Leah Murphy, Philly brown girl on M I C on stage at the N Y S E…. Bars!
Let me start by saying I belong everywhere. I was invited to the New York Stock Exchange closing bell ceremony because of the work that I do with the black employee resource group at my job. I have been in a leadership role with the Black Resource Group (BRG) for the last five + years. As a result, I have had the opportunity to work with a community of brilliant, influential, highly engaged people. My presence on stage October 7, 2019 at 3:59 was in representation of that community, it goes without saying that none of us get to a place of success or prominence without a great team.
Leading in any way requires difficult choices. I do my best to lead with a spirit of serving a purpose bigger than myself because doing what is right often comes with doing what is unpopular. The team and I made a series of unpopular decisions that challenged the status quo in search of better. I’ll tell you about two but please know that there were many more.
One of those decisions included compelling difficult conversations around diversity and representation. Let’s be honest, lots of good people have a hard time discussing diversity as it relates to race because it is tied to a complicated history specifically in America, but also in other parts of the world. In the workplace, many people are concerned about saying the wrong thing and being labeled as a result. Often the conversation simply does not happen to avoid risk but while a the same time avoiding progress. If no one is talking about it then no one is focused on it and you can be certain that no one is working on it.
Another of those unpopular decisions to compel the organization to bring resources and development opportunities to people who traditionally would have been overlooked as a result of their lack of exposure to decision makers. We Identified internal and external resources and made a business case for why these training and mentoring opportunities needed to happen; we also made the case for why we needed to be the ones to own the distribution of these resources. This was not the way the game was traditionally played, shifting senior leaders from decision makers to observers did not win us fans but it did make us accountable and deeply invested in the outcomes for the people that we selected.
We were well aware that those decisions could have been career limiting. The easy road would have been to go along to get along. Instead what we chose to do was to put our objective before ourselves. Let’s be clear, we’re no fools. We aligned on the appropriate strategy and sponsorship and went all in. We developed a plan that included building allies and advocates, we calculated the risk then forged forward. We trusted one another to consistently show up to critical conversations equipped with facts and brandishing our full authentic selves. We were prepared with solutions and willing to work with anyone who was willing to meet us where we were and collaborate. The work became the mission and word spread that we were passionate about the mission. There were some small wins and many compromises but as with any significant change you must be in it for the long game to see it through.
The results of years of consistent work and alliance building were credibility, a reputation for results and recognition of our leadership. Now we are seen as thought leaders, cultural influencers and trailblazers. This reputation put us on the radar of C-Suite leaders who understood and valued what we could bring to the right conversation when the organization was ready. Those C-Suite leaders are the people who sought out our point of view. Those are the leaders that decided to invite me and what I represent to the stage of the NYSE.
Here is what I learned
- Rewards don’t come early. There are many days of work behind the scenes with no glory and without ever knowing if there will be a stage with a spotlight.
- I’m in the picture but, my people got me there. Get yourself a like minded team, it takes many talented teammates working together to make one person look good. (Check out previous blog post to learn more about teammates) We all can do a little more believing that there is room enough for us all to win so that we can learn to collaborate instead of compete.
- Expect more from people and they will deliver. As you disagree with people don’t let that be the end of the conversation. If both of you are willing to learn, keep the dialogue going you will both come out better.
- Unpopular decisions are critical intersections, if avoided progress cannot be made. Don’t avoid disagreements, manage them with integrity and respect.
- The picture alone is not enough. The picture is a symbol that progress has been made but there is much more work to do.
That passion and commitment eventually led us into the CEO’s office, not long after I was offered the opportunity to represent the company at the NYSE Closing Bell Ceremony. Brown skin, curly hair, pink lips and all!
Final thought. The opportunity to be on that stage documented by history was my responsibility to every person who is looking for someone who looks like them so that they can believe. Let’s work together to change the things that need changing in each our little corners of the world, as they say a “Rising tide lifts all boats”
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Now that you have them gems let me help you apply them to your unique journey in life or career. Each of us has what it takes to be great, let me use my gifts and proven tools to help you work towards who you want to be.