Recently I attended the AWBC Women’s Conference and Egretha Awards Ceremony here in Chicago. Every year (for the last 4 years) I have participated in this event and was even honored with an Egretha Award myself. I am always more inspired than I was the year before, and this year wasn’t any different. There is also something about this event that tends to really bring out the Bolder Sister in me. I wish you ladies could have seen me, working that room, networking, connecting and exchanging business cards. Networking was something that use to scare the hell out of me. But today, I am more comfortable than I’ve ever been.
During this year’s event I had the extreme honor of having a one-on-one with the Lenovo HR Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer, Mrs. Yolanda Lee Conyers. I couldn’t believe how this Bolder Sister, who is leading her organization and making power moves was so down to earth and humble. Our conversation felt very much like two girlfriends chatting. Although I asked her several questions about her career and rise in business for the AWBC organization, I took a minute to ask her a question I knew all of you would want to know. Here’s what was said.
The Bolder Sister: I have had challenges raising my voice and dealt with that self-doubt you mentioned. I would find myself sitting in a meeting with a great idea, but too afraid to speak up and share it. What words of wisdom or inspiration would you say to a woman like that? She knows she has value, a voice and can contribute, but fear stops her.
Yolanda Lee Conyers: Take the risk, test it. When you’re at the table say something. The next time say two things. Then find someone in that room that you trust, who can give you feedback and encourage you. If there is a fear because you don’t know how to speak up, or what to do, seek that mentorship and figure out what you need to do so you can be comfortable. I have a story to share. My co-author (The Lenovo Way: Managing a Diverse Global Company for Optimal Performance), Gina Qiao, she’s Chinese and amazing. Overnight they had to start learning English because when Lenovo became a global company they declared English as the standard language. I have watched her and my colleagues learn the language and she is doing extremely well. Gina had two things that prevented her, as an executive, from speaking up. One is culturally, she comes from a Chinese culture if you speak up before anyone else, you’re showing off. It’s against culture. The second is her language barrier. She was afraid she didn’t communicate well, or just the process of understanding what we were saying in English and how to translate it, was all a challenge. She was perceived as not being smart and withholding information. She came to me and asked “how do I get my voice in and how do I speak out at the table” and she just kept practicing. I began to coach her, and she coached me. And we started this mentoring of each other, this co-mentoring, and it is very powerful. In those environments and in those circles, if you can find someone that you trust, that can help you and inspire you and encourage you and to test things with, that will help you.
This conversation, along with all the other networking I was able to do, reminded me of how powerful we are as women. We are running businesses, raising families and taking charge. This is why it’s so important that we raise our voices and speak up at those tables and in those meetings.
Bolder Sisters, What advice have you been given about overcoming your fear of speaking up?