On the seventeenth entry of our See It to Be It podcast series, Amy C. Waninger speaks with Simone Morris, an award-winning career/inclusion strategist and owner of Simone Morris Enterprises, a certified woman and minority-owned professional services firm with a focus on providing career expertise as well as solutions for inclusive leadership. Simone shares what developed her appetite and passion for inclusive leadership, offers up some very helpful advice for people who have found themselves out of a job during the coronavirus pandemic, and more.
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Zach: What’s up, y’all? It’s Zach with Living Corporate. Now, look, every now and then we try to mix it up for y’all. So look, dependency and consistency is really important, but even within those lanes of consistency, you gotta have a little bit of variety, you know what I mean? You don’t come home and just eat the same thing every day, or even if you do–you know, you got a meal prep thing–maybe sometimes you put a little red sauce. Maybe sometimes you put a little green sauce. You know, you gotta just, you know, mix it up from time to time. Maybe sometimes you grill it. Maybe sometimes you saute. Maybe sometimes you rotisserie. You gotta just–am I hungry? Yes, I’m hungry, y’all. My bad. Listen, check it out. We have another entry for y’all from our See It to Be It series. Amy C. Waninger, CEO of Lead at Any Level as well as the author of Network Beyond Bias, she’s actually been a member of the team for a while now, so shout-out to you, Amy. Yes, thank you very much for all of your work here. And part of her work has been in driving this series called See It to Be It, and the purpose of the series is to actually highlight black and brown professionals in these prestigious roles, like, within industries that maybe we–and when I say we I mean black and brown folks, I see y’all–may not even know exist or envision ourselves in, hence the name of the series, right? So check this out. We’re gonna go ahead and transition from here. The next thing you’re gonna hear is an interview with Amy C. Waninger and a super dope professional. I know y’all are gonna love it. Catch y’all next time. Peace.
Amy: Simone, welcome to the show. I’m so glad to have you here.
Simone: Thank you so much, Amy. It’s a pleasure to be here as well.
Amy: Thank you. Now you have a really interesting role. You own your own company, and you help women take control of their careers. Is that correct?
Simone: Yes, that’s correct.
Amy: And so how did you get passionate about this particular line of work?
Simone: I think, Amy, you have to experience things to have a passion for it. So I once was a passenger in my career, and what I mean by that is I was very hands-off and allowing other people to call the shots for my career and feeling helpless as if I didn’t have a choice in what was happening, and it got many years into my career where I got to a point where I was so unfulfilled and feeling like, “My purpose is greater than this.” So I took a sabbatical and found my way to coaching and then went back to corporate. And so I think it’s been a process over a number of years, having the experience and then being called to teach other women how to regain their power is at the essence of what I’m doing. I call it getting into the driver’s seat and really steering your career path the way that you want to.
Amy: And what do you think holds women back from doing that in the first place? Because I see a lot out there for negotiation skills for women and leadership skills for women and managing your career for women and, you know, all of these things for women, right, how to get a board seat for women, and why do you think it is that women need a little extra nudge to go in this direction?
Simone: I think it boils down to confidence, having the confidence to know that you can succeed, that you deserve more, and that you’re not listening to others that are navigating your path for you, but you’re having a say or a seat at the table in participating in conversations. For example, this time that we’re in right now, you’re more confident that we’re gonna get through this time, and you’re using the time wisely, you’re using the time to build capabilities, to build relationships, to look at your professional development plan, these things that are all strategic to grow your career. So I think it’s to be confident that you deserve to own your career, to be in the driver’s seat, to have a say in where your career goes.
Amy: And so what do you think is the “A-ha” moment for a lot of the women that you work with? What is it that gets them to a point where they’re thinking, “I need help.”?
Simone: It’s when they’re telling me their story and I’m listening intently very early on in the coaching and looking for driver behaviors versus passenger behaviors, and when I hear the mindset that “There’s nothing I can do about this. My manager is saying X, Y and Z, and it’s not really what I want to do,” and so I’m listening for them to shift into, “And this is what I said and this is what I did,” and when I don’t hear that it’s an opportunity for me to say, “Well, how do you think you could show up in this situation? What is your plan to tackle this situation to get to a place of happiness?” And I’m listening for what their plan is, and then I can support them. And I like to say I like to partner with my clients to take this journey.
Amy: What you just said reminded me of a friend of mine, she sent her daughter off to college, and they had a parent orientation for all the parents of incoming freshmen, and they played all these scenarios for them about “Your child calls you and says, you know, they’re unhappy with the way they’re being treated in class. What do you do?” And they said, “Your child calls you and says, “I’m having difficulty deciding on a major. I’m having trouble dealing with my roommate.” All of the problems, right, that college freshmen have, and the answer to all of those was, “So what are you going to do about that?” Right? ‘Cause they’re trying to keep parents from being these helicopter parents who swoop in and save the day, and it sounds like you’re asking the same question of your clients. “So you don’t like how things are. What are you gonna do about it?”
