. In my mind, that is data worth exploring further. Why don’t Asian women know if they have sponsors? Or do they not have sponsors? Is there a cultural component to this? Is it because across corporate America, most of the key decision makers are still straight, white men? These are things to consider in the future.

The same race groups who were discussing Mentoring and Sponsorship had five key points to share with the cross race groups. This is what the Asian women wanted the other groups to realize about us, as a collective group. I own these findings, as an Asian American woman.

1. We are usually the only woman, the only Asian, and the youngest looking person in the room. Because we look younger, we need to build credibility early in the meeting to establish that we are NOT the junior person on the team. Many of the women reported wearing glasses or very professional attire to look older. And everyone said it was critical to note their tenure with their company so we aren’t ignored or overlooked in the workplace.

2. Being Asian may get in the way of our own self-promotion. Bragging or at least talking about our achievements is very counter cultural to Asians. However, this skill is a critical one when finding a sponsor.

3. As we move up in our careers, it becomes more difficult to find mentors and sponsors who are key decision makers. In numbers, most organizations have less women and less women of color and even less Asian women at the top.

4. In order to be promoted, we must build cross-functional skills. It seems that we Asians are very skilled at being individual contributors and are not usually tapped on the shoulder for key assignments in the sexy departments like marketing and sales. Most of us received messages from our well-intended parents that hard work pays off and the nail that stands up gets hammered down. Well, in corporate America, one needs to learn how to stretch outside one’s comfort zone, take risks and stand out. We must be intentional in asking for coaching and career development.

5. Different Asian cultures have varying levels of comfort with speaking out. We enjoyed a lively discussion about how Indian women seem to have a lot less challenges in asking for coaching and feedback. Many of the participants were not U.S.-born and that adds a layer of complexity to the discussion. The long and the short of it was, not all Asians are alike. One size does not fit all.

The discussions did not bring any new revelations to my mind about being Asian in corporate America and trying to find a mentor or sponsor. The value I gleaned from this conversation was just in being surrounded by people like me. We all shared very openly and freely, things that came easy to us in the workplace and a few things that are barriers to our success. I feel like my course is still uncharted in terms of what’s next but I do feel like I own my responsibility to continue to help other women be successful.

Pi’ilani’s P’s for Diversity and Inclusion

When I joined my company fifteen years ago to work in a group called “Corporate Diversity,” I had no idea what I was getting myself into. My definition of “diversity” was limited to race and gender. Like most people, I focused on protected classes; I saw this new position as an opportunity to give voice to the underdog. Since I joined the workforce in the mid 90’s, there were very few role models for me to emulate. Where were the Gen X Asian-Pacific American single mothers of biracial children with disabilities that were running companies and calling the shots? Diversity was a concept I connected with immediately and was one of the only ways I thought I could make an impact and leave a legacy.

The word “inclusion” hit me as very fresh and exciting, an opportunity to bring straight white men over 40 into the work and really meant the effort was for everyone. After all, I quickly learned that culture change is not about taking anything away from one group to give to another, it isn’t a “fight the power” theory, it is about creating space for all individuals to fully contribute and thrive. And corporate culture change must be focused on the bottom line, working towards keeping a competitive advantage in these uncertain economic times.

So I write this as an attempt to support my fellow Diversity and Inclusion Champions and share some lessons learned. I suggest that you keep five things in mind, dubbed: “Pi’ilani’s Ps”. These are tips, guidelines; a compass to help direct your work

P1 = Positioning

Who are your greatest advocates for culture change? Who do you need to “woo” early on in the process? If you have a key thought leader in your executive team, pull on their knowledge, experience and reputation to Position your effort. Diversity and Inclusion must be integrated into the business objectives across your organization. Ask yourself, “How does Diversity and Inclusion help us sell cars?” It must be an integrated part of the business strategy. Diversity and inclusion is not “one-off” or a “nice thing to do,” it is about achieving business objectives through people’s inclusive actions.

