16 minute read

Three Career-Building Tips for Young Women

Oracle Software Exec Shares Helpful Hints for Women in Tech and Beyond.

By Nicole James, Vice President of Product Management CX, Oracle

First, let me introduce myself. I am a Jersey Girl, born and raised in the Garden State. Nonetheless, I built my career by going to where the work was. That willingness, plus a passion for math and computer science led me to Atlanta via Austin.

I thrived in tech, a field where women and minorities, like myself, were uncommon in part because I was always inquisitive and eager to pursue my interests wherever they led me.

As a child, I loved math. My mother—an educator—fostered that interest. In high school, that passion was furthered by Warren Jones, a high school computer science teacher. Jones had his class design video games. Once a game was finished, we often rattled off lists of features and functions we wished were included and Jones would challenge us to go back and incorporate them. To this day I say if it weren’t for Mr. Jones, I would not be here. He made that computer science course so much fun.

After graduating with a computer science degree from Rutgers University, I left the East Coast for a software development job with IBM in Texas. A decade after advancing through software development roles, I left the workforce to raise a family. But five years later, a former colleague encouraged me to take a position at General Electric. I was apprehensive – unsure whether my skills were still current and if I would be an “imposter.” But I took on the challenge, accepted the position – and haven’t looked back.

Three Ways To Build A Career

As someone who wants to help young women succeed in tech—and beyond—I want to share three rules of thumb for those wanting to build their careers.

1.) Always seek to learn. Observe everything. Be curious. Earlier in my career I was a sponge. I wanted to know everything, how everything worked, how the whole business worked, not just my particular area. Part of that is watching and listening to people, especially those who are moving the needle. Take in the good traits from all the leaders you encounter and incorporate them into your own leadership style.

2.) Speak up. Ask questions. This is not easy, especially early in a career but it’s better to ask a “stupid” question than to pretend to know things you don’t. This is how you learn, and frankly, if you don’t know something it’s likely that other people don’t either. In addition, most people like to be asked. They like sharing knowledge. Asking questions builds social and workplace networks that are crucial to success.

3.) Take risks. It is important to go outside your comfort zone, especially early on when it is easier to do so. Right out of college, I moved halfway across the country for that IBM job. I didn’t know anyone in Texas. It was a different climate and a new job but I was able to enhance my career by being flexible. Later, I moved again when IBM wanted me to relocate to Atlanta. Young people with fewer ties should definitely take on travel or stretch assignments, when offered.

Building On Success

Having built my own career with help from others, I want to pay it forward. While I was lucky to have several key influencers in school or at work who helped me, one critical ingredient was lacking: I had zero black women role models in tech. In my 30 years, I’ve only had one woman manager and no black women managers. This is something that must change.

That lack of representation is obvious. It’s hard to see yourself in a role if you don’t see anyone that looks like you in that role. It is very important for young black women to realize they are not alone. There were many times when I felt I was the only one experiencing something, and that was (and is) never the case. One way to ease anxiety is to find people like you in a given group or situation.

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) help fulfill that role. Oracle, for example, has the Alliance of Black Leadership for Excellence (ABLE) as well as

Oracle Women’s Leadership (OWL) as ready-made networks for people with common interests.

Both ABLE and OWL helped me acclimate to the new company and I was thrilled to meet many black women executives at the company, something I had never experienced before.

I was also happy when Oracle embraced my idea to start a new mentorship program for black women called G.E.M.S. (Greatness, Excellence, Maturity and Sincerity). Many young women feel they don’t have allies or visibility within their organizations and lack a path for advancement. That is something that can be fixed.

G.E.M.S. enrolled its first 60 applicants this year. It includes eight black women executives and four senior directors who have volunteered to take on five mentees each. The program encompasses North America in 2023 but since it received applications from as far away as Nigeria and India, we hope to expand globally next year.