Simone: Absolutely. I think that’s the job of a coach, to really realize that the client has the answers. I’ve got to ask the right questions to awaken these answers, to help them show up in the way that they do want to show up.
Amy: Excellent. And so when you decided to go into coaching, what was that process like, to go from the corporate world into a coaching role?
Simone: Yeah. So it was a challenging time. First of all I wasn’t sure if I was leaving corporate for good when my position got downsized, so I wasn’t sure what was going to be next. What I did know is that I needed some time off, because I had had a sabbatical and went back, so I realized that I needed some more time to just heal from running running running. So I took some time off, and then during that time I met my fiance, I had a child–I have a little girl–so life was very different and I was trying to figure out, “What am I going to do next?” So I had–I should say that while I was in corporate I had a side hustle, which was my coaching business, and I wasn’t confident that that business could sustain itself with just coaching. So when I exited corporate America about 5 years ago, I did a combination of things. So my business is coaching, training and speaking, and so coaching is just one of the platforms in my business.
Amy: I’m smiling because your layoff, your reduction in force, was a pivot for you, and it sounds like it was a welcome one in time, that maybe immediately you weren’t like, “Oh, hooray, I’ve been let go from my company,” right, ’cause sometimes that’s not how we respond first out of the gate, but in kind of thinking about it and formulating a response to your situation. You thought, “You know what? I’m gonna come out of this stronger. I’m gonna come out of this with a platform for growth.” And I knwo that a lot of our listeners right now are reeling from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, that there are a lot of people who are facing lay-offs right now. What advice do you have for people who are staring at the end of their savings or the end of their careers as they know it who are, you know, going to have to re-invent themselves when this is all over or even while it’s going on?
Simone: What a great question. I just created a freebie on my website, Four Strategies to Own Your Career During Challenging Times, which this is a challenging time, and the first thing I said on there really was give yourself some kindness, some grace, to feel the feelings you’re feeling. And some of that may be grief, you know? Grief over the loss of what was. So allow yourself however much time you need for that, and I talk about journaling as an outlet for that, whether it’s some physical activity or yoga or meditation. A lot comes to me when I’m in the shower or running or whatever it is. Give yourself time for space and to allow perspective to shift. What I mean by that is you may be looking at it as “This sucks. This couldn’t have happened at a worse possible time.” So allow yourself to kind of feel sad, whatever it is you need to do. Then what? And so the “then what” is where I come in. What do we plan to do? What’s going to be your plan of action? I really like to write things down, so whether it’s on a flip chart–I have a flip chart in my office and I’m always sketching out plans, how I envision them unfolding, whether it’s a piece of paper, whatever it is. Look at a plan. What’s going to be your plan? And you have to be thinking financial-wise. I think that was one of the biggest mistakes when I first started my business. It was about, “Oh, coaching, coaching, coaching,” but you also have to learn to be a business owner. So whatever it is that you do, have a financial lens, or if you don’t have that financial lens, partner with a financial planner or somebody that’s gonna give you some financial acumen to make good decisions. Start networking to build strategic relationships with people who may be doing something you want to do or just to get built up. I actually recommend that people become podcast guests, because they go around and they meet people and they learn about one another, and it’s easier if you’re a guest and you’re building a relationship that way. And then I also say start working on your personal brand. This is a great opportunity to start working on your personal brand and promoting your personal brand.
Amy: Absolutely. Thank you for saying all of those things. So I always tell people, “The time to build your network is when you don’t need your network, and the time you need your brand is when you don’t need your brand.” So if you’re listening to this right now and you are gainfully employed and things are going well, this should be your wake-up call to start investing now while you have the time–you’re not coming from a place of scarcity and fear–to start building up your brand and your network and laying that foundation for what could come next. Would you agree?
Simone: Yeah, absolutely. I have one more thing to say. I have noticed that this has been a fabulous time for innovation. It has slowed me down because my calendar has been cleared so much and I move so fast with the different hats that I wear. It has slowed me down, and it’s actually been about bringing about creative ideas, new products, new collaborations, so this is an opportunity–if you’re in a situation and you aren’t all planned up, you know, so you’ve got to catch up, it’s still a good opportunity for you to innovate, for you to collaborate, for you to work on that brand, for you to build your capabilities. I tell my clients, “Create a professional development plan for the year. Know what training you need. Know yourself. Be self-aware that, “Hey, I need to build up this area,” and be working on that during this time, even if it’s a half an hour a week that you spend on training. It’s going to be a difference when you come out of this season that we’re in.