Be cautioned, Diversity and Inclusion is not about the picking items off a list, “If I give education, establish employee resource groups, celebrate cultural awareness months, create mentoring programs and change my performance management system, we will have an inclusive environment that leverages diversity.” Do not liken corporate culture change to ordering three items from a fast food restaurant to build your own meal. You must have stakeholders across the organization that embrace and communicate the business case for change. Real change occurs when this work is tied to the core of your company’s business. Behaviors, systems and processes must support an inclusive environment and the business case for making these changes must be communicated. And communicated. And communicated again. Employees will assume the initiative has passed if they don’t hear about it more than once every six months. If you think you have communicated the business case for Diversity and Inclusion, I assure you that you have only just begun.

P2 = Passion

As a Champion, you may find your belief and Passion will carry you through the most challenging days. Keep your eye on the vision that positive change will create a windfall of activity. Associates will be free to break the bonds of “corporate think.” Creativity will surface. Communication will be clear, concise, direct and supportive at the same time. Teams will become higher performing, working together to achieve company objectives. Remember this, because you will run into many roadblocks and challenges.

One needs passion to create change, passion for what is possible, passion about seeing results and passion for the prospect of creating lasting change. If a person becomes involved with Diversity and Inclusion for monetary rewards or recognition from others, it is doubtful that he or she will be successful. This work is about service to the company and to others.  The ultimate goal is higher performance, which only comes about when people are feeling valued, supported and respected for their individuality.

Po’okela (Excellence) Ahuwale ka po’okela i kau hana ia ha’i
“It is through the way you serve others that your greatness will be felt.” 

P3 = Patience 

My mom asked me to describe what I do for a living. I answered, I bang my head against the wall of resistance to create change. At times, the wall of resistance actually cracks, which gives me a moment to rest and inspires me to continue. 

Patience is about realizing that change happens when one convinces their constituents to slow down to adjust behaviors so they can speed up the way they do business. That is not an easy feat in a sales environment. Allow yourself to see the signs of change, acknowledge the necessary work you put in and celebrate the victories, no matter how small. Don’t be your toughest critic and minimize your accomplishments, this work takes time, this work takes dedication and this work takes patience. Keep that in perspective when someone tells you that you haven’t been successful.

Because change is slow and sometimes painful, an internal practitioner must spend a great deal of time explaining and re-explaining why change is necessary. Communication is key and one can never over-communicate these three things 1) why change is necessary 2) what progress is being made and 3) the successes to date. When change is occurring slowly, it is easy to overlook the small wins along the way. These celebrations will keep an internal practitioner sustained and provide case studies to prove that Diversity and Inclusion has impact. Whatever metrics one uses for success, movement on a large scale takes years.

Have Ho’omanawanui (patience) – patience with change, patience with your leaders, patience with your fellow Champions/associates/team members and most of all, patience with yourself.

P4 = Partnership

Partnership is a critical step in positioning an organization for change. Who are your key stakeholders? Change does not happen in a vacuum, change does not happen because the D&I Department says we have to change and change does not happen through even the best laid plans. Change begins at a local level, through people working together.

Keep your eye on all three levels: organization/system, department/division, and individual. Which partners do you need at each level to influence change? What key executive must “have your back”? Which thought leaders within each division will take the baton and direct, lead and support the change? Spread the change by encouraging ownership and accountability in each business unit.

Partnership is about being deliberate and strategic about who you align yourself with to create change. A company is better off having a small core department that reaches out and creates ambassadors – Diversity and Inclusion Champions, advocates, partners – who can be the arms and legs and customize the work to each division. One size does not fit all in diversity and inclusion. The Diversity and Inclusion strategy must be over-arching for the company and flexible for each business unit as well.

P5 = Pay-off

What gets measured, gets done. We have heard it time and time again. What is the burning platform for your organization to change? How will Diversity and Inclusion help sell more cars? Or move more parts?  Or bring more customers back to the service department? Or better serve my customers? How will Diversity and Inclusion help retain top talent, saving dollars and time? Answer the WIIFM for your audience and your audience will be more likely to come around and support this change.

