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Inspired BlogWhat Does It Mean to “Lift As We Climb”? | 10 Things We Learned at the Uplift Panel

We ARE (our internal initiative to Attract, Retain and Empower diverse and inclusive communities at Red Ventures) recently hosted its first-ever Uplift Panel, “Lift as You Climb: Elevating Diversity in the Charlotte Community.”

Uplift Panel Co-Chairs Yemi Kolawole — an associate on our team — and Jada Campbell — a data analyst on our Education team — organized and moderated the entire event on top of their day-to-day role responsibilities! Together, they curated a panel of four prominent leaders from throughout the Queen City, and led a lively discussion on mentorship, diversity, and their own experiences of lifting (and being lifted) as they climbed.

The Panelists

Khalan Boyer, Executive Director of Road to Hire | Khalan Boyer serves as Executive Director of Road to Hire and is deeply committed to promoting economic mobility for young adults. A natural partnership and relationship builder, she thrives on working closely with diverse populations and stakeholders to create positive solutions and sustainable change.

John Martin, CEO & President of the Young Black Leaders Alliance | John Martin is the CEO and Co-founder of the Young Black Leadership Alliance (YBLA), a non-profit organization focusing on leadership development, college and career readiness, and service-learning for young black men and women. Over the past 13 years, YBLA has changed the lives of over 17,000 individuals including students, parents and local and international communities. 

Ayisha McMillan Cravotta, Academy Director at the Charlotte Ballet | Ayisha McMillan Cravotta’s career with the Charlotte Ballet traces the path of multiple roles. She was the first African American woman to play a principal role in the company’s Nutcracker, and in 2015 was named Academy Director — a role in which she guides programming and administration for over 1,700 dancers.

Danielle Squires, Managing Director of Interest Rate Risk Management for Wells Fargo Bank | Since joining Wells Fargo in 1999, Danielle Squires has been structuring and marketing interest rate hedging solutions to corporate, commercial, brokerage, real estate and wealth management clients across the United States. In the Charlotte community, Ms. Squires currently sits on the boards of the Johnston YMCA, Charlotte Preparatory School’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee as well as Wells Fargo’s African American Network Executive Steering Committee.

We were completely enthralled by our panelists’ wisdom and candor. Here are ten of our favorite lessons we learned:

10 Things We Learned at the Uplift Panel

1. Be intentional.

Whether you’re a mentor or mentee, ‘lifting while you climb’ takes intentionality. Between meetings, presentations, and “life” in general, uplifting others may not always be front-of-mind. The practice requires presence and focus.

To better lift her teammates, Khalan strives to slow down: “… to carve out that time when I can build connections, reach out, and let others know, ‘I see you, I recognize you and all the work you’re doing. I want to help you get better, and want to support you in your journey.'”

Make sure you’re dedicating time to uplifting your teammates, too. Whether it’s a quick catch-up after a meeting, or a dedicated weekly walk-n-talk, intentional connections can have a big impact.

2. Face the uncomfortable truths.

While we’d like to believe that we’re already working in the most inclusive environment achievable, the truth is likely not so. Ayisha advised being honest with yourself and your team about the culture you’re creating.

“Sometimes, I see with my role that making a path means asking the question, ‘Are we being as inclusive as we could be? What did we learn about what we’ve been doing, and is it time to change?'” said Ayisha. “Sometimes, this means speaking uncomfortable truths.”

Ayisha McMillan Cravotta: Professional ballet dancer, speaker, and RV icon.

3. Walk the two-way street.

“Think not what your mentor can do for you, but what you can you for your mentor.” – John Martin, kind of.

… Okay here’s what he actually said: “A mentoring relationship is a two-way street. You want to add value back to your mentor. Do what you say you’re going to do, be on time, take notes — ask, ‘How can I help you?'”

While it’s important for mentors to lift as they climb, there’s plenty that mentees can do to make themselves easier to boost. Look for ways to make your mentor’s job easier — even small favors can go a long way.

4. Be the representation you want to see.

When Ayisha reflected on her years as a professional ballet dancer, she recalled the lack of representation she saw in her industry. Details like the caucasian-pink of ballet tights to the brightness of the stage lighting were subtle reminders of the lack of diversity in her field. “There were many times when there wasn’t representation for me to see in the room,” she said. “When you’re the first in the space, the space isn’t ready for you. But you enter anyway.”

It wasn’t about representation at that point, to see where I could go, it was important for management to see how far I could go.

Danielle Squires

Danielle recalled a similar challenge in her career. “About four or five years ago, I wanted to lead a really big business,” said Danielle. When her superior recommended that she follow the path of the only other female black leader in the company, she knew she needed to press forward.