Amy: Absolutely. Accumulate those things which cannot be taken away, and knowledge is one of those things. Skills are those things, right? No, that’s fantastic. Thank you for that. Now, I want to change gears a little bit, because in addition to the coaching work that you do and this leveling up, you know, for women, you also do a lot of work around diversity and inclusion, and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that and how you see those two worlds melding.
Simone: Well, I think that–let me say that my path to diversity and inclusion came by way of an affinity group. I was an ERG, employee resource group, leader for four years and managed a council of ERGs for a number of years as well, and so I have a passion for ERGs and what an opportunity it is to build talent. So I actually switched from my information technology background over to human resources, diversity and inclusion, because of the fact that I started loving my ERG work and I wanted to do that more than I wanted to do the project management, you know, the technical project management work. So that’s how I shifted over diversity and inclusion, and then when I realized how hard it was to break into that space when you switch functions I developed a stronger passion for inclusion, because I was having people that were in diversity and inclusion roles challenging my background, and I had a hard time with that.
Amy: Saying, “You don’t belong here. You’re from IT.”
Simone: This doesn’t line up, because, you know, with the D&I there should be an embracing, a welcoming of different perspectives and backgrounds, and I don’t know, maybe I was in the wrong place at the wrong time or whatever it was, but I just felt like I needed to focus more on inclusion, because there were many folks trying to bring the diverse talent into the organization, and I was of the mindset of, “Okay, let’s go get ’em, ’cause there’s many places we can find ’em, but what do you do when they come in and what do you do with the people there who are feeling like you’re focusing more on the diverse talent that you’re bringing in?” So that is really what developed my appetite and passion for inclusive leadership.
Amy: Your story and mine are so similar, because I also have an IT background and moved into D&I. It’s fascinating to me because you’re the second person I’ve met other than myself who followed a similar path, and I think it’s interesting because I felt like when I was in IT, you know, I was a girl, and when I was young especially, right, “You’re really analytical for a girl,” and I’m sure as a black woman you got that times ten. Well, I’m not sure, but I can imagine, let me put it that way, that there was a lot of “You don’t belong here in IT,” and then to move into the diversity space and feel like I didn’t belong there either at first was really tough because if I can’t belong there, where can I belong?
Simone: I think that’s awesome. And when I was in IT, I was the only one, you know? And I just kept trudging along. Like, D&I wasn’t a big thing then, and I didn’t feel like I belonged, but I had a passion for it. I was a developer, and then I became a project manager, and I just trudged along, but I became unhappy and I found myself in a situation where I felt blacklisted because I said no, and the culture–there wasn’t an appetite to push back, but I just was getting to the point where I was finding my voice and stood up for myself. So I feel like things started to change for me in the IT space when I pushed back without proper instruction and finesse on how to do that, and so I have learned much over the years about how to say no gracefully, you know? When you just can’t take anymore. So that was a pivotal moment in my career, because the lens that I looked at IT, it started to dim. It wasn’t where I wanted to be anymore, and so that’s why I think when the ERG work came I started pouring all my passion. And oh, by the way, it became, like, my business because I was the chair and I got to come up with a strategy and I got to sit at the table with the CEO of the company and talk about, “Hey, Simone, what do you think about the culture?” And meanwhile that was not happening to me in my IT role.
Amy: Yeah, absolutely. ERGs are a great way for people to, you know, 1. get exposure to higher-level executives and their companies, 2. to be developed for more leadership roles, to get leadership practice. I’m such a huge fan of ERGs, and I think it’s interesting that, you know, you were in a place professionally where you said, you know, “Look, I’ve been told I can’t say no my whole life, right, in this kind of work,” and then when you finally do say no it’s almost like an eruption, right? It’s like, “I can’t take anymore. You people are killing me.” And then all of a sudden people are like, “Whoa, she has a hot trigger,” right? And you’re like, “No. You didn’t see this building up for, you know, 15 years?” And I think it’s fascinating and I think it’s wonderful that you were able to channel all of that energy and find those things in kind of a volunteer role in your organization, and sometimes it’s that–just like you were saying earlier, right, when we’re backed into a corner or when we feel a little out of kilter, right, with our environment like a lot of people do right now, our work context changes or whatever it is, that’s when we get really inventive and creative and we find out what we’re passionate about, what we really want to do, what we can’t not do, and then that’s when we can follow our hearts and do that work. Is that resonating with your experience?
Simone: I completely agree, because it just gave me a sort of lifeline or reset button that people were looking at what I could do. And so to your point about the creative thing, I was doing some really creative things that had not been done before, and I was getting approval to do them, and it was fun, and I really felt it at the heart, that I was changing lives, because people were telling me that and it was a very different experience, one that I wanted to do more of it. So that’s what leaned me toward the other side of staying in the D&I space. And so my business is diversity–well, inclusive leadership and the career management, career advancement strategy work.