Pay-off is the key to impacting the middle manager. These are the supervisors and managers who are called upon to implement the big projects, the same supervisors and managers who are striving to become the next executive in the corner office. These individuals are integral to your success as a Champion. A large challenge is the balance between leading strategy through design and recommendations and allowing business units to own and operationalize their own change work. These Ps may help you convince your stakeholders and larger organization that they are accountable and responsible for creating lasting change.

After over 15 years of work, our company is at various stages of growth and progress. Some groups live the change, others dance around the level of commitment necessary and some hold their breaths, waiting for Diversity and Inclusion to fizzle out, like many business initiatives relating to culture change. I often wonder how long it takes for people to understand that this work is not a flavor of the month, my company a is truly committed to higher performance through Diversity and Inclusion. We have been recognized for our Diversity and Inclusion work by external organizations such as DiversityInc., Black Enterprise, Hispanic Magazine, Billion Dollar Roundtable, Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and others. This recognition forces us to continue to raise the bar on Diversity and Inclusion and to strive for continuous improvement.

Finally, a few other “Ps” that come to mind are: People. Culture change is all about people, customers, associates, executive and you. Remember supporting your company’s culture change effort is about creating a space where all associates can thrive and find a healthy and supportive work environment for their mind, body and spirit. Happy people lead to another P, Profit, which we are all working towards today. For you, don’t forget to set aside time to Play and take care of yourself.

Creating change is often a lonely place. Always remember that the objective is to find a win-win-win pay-off: the company, the associates and You – all benefit from Diversity and Inclusion.

Yinzers! My Experience Speaking on Diversity and Inclusion at “Vibrant Pittsburgh”

Thank you, Word Press, for reminding me that I was late in posting a blog entry for last week. I’d been in three time zones in two days, got a bit distracted and felt very jetlagged.
Last week, I travelled from 70 degree weather in Los Angeles to 30 degree weather (with snow on the ground) to Pittsburgh, PA. If there was ever a doubt about how much I love the work that I do, making this trip in a 23 hour timeframe must be proof.

I was invited to speak at an event, the Inclusion Best Practices Series, hosted by a wonderful organization called, Vibrant Pittsburgh. Vibrant Pittsburgh’s mission is “to embrace inclusion, ensure the Pittsburgh region’s growth by attracting, retaining and elevating a diversity of talent and promote the region nationally and internationally as a diverse, welcoming region of opportunities.”

It is also worth sharing the Vibrant Pittsburgh Statement of Values with all of you, (pulled directly from their website.) “Vibrant Pittsburgh believes that a diverse workforce is essential to the ongoing economic vitality of the Greater Pittsburgh region. We must attract, retain, elevate and educate people of all backgrounds, including New Americans, and create an environment that is inclusive and welcoming.
It is critical that the regional workforce be prepared for the job requirements of today and tomorrow, and that we attract qualified and diverse talent from across the country and around the globe.
Through the Inclusion Best Practices Series, Vibrant Pittsburgh features high-profile Chief Diversity Officers who will share their stories and best practices on a range of diversity and inclusion topics. Employers of all sizes will have the opportunity to learn from and interact with industry leaders on diversity and inclusion practices key to their business success.”

The topic of my session was – Mentoring as a Diversity and Inclusion and Elevation Strategy.
My friend and colleague, Melanie Harrington, is the CEO of “Vibrant Pittsburgh.” This woman is sharp and I respect her drive and intelligence very much. She served as General Counsel for D.J. Miller & Associates, Inc., a national management consulting firm. When I first met Melanie, she was President of the American Institute for Managing Diversity, Inc. (AIMD), a national nonprofit diversity think tank based in Atlanta, Georgia. AIMD conducts research, education and public outreach programs on the issue of diversity. I was invited to speak to the Diversity Collegium in Atlanta on the topic Generational Diversity and the event was hosted by AIMD. Based on that experience, Melanie and I remained connected through social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook. For those of you who scoff at the value of LinkedIn, scoff no more. Professional networks can help you gain employment or allow you to communicate with potential employers. In addition, leveraging those connections may help you in more ways than one. Melanie had seen articles about my company’s mentoring initiatives and diversity and inclusion strategy. So she reached out to invite me to speak at “Vibrant Pittsburgh.”

