How to become a change agent in your own career

Is a toxic workplace impacting your career? HP’s Chief Diversity Officer Lesley Slaton Brown offers advice on how to advocate for yourself.

What do you do when things at work are toxic? Do you tolerate and gossip about it, or do you take strategic action to try and promote real change? I think most of us, if we’re honest, fall into that first bucket. We shake our heads and put it in the group chat because we understand office politics and we don’t want to take on the risk that comes with speaking up.

Is there a way to create real change at work without the drama? I posed this question to someone who has a track record of sparking disruption and having uncomfortable conversations in the name of equity, HP’s Chief Diversity Officer Lesley Slaton Brown. She says it starts with respect. 

“Because with respect you can build trust with your colleagues and that is where you have the difficult conversations,” she explains in this week’s episode of The Reset. “You don’t wait to have those conversations when you’re in the midst of something, you have to build up that stamina in order to carry you through those difficult conversations.”

For example, when George Floyd was murdered in the summer of 2020, Slaton said she’d already developed a strong relationship with HP’s executive leadership team and met them where they were on their journey to understanding diversity, equity and inclusion. So when the time came to speak up about what Black employees were feeling across the nation at that moment, she knew she could be vulnerable and unapologetic about the truth. 

“I had the relationship established and respect established and I knew I could be vulnerable and say ‘I’m hurting,’” she said. “And so for me to be able to go to a leader and say ‘I need to have this conversation with you about X, Y, Z.’ I don’t know their strategy but first you need to know I’m struggling today. I’m hurting. This is what’s happening in my community and there may be others on your team feeling like I feel and so reach out to them,” said Slaton. 

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Slaton is the Chief Diversity Officer for a Fortune 100 company; of course, she’s equipped to be a force for change. What about people who want to bring up issues at work but have made a habit of tolerating bad or toxic behavior and simply don’t know how to advocate for themselves? 

“Start with why this is important to you and be able to articulate that clearly,” she said. “You have to start somewhere. So when you start with your why and you start with your own storytelling, people have compassion, they have empathy, and a connection with you in some way. So when you do need to speak up and advocate for yourself, people will listen,” said Slaton. 

To hear more on advocating for yourself from one of the top DEI experts in tech watch the full episode of The Reset with Coach Tish, above.

Letisha Bereola

Letisha Bereola is a life coach who helps ambitious women overcome burnout and reach their career goals so they feel great at work and happy at home. She’s a former Emmy-nominated TV news anchor, Podcast host of AUDACITY and speaker. Learn more:

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