Amy: I love the way you brought all that together. Thank you. Let me ask you this – what do you think companies are missing out on by not having internal resources to help women own their careers?
Simone: Hm. Well, I think that there’s some fear around the fact that owning your career means exiting the organization, and I think you can own your career and be an intrapreneur, right? If I knew what I know today about owning my career, about having a solid plan, about having a success squad, the right relationships, about having a personal brand and promoting my personal brand inside the organization. Whoa. I don’t even know where I would be today because I would be rocking the house internally, but I just didn’t know all those things, and I didn’t learn, and so when I was called into conversations with my manager about, you know, my plan for the year and the organization’s goal, I just–I was a passenger. I just kind of went along with it. I didn’t feel tied to the goals, and then when I did show a little bit of myself there was the feedback of, “You’ve got to align more to the goals of the organization.” So I was slicing and dicing myself to fit, to be a good fit, and I didn’t use my voice to stand up for myself and what I wanted. I spoke last year at an organization, someone I worked with who was in leadership, and he said to me, “Did you tell anyone?” And I said, “No, I didn’t feel safe.” Like, I really, from a cultural standpoint, how I was brought up, is to be grateful that you had a job, so when I started finding myself wanting to use my voice and pushing back and that it wasn’t well-received, I retreated back again.
Amy: I think that is so important for people to hear, especially–are you by any chance a first-generation college grad, first-generation professional? So am I, and I heard a lot of the same things, right? “Don’t work a good horse to death. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” right? All of these things, that are very limiting when you get into what I call, you know, office work, right, cube work. When you’re a cube farm the same rules don’t apply that apply in, you know, manufacturing or, you know, the kinds of work that I grew up around, right? It’s a different way of relating to the people around you, and the whole purpose of this series is to help people who may be seeing for the first time what professional work looks like, so I think it’s important we call out, “This is an important thing to learn early,” because if you can speak up and if you can say, “Look, this is who I am, and this is who I want to be, and I need help finding a place to be valued as me,” right, rather than trying to compress yourself into a tiny little box, and then when somebody says, “Well, you need to think outside the box. You’re about to pull your hair out,” you’re like, “Every time I think outside the box you squish me back down!”
Simone: Yeah. I mean, I love what you’re saying, Amy, because–you know, I was reviewing a speech that I did last year and sort of picking out soundbytes for my website, and I came across this clip where I’m talking about my journey, and I’m talking about who calls the shots in your career, and I talk about very early on I said to my mother, “I want to be a teacher,” and she shot me down and said, “Teachers don’t make any money. Why do you want to be a teacher?” And so it just started where there were many times where I showed up and then, you know, there was some rejection and I did not believe in myself and my capabilities enough to stick to it. And so that’s the lesson all along – realize who’s calling the shots and how you are showing up if you are playing small. I interviewed someone for my podcast yesterday and she said, “I was in the backseat.” ‘Cause I said, “Are you a driver or a passenger?” And she was like, “Wait a minute. I was in the backseat. I had to work my way up to passenger and then to the driver,” and I was like, “Whoa, that is brilliant.” So I feel like, you know, if you’re not taught to be strong and believe in yourself and you’re not taught strategies to handle rejection–’cause I left college not knowing how to handle rejection. I thought I was a hot potato. First one with a degree, first one in the family, and “Where’s my job?” And it didn’t come that easily. So I didn’t learn how to deal with pushback, so I had to learn over many, many years, and so now I have strategies that I tell my clients, “This is how you deal with rejection,” so that you can keep going after the dream that you want for yourself.
Amy: That is so profound, and I am so glad that you are out there helping women especially in pushing themselves to claim what can be theirs. I think that is so important, because as we know, when women succeed communities succeed. When women succeed families succeed. Women are so good about pouring what they have into other people. So I really appreciate that you’re doing this work, Simone. This is great.
Simone: Oh, thank you so much.
Amy: What’s the best way for people to get in contact with you? If they’re thinking, “You know what? I struggle with some of this stuff, and I would like to move from the backseat to the driver’s seat eventually,” how can they reach you?
Simone: Absolutely. They can go to careerbreakthroughcall.com, and there they can connect with me and have a conversation about what’s happening with their career.
Amy: That is fantastic. Thank you so much, Simone. I’m sorry, I owe you an apology. I gave you a whole bunch of questions that we were gonna talk about. I think I went completely off-script.
Simone: No, I loved it, and I have enjoyed getting to know you and seeing how many commonalities–this is what I’m talking about, for people to get out there and have conversations, and you learn, when you play back some of the things I’m saying to you I’m like, “Yeah, that is true.” So I have equally enjoyed this conversation.
Amy: Thank you so much, Simone. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Simone: Absolutely. I agree completely. Thank you so much, Amy.