In preparation for this session, I looked up some facts about Pittsburgh, to supplement the input I received from my colleagues. From 2000 to 2010, there was an overall population decrease in Pittsburgh of almost 9%, according to the 2010 Census. In looking at the demographic mix: 64.8% of the population was White, 25.8% Black or African American, 0.2% American Indian and Alaska Native, 4.4% Asian, 0.3% Other and 2.3% mixed. 2.3% of Pittsburgh’s population was of Hispanic or Latino origin of any race. This city looks very different from any place I have ever lived. With a complexion as such, my instincts told me that the word “diversity” probably carried a lot of baggage associated with affirmative action and racial issues. I elected to NOT focus on this aspect of diversity but rather, to talk about all the dimensions of diversity that I bring to the work, as an individual change agent. I introduced the diversity in my household:

Me:
• Gen X
• Asian-American
• Single Mom
• Youngest child of immigrants
• Straight LGBT Ally
• UCLA Bruin
• Introvert
My Daughter:
• Gen C
• Bi-racial (Filipina & African American)
• Multiple Learning Disabilities
• High school freshman
• Extrovert
• Steelers fan

(By the way, regardless of who in Pittsburgh heard that my daughter was a Steelers fan, each person immediately responded with, “Steelers Nation!!!” The shuttle driver told me that there is a Steelers bar in Sochi, Russia. My cab driver and I chatted about the Steelers upcoming NFL draft prospects. It was great way for me to connect with the locals. I respect what this city has done with their professional sports teams’ branding. Football, hockey and baseball all share the same colors – black and gold. This creates a sense of unity and pride that I found tangible but somewhat indescribable, it just “is”. I have mad respect for the loyalty that the people of Pittsburgh show for their professional sports teams. The black-and-gold color scheme has since become completely associated with the city and I liked it.)

And after the resounding applause that my daughter is a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, I lef
t all that talk about defining “diversity.” I didn’t come back to race at all during my presentation. Regardless of that, I heard a lot of questions in the large session and afterwards that danced around the issue of “diversity” and the baggage associated with the word. I had joked that 25 years ago, some companies took correction fluid to the business cards of people who worked in Affirmative Action and typed “Diversity Department.” However, I know that people all over the world, especially in the US, think that Diversity only means race and gender.

The bulk of my presentation was on creating a culture of mentoring and that any culture change takes time. An organization needs to make systemic adjustments in rewards and recognition programs, and have on-going education for employees to develop and practice new skills. A “mentoring program” won’t change a culture, it isn’t like flipping on a light switch. Culture change takes leaders at every level of the organization working on the same strategy. There is no magic bullet.

From what I gathered, the city has a long legacy of families staying within Pittsburgh. People are born, educated, employed and die within a few miles of their families. This culture of cradle to the grave existence must play out in the workplace. And not in an intentional exclusionary way but I imagine that it is hard for new people to break into the inner circle in Pittsburgh. Consider a time when you were “the new kid”, perhaps at a new middle school or transferring to a new department at work. Remember how hard it is to make friends and build a network of people to support your development? Imagine being new to Pittsburgh and trying to find a mentor. It must be harder for people who are different from the mainstream population, any outsider probably struggles to connect to the culture of Pittsburgh. I imagine that plays out in specific workplaces, as well.

I hope that the work that “Vibrant Pittsburgh” continues to grow and feels support from leadership within the region. If Pittsburgh wants its population to grow, attracting and retaining more generational diversity, people of color and immigrants must happen. Other large metro areas are experiencing booms in population growth via ethnic minorities and immigrants. From the 2010 Census numbers, Pittsburgh has fewer minorities than most other major regions in the country. Hopefully, my presentation added value to impact the mindset of the participants in the room and to Vibrant Pittsburgh overall. The notion of ensuring growth and development in any region of the US is critical to the on-going success in our country. Being “Team USA” also means being “Team Pittsburgh”, even if I am an Island Girl living in California, who writes a blog called “DiversityNerd”.