The project is exhilarating. I’m so excited because I feel like we can at least touch 60 women and let them know their worth. We can show them that their presence is valuable, give them tools on how to network and show them how they can grow their influence going forward.

This year 60 young black women at Oracle. Next year? Who knows, but the upside is immense. PDJ

The 15th Annual Diversity Leader Awards

PDJ Celebrates the Creativity and Commitment of this Year’s Diversity Leader Award Recipients

Every year, since PDJ began celebrating organizations and individual Diversity Leaders who are committed to taking diversity to the next level, we have been impressed and encouraged by their commitment, their intelligence, and their creativity.

The Diversity Leaders we recognize in the following pages are reaching out, locally and globally, to embrace an ever-expanding variety of employees, vendors, clients, and communities. Diversity, inclusion, and equity are central to everything they do. For many, who at one time or another have felt excluded or ignored because they belonged to a particular gender, or ethnic or cultural group, making diversity a reality is a personal imperative.

This year’s Award recipients are working to connect with a more diverse group of potential hires, reaching out to women- and minority-owned vendors, supporting their communities, and teaching company leaders and hiring managers to recognize and confront their own unconscious biases. Most important, they are cultivating workplaces that invite all employees to bring their authentic selves to work every day.

We invite you to get to know these extraordinary Diversity Leaders. You may discover ideas and strategies that you can use to help drive your own organization along the diversity highway. And we know you’ll be inspired by their insights, their enthusiasm, and their inspiring personal stories.

Ally Financial, Inc.

Headquarters: Detroit, Michigan

Industry: Financial Services

CEO: Jeffrey J. Brown

We’re rooted in our deep, deep beliefs of the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion and equality for all. Where I’ve been very vocal is on matters of systemic racism, social injustice and really ensuring that all of our teammates at Ally – all 11,000+, feel safe and feel empowered and feel okay to be their authentic selves….

– Jeffrey J. Brown, CEO

Ally Financial, a digital financial services company, which employs more than 11,000 people, lives and breathes diversity, equity and inclusion inside its offices and in the communities that it serves. Forty-two percent of the directors on the board are women or people of color and 53 percent of its executive staff.

It’s won numerous awards for its commitment to DEI. Here is a sample: 2022 Forbes “The Best Employers for Diversity”; 2022 Human Rights Campaign - Corporate Equality Index “Best Places to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality”; 2022 Fortune “Best Companies for Millennials”; 2022 Fortune “Best Workplaces for Financial Services and Insurance”; and 2022 People Magazine “Companies that Care.”

Ally is also known for its supplier diversity and has been recognized twice for its Supplier Diversity programming: 2022 TOP Corporations Award from the Greater Women’s Business Council; 2022 Excellence in Supplier Diversity by the Carolinas LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce.

Each year, Ally uses a survey by Glint, a company that focuses on engagement, to determine employee engagement levels. In 2022, Ally’s engagement rate was among the top 10 percent of its global benchmark and nine points higher than the financial services benchmark.

Reggie Willis, Executive Director and Chief Diversity Officer

Credentials: M.B.A., Queens University; B.A., College of Holy Cross

DEI is a core value at Ally and the financial services company doesn’t hide its light. Leadership holds media interviews and meetings with other leaders within the industry and beyond to discuss opportunities to get more involved in community issues such as financial education, workforce development, equitable housing and access to technology.

The focus on DEI at this company is apparent in the numbers. The number of people of color was up 15 percent in 2022 and female representation at the executive level has remained steady because of higher retention and promotion rates. There has been more than a 50 percent growth in Employee Resource Groups (ERG), internal organizations for employees of different races, ethnicities and genders.

Everyone is encouraged to join or engage with Ally’s eight ERGs, which are conduits for action as well as listening – frequently, the ERGs host “Let’s Talk About It” sessions where employees can share their thoughts and reactions around relevant social justice, equity and inclusivity topics. The discussions are often difficult and raw, but critical in bringing the teams together and fostering a sense of belonging.

