48 : Supporting Black Women at Work (w/ Crystle Johnson)
We're thankful to be able to speak with Mentor and Mentees member Crystle Johnson as we continue with and expand on our discussion of how best to empower and advocate for black women in the workplace and why it's so important. She also talks about her exciting new job and her foundation, The Red Lip Collective!
Zach: What's up, y'all? It's Zach with Living Corporate. We actually have a very special episode, a co-branded, co-sponsored episode between Living Corporate and Mentors and Mentees. We have Crystle Johnson, a member of Mentors and Mentees, on the podcast. We're very excited to have her here today, excited to talk about her story, her journey, as we talk about supporting black women at work. Crystle, how are you doing, ma'am? Welcome to the show.
Crystle: Hi, I'm doing great. I'm so happy to be here.
Zach: Now, for those of us who don't know you, would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself?
Crystle: Of course. So I'm an inclusion and belonging strategist, serial collaborator, and founder of the Red Lip Collective. I believe that our stories cultivate empathy, and empathy is the key to creating inclusive spaces where we can all belong and thrive. So a little bit about me early on in life is that I was adopted at 2 weeks old, and neither of my parents finished middle school. So from a really young age my parents did push me to do well, and they sacrificed a lot to ensure that I had the things that I needed to succeed. My mother was a CNA, and my father worked at the same company for nearly 50 years. The most memorable moment, or I would say example, of someone reaching their goals no matter what was actually my father. He had never learned to read or write well, but with perseverance and commitment he actually passed his CBL exam in his late 50s. He didn't give up no matter what, and I will really never forget that.
Zach: That's incredible, and I love the fact that most of us, black or white frankly, but we can look back at someone in our life, in our family, who's had to overcome and persevere. At the same time, because of just the way that America is set up, definitely every black and brown person has some story of someone in their family who had to really overcome something pretty serious to really move forward. I know an example for me, my grandfather, he had--he could not read or write well either, but that didn't stop him from being extremely successful as an entrepreneur in the real estate business. And so it's the fact that we're able to kind of reach back and look at our family, look at our lineage, and see stories of resilience and adaptability, it helps us in our day-to-day to kind of overcome some of the challenges that we have and can help us really kind of keep things in perspective for some of the things that we think are so hard or so challenging. Like, you know what? There are people who came before us who had much bigger challenges who were able to be just as successful if not more successful, so I can do this too. So look, today we're talking about supporting black women at work. Can you talk a little bit about your professional journey? Maybe talk about when you did not feel supported at work and then also when you did feel supported at work and what it did for you.
Crystle: Yes, for sure. So my career has been a whirlwind. So in 2013 I earned an MBA with an HR management focus, and over the next few years I would apply for many roles in HR, but because I didn't have any years of experience I was continuously rejected for these roles. And then somewhere along the way I learned that I shouldn't share my dreams or my aspirations, because if they left my lips they would never come to fruition. So at some point I decided to do something a little bit different. I hadn't been sharing my goals and aspirations, and I wasn't getting anywhere, so I decided to flip what I learned on its head and start sharing my goals and aspirations. One of the first people that I shared with was actually a leader at the organization I was working at at the time, and I've always been very ambitious, but he really let me know that I was too ambitious and that I needed to be a little more patient and lower my expectations. And although I accepted the feedback very respectfully from him, I had no intention of following it 100%, but what I did learn from that piece of advice is that I needed to be more patient with myself, because no one's career--most people's careers have not been linear. But a time when I really felt like I was supported was sometime after that I shared these goals with a black woman, who was a leader at that same organization, and she took some interest in me, and she supported me. She shared really practical tips of how I could gain experience, and most importantly she helped me to focus on one thing that was of importance to me, that I felt passionate about. So through those conversations with her I really narrowed down my area of focus as the area of diversity, equity, and inclusion. So not too long after that I landed my first role in this space at Bosch, which is a global engineering organization. I'm also excited to announce some breaking news about my career if you're interested in hearing it, Zach.
Zach: Hold up. Breaking news? On the Living Corporate podcast? Come on, now!
