Lisa Ross, Washington D.C. President of Edeleman, is one of 40 extraordinary communicators featured in the new book Diverse Voices. She spoke with Doug Simon, CEO at D S Simon Media, about achieving career success while bringing diversity to an organization. The interview took place during the New York book launch of Diverse Voices which was held at Twitter. The new book from the PRSA Foundation is designed to help communication leaders and professionals better understand the challenges faced by emerging majorities in the field. Lisa describes what it was like to contribute her story and take an honest look at her career. To purchase Diverse Voices, visit www.diverseleadership.net.
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DOUG: Hi I’m Doug Simon from D S Simon Media, special guest. We’re at the New York book launch of diverse voices and Lisa Ross, president of Edelman in Washington for the Washington region, is one of the contributors to that. Congratulations.
LISA: Thank you. Thank you. It has been a real honor and a pleasure.
DOUG: So tell us about some of the thoughts you’ve shared, about just the track of your career, maybe some obstacles that you had to overcome?
LISA: It’s a great question because the experience was different from what I expected. We were asked to opine on a number of things: our career trajectory, what made us successful, what obstacles we faced. And for me it ended up being a little bit more of a personal journey where I really looked at some of the issues that had been important to me. And it gave me a chance to reflect on “had I made the impact that I wanted to in my career?” And it allowed me to evaluate myself in a really really honest and thoughtful way.
DOUG: Great. Now one of the experiences you write about is somewhat painful how you had a boss, someone you thought was a friend, potentially a mentor, who then ended up being really specifically focused on assisting white males in advancing their careers without- almost to the penalty of others who didn’t fit that group. How did you navigate that?
LISA: I’m still navigating it. To be honest with you, I did not realize the intensity and the honesty of my experience until I read it out loud. I quite frankly didn’t even recall having talked about it to that degree and my husband said “Are you aware that you actually exposed this?” And over the past few days I have been thinking a lot about it, and I am aware, and I think this book was about being honest. I think this book was about speaking your truth in a way that might be painful for yourself and might be painful for others, and I hope that by sharing my experience that it ends up being a lesson learned for everyone involved, me included.
DOUG: And it’s a great opportunity for people of diversity who are in middle level to think about how to advance their own careers. What is some of the advice that you can give them from your own experience?
LISA: I think you have to be good and you have to be you. A lot of people are really really really good at their work. But when you are different from others in your environment you spend so much time trying to acclimate and assimilate and to be like them that you’ve got two or three jobs. So one you just have to be who you are, and then you just have to be really good. Our industry is so competitive right now and our industry requires so much, and our clients demand so much and it’s a tough world right now. And so the opportunity I think is for us to shine the light on the impact that communications can make. But you have to be really good and you have to be really good almost every day. And it’s something that I strive for and most days I make it, some days I don’t.
DOUG: And I think you raise such an important point that people overlook and it’s important for anyone trying to advance their careers. How can you be better than all the other people, regardless of your background because I think a reality— and hopefully and you can shed light on this if things have gotten better— that if you are a better performer a better achiever, because there’s so much pressure to be successful and be effective. If you’re that much better than anyone else, you’re going to rise along with it, despite additional obstacles that you’d hoped wouldn’t be there.
LISA: You know everyone has obstacles. Everyone has issues that they have to deal with. And for me I have never focused on my obstacles as I said I really didn’t even realize the intensity of my experience until I was asked to talk about it. I just kept going. And that’s what I say to everyone. You just have to keep going. I have always been clear about how I wanted to contribute. I wanted to be a master of my craft and I wanted to bring people along with me. So those were the two things that were so incredibly important to me. And so I keep my eye on the prize. And I just keep going and I think the other thing too: I have a really strong ability to do this [brushes off shoulder]. I can just, I really am like I shake it off. And also I think because I have just been raised professionally in such a lovely environment, a lot of times I think negative things happen and they go over my head. And so I just don’t dwell on them. I keep going. But when something happens I address it, I tell other people to address it, but then get back to the work.
DOUG: And that’s great advice, something I try and share with the younger people is when something goes wrong, and stuff will go wrong…
DOUG: The ones who gain are the ones who immediately focus on “How do I fix it. How do they improve?” and then it’s fixed before you can even deal with it directly. It’s such human nature to say “well wait that was unfair. Well my intent was good. “ Well geez of course, I didn’t think you’re were sabotaging me. That’s exactly why so many people fall into that trap, and you know what I could see from my experience reading this book is that for people who bring diversity to an organization they have an extra bucket of sort of pitfalls that await them, and extra challenges that they have to just be able to navigate.
LISA: They also have extra opportunities.
LISA: They also have extra opportunities. I have always been a glass half full person. I can call out, I see issues and problems and I will go directly to you and say “Hey that’s not going to work” or “You’re wrong or right” or “You messed up and let me figure out and show you how to get to a better place”. So, I think you have to never be afraid of speaking your truth, but you just also just need to do it and have fun doing it and bring other people along. And I think you know I sort of subscribe to the “Four Agreements,” but one is don’t take things personally. One is to always do your best. That’s one that’s really really easy for me, I was raised to do that. Three is don’t make assumptions because a lot of times we do that we look at people and we automatically assign something to them based on how they look and how we experience them. And then the fourth one is be impeccable with your word. Everything that you say and everything that we do is so incredibly important, and your word is all you have.
DOUG: Well that is wonderful, and just for those of you watching this the book is filled with this times 40. I mean that’s the level of insight that you’re getting to help you. Thank you so much for sharing your time with us.
LISA: Thank you for asking me. I cannot wait to get in there and celebrate with everyone.
DOUG: We’ll let you go.
LISA: All right terrific. Thank you so much.
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