Lessons from my first three months as VP of Global Community & Belonging at Brandwatch
Three months ago I joined Brandwatch as their first ever VP of Global Community & Belonging. I initially approached this newly created role with an unsettling combination of enthusiasm and self-doubt.
Would I be able to deliver on the expectations I created during the interview process?
Would I be able to gel with the team and make an impact in my first few months?
Would I be able to be authentically me, and challenge racism and other forms of oppression wherever I see them manifesting?
These are the questions that kept me up at night.
Now I’m three months in, I feel more confident in my role and also in my ability to get stuff done without compromising my values and without diluting my identity.
In true Brené Brown style I’m daring to lead and channeling courageous leadership. I hope things can continue this way. I share the lessons of my first three months here in the hope they will help you be a courageous leader, too.
Get measuring to create impact
Peter Drucker famously said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”. Whatever your role is, nail down success metrics early on and start measuring where you’re at and start setting targets for where you want to be.
I arrived at Brandwatch at a time where the diversity and inclusion committee had already outlined company-wide OKRs. I worked with them to build out a set of SMART goals within these OKRs with measurable targets e.g. at least 80% response rate in our annual D&I committee survey (the industry benchmark according to Culture Amp). I’m happy to say we hit 81% after two weeks so next year I want us to smash the industry benchmark and go for a 90% response rate.
Cherish your wins to build confidence
There’s no such thing as a small win in my book. A win is a win is a win. I’m grateful to be part of a company where we have Slack channels dedicated to giving thanks and giving kudos.
Following my first meeting with the Pride Committee I was given thanks for sharing insight and pledging support for a new initiative. I made sure to save that message to boost my confidence. Following my first Sofa Session where 100+ employees came together to learn about and discuss active allyship I was given kudos. Again that message was promptly bookmarked.
My role often requires me to bring people into a space of extreme discomfort. It requires me to challenge people’s perspectives and increase their awareness of privilege and bias. Those conversations can leave me feeling drained and worried that I’ve gone too far. Returning to Slack messages of positive feedback reminds me that I’m here because I’m good at this.
Distinguish your problems from your polarities
I’m grateful to be a part of the Acumen Academy’s first ever UK fellowship program. Recently at our first offsite we learned an incredibly valuable framework, ‘Problem v Polarity’. This framework invites you to conceptualize your challenge as either a problem or polarity so you can design an appropriate improvement plan.
While a problem is ongoing, has an endpoint and ultimately is solvable, a polarity is recurring, has no endpoint and must be managed. The majority of challenges I face in my role relate to problems not polarities.
I’ve already solved a number of problems e.g. how to remove bias from our job descriptions? Use a product like BeApplied. How do we add more underrepresented candidates to our pipeline? Partner with communities like People Of Color in Tech.
It’s the polarities that are tricky yet I must find a way to manage so I can achieve results. In the context of recruitment I want us to ensure that we are creating a representative pipeline at every stage of the funnel. This takes more time than the existing process because we have historically advertised in places that give us a homogenous group of candidates.
When we open a role we have an influx of qualified candidates — but they are not a diverse group. This means there is currently a polarity and therefore a tension between hiring for speed and hiring for diversity. That will likely never be solved so it’s my responsibility to manage the tension.
Make powerful allies (and be vulnerable with them)
I felt like Sun Tzu when I wrote that subheading but perhaps that shows how the best advice never gets old. To be successful as a leader you need allies to help you reach your goals and to help you gain influence across the team.
I’m incredibly grateful to have active allyship and support from our CEO and the executive team, not to mention a number of influential people across the business — folks who’ve worked here decades to other VPs, team leads and individual contributors.
Whenever I’m launching a new initiative or leading an educational event, I reach out to my allies 1:1 in advance. I will ask them to show their engagement to help get the ball rolling for others to join in.
When I’m feeling anxious or worried about something I will reach out to another ally for help and support. There have been times I’ve doubted my approach, or felt disappointed by the outcome of a conversation. These allies helped me reflect on the event more objectively, and offer feedback so I can improve.
I’m only three months in so there is still a long way to go but I’m incredibly proud of the impact I’ve been able to make so far. I was really chuffed when our Chief Design Officer told me that it felt like I’d been in the company much longer because I fit into the team so well.
If you like what you’ve read, why don’t you come join us? We’re a remote-optimised global team of friendly, bright people and we’re making huge efforts to increase belonging. Check out open roles at brandwatch.com/careers — I’d be happy to answer any questions you have about joining.