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About This Episode
Which sounds easier — summiting a mountain by yourself on foot or together with someone who already knows the way? Exactly.
We shouldn’t navigate in the dark. We should build ourselves a network.
Recently on The Sales Engagement Podcast, I had the chance to interview Hang Black, VP of Global Revenue Enablement at Juniper Networks, about her experience as a first-generation immigrant and woman of color — as well as her book, Embrace Your Edge.
She composed her book during the pandemic, first putting fingers to keyboard on April 23, 2020… but it had been a decade in development.
“The reason it’s so important to me is that the road was so much more difficult for me than it needed to be for anyone,” Hang said. “It felt like it was the right time to write for these marginalized populations,” she added.
An immigrant from Vietnam, Hang grew up in the deep south in Louisiana with multigenerational poverty, an uncommon position from which to navigate corporate America.
Let’s get into the interview!
Navigating the dark
“I happen to have the privilege of being surrounded by multicolor people that were very accepting of me,” Hang said. “That being said, I was literally a brown girl growing up in a black and white world.”
In that sense, being neither included nor excluded, Hang felt she never fully belonged. She became an objective observer because she was not intrinsically part of a group. “You see the faults, the fallacies, the love, the joy and the talents of every group individually,” she explained.
Hang feels she has unlearned the initial bias, which aids her in seeing individuals as well as groups for who and what they are.
Translating that observational ability to corporate America, Hang grew aware that many of us are navigating in the dark.
We have our heads down, trying to reach the top of the mountain by any means we can. Some have helicopters, some have Sherpas, some have no tools at all. Those who have to work the hardest keep our heads down just to look for a path.
“That’s what I mean by navigating in the dark,” she said. “I can’t see the ropes and paths that other people can see when they have flashlights, when they have guides who have tracked before them. Immigrants don’t have those guides.”
Eventually, Hang realized that she needed to find someone to help her up the steep inclines.
The need for networks is the why behind Hang’s book. “I wanted to pack 30 years of learning, of my direct experience of going to conferences, of reading books, of having executive coaches, and I wanted to give that access back to women and immigrants much younger than me or early in career to me so that their path is much easier.”
3 navigational tips
1 — Recognize the need to build a network
At some point in her long climb, Hang realized she needed a guide, a flashlight, an insider. As she put it, “What I really needed was to find the secret person that will open the secret door for me to the secret tunnel.”
Many of us work with our heads down and looking at our own feet, but that’s not the way to access an easier path.
We need to reach out for help, which takes both self-awareness and reflection.
2 — Find the multipliers
When looking for a guide, don’t just consider power and position, since those are variable. Look for someone who is multiplier versus someone who is a diminisher.
You can learn more about this in Liz Wiseman’s books, but here’s the gist: multipliers are people who are connected and whose influence extends beyond a single person.
“They’re the ones that are going to represent you when you’re not in the room when critical decisions are going to be made. They’re connected,” she said.
3 — Put mentorship & allyship in perspective
For one, mentors are everywhere, both above and below you. They’re someone to learn from.
Allyship means defending or representing people who are of lower population in the room. It’s also bidirectional.
“MLK would not have been successful without JFK, no doubt. But JFK also would not have been successful without MLK. Because how can he speak to a population or whom he does not represent the human experience?” Hang pointed out.
Growing an ally relationship is potentially even more important than growing a mentor relationship.
To leaders implementing a diversity program, Hang says the program won’t work unless you’ve formed relationships where you’re contributing to each other.
“Provide value to them, be their trusted adviser,” she said. “Remember, sponsorship, allyship, mentorship, all of that stuff — we have to be able to help each other bidirectionally,” she said.
Get in touch with Hang at hangwithhang.com or on Clubhouse.