Because of difficult and uncertain economic conditions, 2023 will be the year of employee retention and being thoughtful about the approach the firm takes with existing teammates. Primarily, it will be focused on facilitating a ‘human’ approach to leadership and ensuring that the DEI team plays a big role in coaching and teaching managers.

That will also include improving mental health support and resiliency for all employees. Caring for managers and leaders allows them to continue to create an environment where their teammates feel a connection and sense of purpose.

Bowman and Brooke LLP

Headquarters: Minneapolis, MN

Industry: Law Firm

CEO: Paul Cereghini, Firm Chair

I will work to maintain our firm’s Core Value of being a diverse firm of partners and employees with a leadership role within the legal profession. I will work to ensure our firm continues to deliver the highest caliber of legal services by attorneys and staff who reflect the cultures, values and diversity of the clients and communities we serve. I will also use my voice as a leader in my firm and in the profession to advocate for DEI in the legal profession and in my community.

– Paul Cereghini, Firm Chair

This law firm of 396 employees doesn’t just check the diversity box. Diverse recruitment, mentoring, and mandatory DEI training have been core values for decades and it shows. Nearly half of its executive committee is made up of women, including a female vice chair.

Its hard work has been recognized by others. The firm has earned awards from The National Law Journal; NLJ 500 Women’s Scorecard, 2022, Top 20, 2018–2022 Law360; and it ranked #39 on the 2021 Glass Ceiling Report Top 40 Firm for Women Attorneys, firms with 101–250 attorneys.

The firm encourages employee engagement through mentoring, career involvement in leadership and public experiences in external associations. New attorneys are assigned a partner-level mentor who assists them in their professional development. Female attorney and attorneys of color can opt for additional support in an affinity group or with an affinity mentor. The mentor helps new lawyers by meeting with them regularly to discuss work, client feedback and growth opportunities within the firm.

Roshan Rajkumar, Managing Partner, Diversity and Inclusion Committee Chair

Credentials: University of Minnesota Law School, J.D.; Australian National University; M.A., Boston College, B.A.

This firm works hard to fight complacency in DEI work and sees both a lack of focus and complacency as dangerous threats to the progress of DEI. It refuses to rest. Currently, over 60 percent of its 2022 newly hired attorneys identify in at least one diverse category. Yet, it is still working hard to make sure that all lawyers and staff feel included. It keeps everyone on the same page by requiring lawyers and staff to participate in DEI training and providing opportunities to discuss race and gender.

Every attorney is held accountable through the firm’s Acts of Inclusion Checklist. The list is a smart, practical guide to help busy lawyers navigate DEI and stay on top of their goals.

The checklist requires the following: Each attorney must recognize and reject all forms of intolerance, addressing issues swiftly. They must also ask a new attorney about their career development plans and offer to help. Finally, the lead attorney should invite a diverse attorney and guest to a non-work-related event and introduce them to others. Attorneys are held accountable by formally reporting their efforts in their annual reviews.

The company also makes sure that the doors to the C-Suite are open to all lawyers. It does that through partnership planning, client succession planning and DEI evaluations for partners. The firm recognizes that their newly hired lawyers are the future. By becoming partners and being responsible for essential client relationships, women and minority attorneys will be in a position to pursue the highest-level positions in the firm as managing partners, executive managing partners and firm chair.

Dechert LLP

Headquarters: Philadelphia, New York

Industry: Law Firm

CEO: Henry N. Nassau

I will use my voice as a leader to advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion in the legal profession and my community. I will ensure that our firm community continues to foster a culture of inclusion where everyone’s voice is respected and valued. I will use my leadership position to build a more diverse and inclusive legal profession by improving the equity of processes such as recruitment, development, and advancement of diverse attorneys and women.

