As a C-Suite executive and leader, Dara Treseder is not only CMO of Digital Light Synthesis™ pioneers Carbon®, she’s a role model for innovation, inclusion, and communication.
After visiting our HQ in Germany to present to adidas’ Women’s Network, Dara sat down with me to talk about how to make diverse voices heard, and how that can empower both you and your teams.
Learning how best to communicate
Whether you are fighting to be recognized for your performance or raising an uncomfortable topic with your peers, it’s important to be empathetic. The myth that speaking out is risky only applies if you’re unaware of social dynamics and human connection.
The fact that we all come from different backgrounds doesn’t detract from our shared humanity and ability, but rather enhances it. Empathy enables us to look beyond our current situations and realize that productive communication can only arise when we create space to understand the other person.
When I asked Dara about uncomfortable conversations, she mentioned that you have to understand how to get your message across to different types of people. Some people might not like to be called out in front of others. This doesn’t mean they are not open to constructive criticism and learning. They may simply prefer and respond better to receiving feedback privately or at another point in time.
Rather than compromising, however, she always aims to make her voice heard. Dara reflected on a memory from the start of her career. As an intern, she shared an idea with someone in her team, only for them to present it as their own in front of the entire team.
Understandably, she was shocked. “In that minute, I had to make a decision, ‘Am I just going to sit here, or am I going to say something’?” She made sure that the team knew that it was her idea, while protecting the person by saying she was grateful for the collaboration and mentorship. The meeting was a success but what came after actually helped her realize the power of her voice.
As soon as the meeting was over, he pulled me aside saying “How dare you? You’re just an intern. Who cares? Dara, you know what? You’re a lot.”
“I remember I was on the phone with my mom, crying. She is a typical Nigerian mom. She consoled me for the first 30 seconds, but after she’s like, ‘Okay Dara, I have news for you. You are a lot, but take a lot and go where people appreciate a lot.’ That always stood with me.”
Never silence yourself even if that means you have to shift or go down a different path. Speaking your truth and standing up for what is right is important.
Communication is key and how you use your voice is important to make it heard and to be respected.
Build inclusion into your team structure
The fact that diversity and inclusion are not only nice, but necessary, is a proven business case. Studies have shown that diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams. They are more creative and lead to an increase in performance and profitability.
Diverse teams can even transform entire industries. Look at the United States soccer teams. The men’s team did not inspire the U.S. to care about soccer deeply. The women’s team did. In the beginning, the U.S. men’s team didn’t have the same level of cultural interest and passion as the women’s team, which is powerful for sports.
But – especially in business – diversity alone is not enough. You must build an inclusive environment.
“What’s the point of diversity if you’re not going to be inclusive? If someone has surgery and they have an organ transplant and they bring in a new organ, the body wants to reject the organ, right? The normal thing is to say, “This is not part of this.” When you put diverse people into a homogeneous environment, the natural thing is for it to be rejected.
Dara mentions the R2P2 method which she and Jessica Strauss, former entrepreneurial resident at GE Ventures, coined: Recruit, retain, promote and protect.
Not only do you need to recruit great people, you need to make sure that you’re putting in the measures that will allow you to retain them. For instance, do you have maternity leave policies that enable mothers more flexible workplace arrangements?
Next, promote them. Make sure that people aren’t stuck in middle management and don’t see anyone that looks like them at the top. And lastly, manage protection. Saying “I want a fresh perspective” is not enough, because fresh perspectives often make people uncomfortable. Make sure the team is ready to be challenged.
As a leader, Dara also shared with us her concept of leadership and what she believes everybody needs to advance in their career.
Mentors vs. sponsors
A sponsor is someone who is in a room that you’re not. They already have a seat at the same table you’re trying to get a seat at, and they can lend their credibility to pave the way and pull up a chair for you.
A mentor is someone who has more time to invest in your development, by doing things like meeting up and answering your questions. Too often we confuse the two and lose the benefits of both.
The value of building your personal brand
Now to building authentic relationships – especially with sponsors. The secret is to create and position your personal brand.
When people, especially those who are in spaces you don’t have access to yet, know what you stand for, they will think of you when opportunities come up. Understand who you are (e.g. marketing manager who speaks four languages), what you want (e.g. stretch assignment in remote countries) and start telling people about it.
Keep practicing and evaluate over time whether you might need to adapt or change your personal brand.
Lastly, understand when it’s time to stay and when you’re ready to move on.