Zeno for Everyone: Yes, We Exist
By Jay Martin Williams
At Zeno, ensuring all employees have a sense of belonging is essential to our diversity, equity and inclusion. In this new content series “Zeno for Everyone,” we’ll share personal stories from Zenoids and learn about how different backgrounds and histories shape perspectives and enrich our experiences. #ZenoForEveryone
I feel pretty fortunate these days. I have my job, my health, incredible family and friends — all to be thankful for during a very challenging year.
Now, more than ever, at Zeno and across the country, we’ve been having very important conversations about the experiences of BIPOC in America’s work environments in the hope that we can continue to foster a diverse workforce, especially in an industry that has not always done the best job at inclusion or in securing and retaining diverse talent.
When I began my career about 15 years ago, it was very rare, and still is, to come across people of color in leadership positions. Unfortunately, without a certain level of visibility, our industry can often send a message that either success is not possible past a certain level or for whatever reason, people of color are not “surviving” long enough to rise in the ranks. The few that I have known have always been like superstars to me and I’ve tried my best to observe and absorb everything I can about how they navigate our industry. In many ways, if it weren’t for them, there might not currently be a me.
With the flexibility of our new abnormal… I’ve recently been taking more time to join virtual recruitment fairs and to mentor students. It’s heartwarming to see how much it means to students to know they have a role they can aspire toward, knowing that possibilities do exist. It’s also interesting being in the same leadership role that I looked up to earlier in my career. Although it has not always been easy to pull from examples around me, my career has been a journey of often having to look within to build confidence, compartmentalizing my fears, rarely patting myself on the back (always with an eye to what’s next), scrutinizing my own work, the value I bring and the impact I’ve made on client business.
Now, it’s tricky working in an industry that at the very core, is rooted in perception. What does a leader look like – is a question I would ask myself time and time again, and are we operating in a place and time where unconscious bias could make a difference in how my work and work style is received, especially when many client account decisions are made based on leadership presence and cultural fit. Then, how might these quiet little possibilities and decisions play out over time when we review the trajectory of my career and the leadership that has supported me?
So, it’s not always that new plan for the marketing team that’s keeping me up at night. I don’t have all the answers, but my hope is that as these conversations continue, new perspectives are shared and we spend more time focusing on the lived experiences of BIPOC, listening to challenges, concerns and offering solutions that will help move the needle in ways that bring the best talent forward. As we know, most stories of the first Black anything don’t typically start off with a challenge-free experience, which is why representation is so essential in showing others that their voices can and will be heard.