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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

That is how Black girls could be seen, heard and promoted at work

Susan Somersille Johnson is a titan within the advertising world and has established herself as a pacesetter who isn’t afraid to make her voice heard. So, it’s stunning to many once they discover out she was a shy introvert early on in her profession.

“I grew to become {an electrical} engineer, and I studied actually onerous. However I did not construct these abilities that I believe younger girls want,” Somersille Johnson, 55, not too long ago advised Know Your Worth founder Mika Brzezinski. “I used to be painfully shy … I could not discuss to you want I am speaking proper now. I acquired into the workforce and no one seemed like me. Within the firm, there was just one different younger Black lady,” she defined.

Susan Somersille Johnson is chief advertising officer for Prudential Monetary, Inc. On this position, she is accountable for main the corporate’s world advertising and model technique to assist drive worthwhile progress for Prudential.Micciche Images

Partially due to a mentor who gave her particular networking and confidence-building workouts, Somersille Johnson discovered her voice — and finally her calling as chief advertising officer for Prudential Monetary Inc., the place she leads the corporate’s world advertising and model technique.

Somersille Johnson chatted with Brzezinski about how she discovered to get out of her consolation zone, how she made the pivot from the tech world to advertising, how the previous 12 months has modified her, her greatest recommendation for younger girls of colour and extra.

Right here’s their dialog, which has been edited for brevity and readability:

Mika Brzezinski: It’s been a monumental 12 months, to say the least. How has it modified you, and has it modified the way in which you use?

Susan Somersille Johnson: What this 12 months has accomplished for me is it empowered me to talk extra about my perspective as a Black lady, which I did not do as a lot earlier than.

It was due to Black Lives Matter and seeing the youth protesting day by day. It impacted individuals in any respect ranges of all organizations and for me personally. I’ve by no means mentioned the phrase “as a Black lady,” as many instances in my complete profession, as I’ve within the final 12 months. I specific my opinion as a Black lady now … I perceive systemic racism and I really feel the responsibility to do one thing about it.

Brzezinski: As you have been sharing your opinion extra and pushing others to take action, what have been a number of the hindrances, if any, you encountered alongside the way in which? And what was the recommendation you have been giving to girls of colour round you?

Somersille Johnson: … What we have to do now’s be ever-present as a result of the problem of gender fairness and racial fairness is so seen proper now. And for me which means being intentional about constructing social capital.

…My mom was an immigrant from Jamaica. She had a very tough time, labored plenty of jobs, put her schooling on maintain to carry her siblings to this nation after which went to return to highschool. I provide you with that background as a result of schooling is deeply ingrained in my life. I grew to become {an electrical} engineer, and I studied actually onerous. However I did not construct these abilities that I believe younger girls want. I used to be painfully shy …. I could not discuss to you want I am speaking proper now. I acquired into the workforce and no one seemed like me. I used to be an engineer. Within the firm, there was just one different younger Black lady …

… My mentor would give me homework and he or she would say, “Subsequent time we meet, I wish to understand how many individuals within the group you met, what ranges of group, and what you talked about.” And so, I began. Wherever I traveled, no matter website I went to, I deliberately placed on the calendar [meetings with] individuals, leaders in that constructing, wherever they have been that I did not work with. And I talked about what I am doing and what my group was doing and what we’re undertaking. I did it throughout the globe, and it labored so nicely. I inform you, inside a 12 months I acquired a name from any person, actually half a world away from me who mentioned, “Would you prefer to take this large position main advertising throughout 50 firm international locations?” … I believe it is due to all these connections that I had made … [My advice is to] simply put [those meetings] on the calendar. Schedule it in. Be intentional about it.

Brzezinski: What you’re saying is one thing that I preach on a regular basis. My model of that’s to be sure you step exterior your consolation zone day by day. And for those who’re afraid of assembly individuals, in case you are shy, that is OK. However you are going to need to study to talk for your self. And to have the ability to develop in no matter sort of firm you are working at, you’ve to have the ability to communicate and talk successfully, or a minimum of discover a method to get to know individuals.

I am questioning how shy Susan went from being an engineer to leaping into the position you are in now. How did you handle that pivot? Was it scary?

Somersille Johnson: … I simply began working for Apple. I used to be an engineer and was actually tapped on the shoulder and requested, “would you contemplate a task in advertising?” And that was scary, intimidating to me. My consolation zone was numbers and science. I had no thought I had potential in advertising.

And so, I did two issues … I sat down and talked to myself and I mentioned, “Susan, you’ve a possibility right here to study advertising at Apple. Are you going to take it? That is going to be a threat. It may fail. Are you going to take this chance?” After which the second factor I did is de facto listened … I listened to different individuals. So the one that advised me I had this expertise that I by no means knew, I actually listened to him. I sat with him … I took the leap …. And I am so comfortable now as a result of I like the ability of selling … We will influence the world.

Brzezinski: It’s fantastic you discovered your house and the place you wish to be. What do you say to girls who battle with constructive criticism? Inform me about the way you deal with giving or receiving constructive criticism.

Somersille Johnson: I prefer to suppose that I am excellent at taking constructive criticism, however [it can be] onerous for me.

The way in which [researcher] Brenè Brown talks about perfectionism actually helps. There is a massive distinction between perfectionism and striving for excellence. And so now I believe I attempt for excellence, far more as a substitute of perfectionism, which [doesn’t focus on] criticism and judgment and disgrace. I share that with lots of people, as a result of it clicked for me.

I wish to attempt for excellence as a result of that is much more enjoyable. After which by way of after I give constructive suggestions, I observed I discovered the onerous means, what you simply described, that individuals go into this emotional state after which they do not hear you. I attempt to … discover some optimistic issues first, in order that they see how invested I’m in constructing this relationship. After which I speak about what wants to enhance.

Brzezinski: I’d like to return to the place we began and speak about range and inclusion — and making an attempt to construct a greater office. You mentioned given the previous 12 months, it felt like one thing wanted to vary with you after watching Black Lives Matter protests and the whole lot that was occurring in our nation. What do you suppose managers can do to know and retain a various workforce?

Somersille Johnson: … I believe the barrier nonetheless continues to be alternative. The notion that girls cannot do the identical position, or individuals of colour cannot do the identical position. Nicely, what I say to leaders, and that is what I’ve come to over the previous 12 months is when everyone says to me, “how do I combine my firm? How do I combine my group?” And my reply is you need to combine your life.

And it got here to me. I needed to discuss to so many individuals. I met [social justice activist and lawyer] Bryan Stevenson … And he talks about proximity. He is saying, “for those who’re not shut sufficient to the problem, you are not going to care sufficient about it to vary it as a result of that is onerous work. You must be actually shut.” … However I believe that that is necessary, so that you just’re nearer to the problem and you’ll change it.

Brzezinski: What about particular recommendation for girls of colour who’re following in your footsteps? Any recommendation that you’ve which you could impart upon them? Both ensuring that they do not fall off observe or go away earlier than their time comes? As a result of we misplaced plenty of girls on this pandemic, particularly Black and brown girls who’re leaving their jobs or getting pushed out

Somersille Johnson: … I believe for lots of us, it is tough to speak about our successes and the worth that we carry. And so what I counsel all girls is, your chief wants you greater than you already know. They want your data, your eyes and ears and your expertise. So, they want you to inform them about your success, what’s working in your group and your group … When Black girls do this, they’re seen, they’re heard and so they’re promoted. After which they keep.

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