– Henry N. Nassau, CEO

This law firm believes that DEI is the responsibility of every one of its 2,000 lawyers and staff in 21 offices around the world. But five full-time professionals are particularly dedicated to the company’s strategic oversight and implementation of diversity and inclusion initiatives. They have many successes to report.

This year it was named among the top 10 law firms for quality of life by Vault, a leading guide for law students and associates. Dechert ranked 8th overall in the best law firms category.

Last year, the Chambers Associate Survey ranked the company as “elite” across all six categories citing it for having the most satisfied associates, top career development retention, great benefits and quality of life, as well as elite status in pro bono work and diversity. It was the only AMLaw100-listed firm to achieve this honor.

The DEI team gets help from its diversity liaison partners, which are selected to oversee the diversity and inclusion efforts of their respective practice groups and exchange valuable information and insights with the DEI team. They also monitor assignments for equitable distribution of opportunities and workflow and ensure that diverse individuals are being mentored and sponsored, advised on their development and promoted internally and externally to the firm and to clients.

Satra Sampson-Arokium, Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer

Credentials: Masters of Public Administration, Marist College; B.A., State University of New York at Albany

Philosophy: In the words of author and activist Maya Angelo, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Take the time to listen and always treat people with dignity and respect.

The team had a number of accomplishments in 2022. Dechert’s Actionable Allyship and Inclusive Leadership training, which is open to all employees, educates Dechert’s staff on how to define and understand allyship, privilege and discrimination so that the firm can continue being an inclusive work environment. The firms has affinity groups that help foster numerous opportunities to members. Those groups provide mentorship and professional development opportunities to staff members. The company also holds an annual DEI week where colleagues are encouraged to celebrate and take pride in their identities.

Going forward, the retention of diverse associates is a high priority for the firm, particularly since demand for diverse legal talent still exceeds the supply. The DEI team will work with partners inside the firm to develop and enhance our firm’s mentoring program and it will hold intense, interactive sessions on inclusive leadership for all personnel. The firm will also host an in-person Diverse Lawyers’ Symposium that will bring together diverse associates for two days of programming, community building and networking. Throughout it all, the firm will track and analyze diversity data to ensure parity and to remedy any inequities.

Lilly Research Laboratories-Eli Lilly and Company

Headquarters: Indianapolis, IN

Industry: Pharmaceutical research and development, manufacturing and commercialization

CEO: Dave Ricks and Dan Skovronsky, executive vice president, Chief Scientific and Medical Officer and President of Lilly Research Laboratory

At Lilly, we believe in the power of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) to fulfill our purpose of creating medicines that make life better for people around the world. At our core, we believe that by leveraging the varied backgrounds of our more than 35,000 employees –and by driving actionable and measurable strategies to improve DEI, including diversity within our clinical trials – we can better deliver scientific breakthroughs.

– Dave Ricks, CEO

Eli Lilly is well known for its life-saving medications, but it should also be known for embedding DEI into the fabric of its vast company of more than 35,000 employees. Diversity Inc. ranked the company fifth among the top 50 companies for diversity in 2022. It was also eighth in diversity supply last year. In addition, the company has ranked among the top 10 for diversity since 2018, according to Diversity Inc.

Lilly’s successes in DEI keep expanding. Globally, about 48 percent of women are in management in 2021, up from 41 percent in 2017. Minority group members in management positions rose to 24 percent from 16 percent during that time period. Thirty-three percent of Lilly’s executive committee is made-up of women.

DEI is a priority business objective for Eli Lilly. More than 3,500 leaders and 13,000 employees have participated in mandatory training to gain greater awareness of how unconscious bias and micro-aggressions can sabotage team cohesiveness and employee engagement.

Outside of the company, Lilly is working to increase diversity in their clinical trials since it is well aware that there are not enough minorities in medical trials that lead to the approval of new medicines.

Credentials: Ph.D., The Rockefeller University

Philosophy: Believes in “the coalition of the willing” to get things done to make Lilly a better place.

