What do you do for work and give us a few reasons you love it?
I’m a communications manager for the Future Labs, a collection of business incubators for various technologies and sectors from artificial intelligence and virtual reality to social enterprise and cleantech. I really enjoy it because I have diverse responsibilities that draw on my wide-ranging professional background.
Your current company aside, name two companies you admire and explain why.
Right after graduate school, I worked for a business called Great Place to Work Institute, which partnered at the time with Fortune magazine on those Best Places to Work lists. I evaluated the submissions of the companies that applied (they self-select), so I learned about different benefits packages and got to think about what makes a workplace special — from types of healthcare coverage to interpersonal relationships and communication style. You’d be surprised by how inventive some companies can be.
The crazy thing was that so many of the features that elevated one company over another were in place at the City of Portland Bureau of Planning, probably my first real job. (Yes, I was once a bureaucrat.) That realization floored me. I had no idea when I was there what amazing benefits and smart, kind, warm, conscientious coworkers I had. Sure, it had its problems, but overall, it was a really, really fantastic place to work.
In your opinion, what is wrong with the corporate world, and how would you fix it?
The corporate world hasn’t treated workers all that well for some time. That’s why the 2016 presidential election turned out the way it did: anger over the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few at the expense of the many. The corporate world stokes those fires via stagnant wages, stingy vacation time, no overtime pay — if you look at each issue, it boils down to not compensating workers fairly for their time. Whether that’s conflating sick leave with vacation time to doing away with pensions, the corporate world is primarily concerned with profit. Workers have become abstractions, another way to cut costs to achieve profit, versus real people who just want to be able to go home, hang out with their friends and family, and live life instead of maybe going to a second job to pay for their kid’s astronomical college tuition or their mom’s assisted care facility.
How would I fix it? Work to change other business owners’ ideas about how to treat staff, collaborate with legislators to pass laws that protect workers, pay people more, penalize them for not taking time off.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in your life?
There’s no job or title that will immunize you from stupidity, venality, or meanness. Often people will say, “Oh, she’s director of whatchamacallit at Big Deal Company,” or “He won Blankety-Blank Award,” or “She went to fill-in-Ivy-League,” and that’s supposed to be shorthand for “genius” or “phenom.” But those assumptions are dangerous because they confer unearned authority or provide excuses for truly heinous behavior.
Another important lesson: Don’t sell yourself short, which I see women fall prey to more often than men, unfortunately. A corollary: ID those who do sell you short and cut them out of your life. Surround yourself with positivity.
Who are your role models or influences? Explain what makes them special.
My friends and family. I’m a big proponent of filling your world with people who inspire you. I’ve worked hard to have that, and I’m fortunate to be surrounded by incredible people, like my parents. They immigrated here with, like, $700. Can you imagine moving to a foreign country with that amount, two little kids, and not knowing the language that well? They worked really, really hard just to make it to America’s middle class.
I also have a lot of friends whose lives haven’t followed conventional paths. I admire their risk-taking. It’s not easy to deviate from the world’s expectations. My activist friends are also huge influences. Activists are brave and idealistic; they believe that whatever goal they’re striving for is worth the risk of being hated or obstructed in some way. That conviction and sacrifice is admirable.
How do you measure success at work? In life?
In my field, workplace success is formulaic because algorithms give you quantifiable figures for whatever metric your performance is being tracked against — number of opens, social shares, whatever. But I think of success at work in terms of whether or not I helped someone. Did an intern actually learn something from me? Did I provide a client (internal or external) with a useful insight?
Life-wise, success is directly related to how much writing I’m doing and if the people I care about feel loved and supported by me.
How do you want the world to be different because you lived in it?
I want my collection of essays to be in the world and for it to provide comfort or inspiration to someone — many someones — and for the people I care about to have been uplifted in some way through knowing me.
What is your best or worst moment of this week?
Seeing I Am Not Your Negro. James Baldwin is among my top five favorite writers, so it was comforting to hear his words again. It was like being reunited with an old hero. I realized just how much I had been missing him.