Crystle: So as of next week I'll actually be starting a new role with Pandora Media as the senior manager of diversity and inclusion.
Zach: Whoa! That's crazy. Cue the air horns for that, whoa. That's crazy. Congratulations!
Crystle: Thank you so much, Zach.
Zach: Who are you gonna be reporting to?
Crystle: So I'll be reporting to the chief diversity officer, and I'm super excited to build on the work that Pandora has already done in this space, and if you'd like to learn more about our diversity efforts, there's recently been a post on LinkedIn, actually, about an update about diversity and inclusion at Pandora.
Zach: Absolutely. So we'll make sure to get that link, put it in the show notes. That's awesome. Okay, wow. So Pandora? You know, what's really interesting too is that I know that Pandora has a podcasting platform. I know that Living Corporate--we're, like, on every platform, right? Like, we're on iHeart, Stitcher, iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, but I don't think we're on Pandora yet. We need to get over there.
Crystle: Yes, absolutely. Pandora actually just launched podcasts, so it would be great to have Living Corporate added as a great addition to the list of podcasts that are there.
Zach: Man. Okay, okay. So now let me--let me ask you this, 'cause I thought about this while you were talking about the fact that you met a black woman who kind of helped--not kind of, she helped. She mentored you. She gave you the advice that you needed to help kind of narrow and focus in on what you--on what you wanted to do. What was the emotional impact of seeing a black woman in a position of authority at work?
Crystle: Yeah. So I would definitely say that I felt really empowered through her. So throughout my career I hadn't really ever seen very many black women in leadership. Obviously there are lots of women in leadership, but there aren't very many black women or other women of color in leadership. So she really made me feel really empowered, like I could actually do it, and that's why I have this mantra of "representation matters," because you can't be what you can't see. So being able to see myself in her really helped to propel me forward.
Zach: "You can't be what you can't see." I love that. That's so true. And, you know, my experience is very similar to yours, Crystle. Like, actually, all of my bosses really, save for, like, one or two, have actually been women, but I haven't had many, if any, women of color who were my--who were my bosses or my leads or my managers in my consulting career or before consulting in industry. I never had that, and yet, you know, when I see--when I see black and brown people in positions of leadership around me, or even if I just see it in the media, I see it represented, I do--I feel more empowered. And I'm a manager now, right? But when I think about if I want to continue climbing the ladder and I want to be, like, a director, or down the road be some type of an executive, seeing people in those positions, it empowers me, right? It makes me feel like there's hope for me, like there's a reason for me to really continue to push and get this, and it makes it seem attainable. It helps me--it encourages me that it's attainable, so that's amazing. What advice would you give to those who say, "I know black women are underrepresented and undersupported, and I want to help them, but I don't really know how or where to start. I don't really know how to, you know, build a relationship or really make sure that they know I'm their friend and I'm here for them." Like, what advice would you give to folks who are in that space?
Crystle: Yeah. So definitely I would say that anyone can support black or brown women at work, or women in general at work. So I actually like to call--I like to call this process the "LEO" method. So Listen is for L, E for empathize, and O for offer your support. So when you listen, you actually need to take a step back, take in what it is that the person is telling you about their career aspirations, the opportunities or obstacles that they're facing within their career. Then you need to empathize with them, so you have to realize that your experience isn't the only experience. So don't minimize what this woman has gone through within her career. Just empathize and take it all in. And then third, you want to offer your help. So don't tell her how you can help her, but really just ask the question - "How can I help you to be more successful? How can I leverage my resources?" Or "How can I be an ally for you to assist you with propelling you forward or for you to get through these barriers or obstacles that you're facing?"