Culture change is the key to making DEI the “new normal” for this company and that includes engaging the broader workforce beyond leadership. One of the company’s most difficult challenge is gender parity because of a tight talent pipeline and a historical imbalance.

It’s been steadily chipping away at the roadblocks. The company created the Talent Development Academy to advance hiring, developing and retaining highly capable and diverse early talents who are the future of Eli Lilly. Senior staff have been key to its creation because they develop and implement talent acquisition and development programs. Metrics on DEI are integrated into the leader dashboard.

The result is a reliable, highly diversified talent pipeline including hundreds of interns and over 100 full-time hires, which boasts a 60/40 split in favor of females and members of underrepresented members.

In 2023, the company wants to capitalize on its investments in recruiting and talent development to broaden its DEI impact. Key measures will reflect growth in the number of scientists from underrepresented backgrounds and the progression of those scientists into positions of leadership and influence. In order to sustain this “new normal,” the company will have to remain committed to DEI while also delivering business outcomes. The two are not mutually exclusive but creating a steady pace is required for success.

Latham & Watkins

Headquarters: Los Angeles, CA

Industry: Law Firm CEO:Richard Trobman

Stated simply, we view DEI as a business imperative. Latham & Watkins’ global platform uniquely positions our lawyers to advance DEI in service of the communities in which we work, our clients around the world, and within their personal careers. Through tailored training in leadership, self-advocacy, and business development, our global strategy to promote women has resulted in the long-term success of female lawyers and executives in all of our offices.

– Richard Trobman

Making diversity a habit is a distinguishing feature of the culture of this global law firm of nearly 7,000 lawyers and staff.

It has won awards testifying to those efforts including achieving a 100% score on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2022 Corporate Equality Index; Diversity Lab’s Mansfield Certification Plus and the 2022 Elite Law Firm for Diversity and Inclusion in the Chambers Associate Guide.

The firm has 12 professional staff who are fully dedicated to the firm’s DEI work and 3,700 affinity groups for its many racial, ethnic and other gender-based staff members. In addition, more than 3,400 individuals participated in pro bono work, much of which was focused on helping underrepresented communities around the world.

It does this work through the Diversity Leader Committee, which is made up of over 40 lawyers and professional staff, representing all of the regions of their practice. The DLC works with the Executive Committee and nearly every management committee and administrative department to weave DEI into the firm.

Kem Ihenacho, Partner and Chair of Leadership Committee

Credentials: LL.B, Cardiff Law School (Hons)

Philosophy: Belong as you are.

Latham & Watkins’ goal is to cultivate an environment in which all colleagues belong as they are. In 2022, the firm held a diversity speaker series with thought leaders and experts in DEI coupled with an allies initiative which helps equip all colleagues with concrete tools to serve as more effective allies for each other.

Recruitment, retention and promotion of top diverse talent has been crucial. Last year, the company had its most diverse summer associate classes — 56 percent female, 49 percent racial/ethnic minority, 12 percent LGBTQ+ and 41 percent first-generation professional. It also wants to build partnerships with high schools including internships and scholarships to help diversify and expand the talent pipeline.

In 2023, the company wants to keep building a culture of inclusion and belonging to make sure diversity is embedded from new hires to the most senior leadership. It also wants to better support various underrepresented lawyers and address unique DEI challenges in regions that are less progressive on DEI, including Continental Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

The greatest challenge is continuing to increase and sustain broad engagement among all of our colleagues around the world. In order to make true progress, we need all of our colleagues to keep inclusion top of mind every day and every time they are interacting with each other. While advancing DEI is absolutely a critical part of our culture and we are fortunate that our colleagues are very committed to this mission, the reality is that it can sometimes be challenging to always keep inclusion top of mind in the midst of busy work schedules. Our task therefore is to stay focused on concrete ways to show nearly 7,000 colleagues in 30 offices how they can incorporate inclusion into their daily habits.