“It wasn’t about representation at that point, to see where I could go, it was important for management to see how far I could go. It was important for them to see that representation. Representation matters for the biases that people have internally when they look for people to fill those positions.”

5. Diversity is not inclusion, and inclusion is not equity.

As the conversation around diversity and inclusion in the workplace continues to grow, we should take care to educate ourselves on the nuances of those terms. Our panelists offered some metaphors to help us keep them in mind.

Everyone is invited to a dinner, and you’re given a seat at the table, but everyone has the silverware but you. The equity there is different.

Khalan Boyer

“There’s a great difference between diversity and inclusion,” said Danielle. “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance. you can be invited into this space and given a seat at the table, but if you’re not asked about your ideas, you’re not included. If I don’t engage you in that space, I’m not making a difference.”

But how does equity fit into the equation? Khalan offered this example: “Everyone is invited to a dinner, and you’re given a seat at the table, but everyone has the silverware but you. The equity there is different. How can we provide everyone with the right tools to move forward?”

6. Be a lifelong learner.

When lifting ourselves up the ladder, we may sometimes feel tinges of imposter syndrome: Am I ready to reach for the next rung? Should I take a step down?

Danielle believed that men and women may experience imposter syndrome differently. “Men approach it as, ‘I have 50% of the skills, I’ll figure out the rest.’ Women say, ‘I have eight of the ten qualities, I’m probably not ready because I don’t have the other two.'”

Ayisha pointed out that imposter syndrome likely affects more coworkers than we’d expect. “Recognize that it’s real and affects not just the newest person in a company or least senior person in a company, but that it’s a real and active process of having to affirm yourself against it.”

Imposter syndrome can silently hold us back from achieving our full potential. Instead of worrying about not being good enough, remind yourself that you can learn anything. As Danielle said, “Give yourself the opportunity to be a lifelong learner.”

7. Get a hype-friend.

Nobody lifts you higher than your friends. If you need a little boost, try John’s tactic.

“I have a hype-friend,” said John. “If I ever feel like I can’t do something, I call him up. At the end of those conversations, I feel better. Find someone who’s in your corner, regardless of what you’re doing.”

We’d love some hype-friends like these.

8. Be mindful of your mind.

Even the strongest lifters can bring themselves down with a good ol’ negative internal monologue. Khalan cautioned us against negative thinking, and suggested some thought-reframing practice.

“The mind is very powerful and it can be very dangerous if we listen to the negative thoughts,” said Khalan. “Reframing and restructuring negative thoughts has been really important to me. I can be so eager, but I have to remind myself to be patient as a I get to the next level. Things require practice. Give yourself grace and patience with the process.”

9. Over-communicate.

The way we communicate is an important part of how we lift each other.

“Over-communication is really key to everything,” said Danielle. “If we over-communicate to each other and check in with an extra two or three questions, you’d be amazed at how included and understood people feel.”

However, communicating more doesn’t mean we should let our words run rampant — we should always think before we speak. We should also be courageous enough to correct those who communicate in a way that does not uplift others.

“I truly believe in the TSA motto: If you see something, say something,” said Danielle. “Stop it right away.”

10. Recognize your biases, your privilege, and your power.

A great man once said, “Know yourself, know your worth.” (That man was Drake.) Our panelists said it too.

As Khalan pointed out, “It’s important to be self-aware, and aware of the biases that we bring.” Check in with yourself — is there a bias you may be holding, even subconsciously? How might your background or experiences be affecting your character? Look for the root of your biases and question it thoroughly.

People are not going to put you in a room ‘just because.’ They don’t have time for that.

John Martin

As you’re holding your self-check-in, consider your privileges, too. Often times, privilege is considered a negative aspect — a sour quality that sets us above others. However, privilege isn’t inherently negative. As John pointed out, it can be a powerful tool to help us lift as we climb: “If you’re the majority, it’s your responsibility to make that space more diverse and inclusive.”

Finally, take command of your own power. “People are not going to put you in a room ‘just because,'” said John. “They don’t have time for that.” Recognize the value that you bring to your team, your company, and your community. Your unique qualities are what set you apart, and when we combine our strengths with the strengths of those around us, we can lift ourselves pretty high.

The dream team.

Can’t get enough of these uplifting tips? Check out this guide to inclusive language and discover how our communication style helps build equity in the workplace (and beyond).

About the Author:
Sarah Harris | Communications Strategist
Sarah Harris

Sarah joined the Red Ventures creative team in 2018 after graduating from North Carolina State University. (GO PACK!) When she isn't whipping up killer content for the Corporate Communications team, she can be found posting pictures of the many frogs that live around the Charlotte campus (there are like, a lot).

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