Zach: That's incredible. And, you know, let me--let me ask this. Yeah, let me ask this. So while it's definitely--there's definitely value in being able to ask, and I think that shares a certain level of humility, right? Because I think sometimes when you--when you don't ask people, like, "How can I support you? How can I help you?" It kind of can turn kind of like maternalistic or paternalistic, where you're treating them like they don't know what they want as if they're kids, but at the same time--at the same time I'm curious. I would challenge that we also need people who will make suggestions on how they can help us, because we don't always know what we don't know, right? Like, we don't know the doors in the rooms that we need to be in, or we don't understand the processes and stuff like that, so we also need people--I mean, you tell me what you think, but I would say that we also need people who are gonna be able to say, "Look, you don't know how to get over here, but I do. This is what I'm suggesting. This is what I think you should do." Like, do you think there's value in that too?
Crystle: Yeah, I definitely think that there's value in it, and I think that you should collaborate with that woman that you're trying to assist. So I think it does work both ways, but I think coming out of the gate you should definitely ask the question - "How can I support you?" And then from there collaborate on next steps on how you can get her to the next level.
Zach: 100%, absolutely. Okay. Well, this is great. The LEO method. I love this. And you can't see--you can't become what you can't see. Man, you got some gems, Crystle. I see why they got you over there at Pandora. I see you. And you finessed this thing and turned it into a promotion for Pandora, and we're not even sponsored by them. So you finessed me a couple times! This is actually pretty dope, I'm not gonna lie. I'm actually very impressed. So I know we talked about Pandora, but let's talk a little bit more about your group in 2019, and, like, what are you--what are you looking to accomplish this year? What are you excited about? What are the products that you have kind of cooking, and what would you like to--you know, what information would you like for the audience to have that they could kind of look up later after the podcast episode?
Crystle: Yeah. So as I mentioned earlier in our conversation, I actually recently founded an organization by the name of The Red Lip Collective. So I founded the organization because the thought just kept pulling at my heart, because when I wear red lipstick I feel very confident. I feel fearless, and I feel empowered, and I wanted to share that same feeling with other young women of color. So the Red Lip Collective was born, and it does empower young women of color through professional development, mentoring, and through networking events. So the hope for me within this organization, that officially launches in February, is to connect young women of color who are very early on in their professional careers or just feel kind of stuck to successful mentors who are also women of color who can really give them tips and practical tricks on how to navigate their careers in Corporate America or [as an entrepreneur?].
Zach: Now, where can people learn more about you? What's the information for your collective? Like, drop all of your information so we can put it in the show notes.
Crystle: Yeah, definitely. So on Instagram and Twitter you can follow my personal page @CrystleSpeaks. That's C-R-Y-S-T-L-E S-P-E-A-K-S. And also on Instagram and Twitter you can follow the Red Lip Collective @TheRedLipCollective.
Zach: Okay. Now, look here. We got LEO. We got you can't--I'm serious, I'm so excited about "you cannot become what you can't see." Like, that is fire to me. That might--that's gonna have to be a quote somewhere, but we got Red Lip Collective, we got Pandora. We got all types of amazing news and gems on this particular episode. I'm extremely excited about this. Before we get out of here, any final thoughts or shout-outs?
Crystle: Definitely. So I'd like to shout-out everyone who has been a motivator for me in the past, who told me that I could do it even when I felt like I couldn't do it, and then also those who told me to slow down, that I was too ambitious. So those two types of people combined together are exactly what I needed to propel myself forward in my career and also in my personal life.
Zach: So y'all, take notes. Notice how Crystle not only shouted out the folks who showed her love, but she also shouted out her haters too. But it was tasteful. It was tactful, right? That was crazy. Yes, so shout-out to Crystle's motivators. Motivation comes from a variety of different places. It's all about your mindset and what you do with the feedback that you're given and how you're gonna convert it into fuel. So that's amazing. Crystle, this has been a wonderful conversation. You've been listening to Living Corporate. Our Twitter is @LivingCorp_Pod. Our Instagram is @LivingCorporate. You can check us out online at living-corporate.com or livingcorporate.co, livingcorporate.org, livingcorporate.tv. We're really all the livingcorporates except livingcorporate.com, because Australia has it locked up, and we haven't really been able to get to 'em yet. However, make sure you catch us, you check us out. This has been Zach Nunn. You have been listening to Crystle Johnson. Peace.