- United Way Volunteer and Investor
- Volunteer on the United Way Community Investment Committee
- United Way Emerging Leader
- United Way Employee Campaign Coordinator
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I am a first-generation Columbian-born American citizen adopted into my Norwegian/Irish farming family of central North Dakota. When I was growing up, everyone worked hard to the benefit of the family & the farm. When we gathered it was always around a table of food. This was how we connected. Additionally, when I came out, my family supported me, along with friends, and also my workplace. This allowed me to thrive through that time of my life, and take many lessons and grow from them, versus face challenges and be filled with resentments.
My experiences have brought me to enjoy connecting with those I work with, and I make it a priority to get to know who they really area – ideally spending time with them gathering for a meal/food! I have found that the more you know your teammates, the better you understand everyone’s strengths and can empower them to thrive.
In times in my life when I fell short, I was shown grace, which has allowed me to learn from these experiences. This is something I try to emulate as others are learning from their experiences, too.
Seeking out, looking to understand, and celebrating diversity has been inherent along this journey, and will never change. Because we are different, we are stronger when we work together.
Knowing your story and the story of others, demonstrating teamwork, celebrating diversity, and working to a greater cause that will benefit something bigger than you-these values are part of the foundation that is United Way, and why I volunteer.
What is one lesson you have learned? How did you learn it?
Get comfortable being uncomfortable: Some of the greatest lessons I have learned came when I may have been significantly challenged or failed.
Going through challenges and failures, I took time to reflect which helped me learn things that inspired or demanded change, and through those changes I’ve grown. This has been possible because the grace of others allowed me to learn and grow. I learned this throughout my tenure with my employer, Cognizant.
Joining the United Way’s Community Investment Committee this last year has been a huge learning curve. Understanding the grant writing process, strategic funding, and social service budgeting were not in my wheelhouse, but has been a wonderful learning experience. Sitting in on the early calls, with veteran United Way committee members and not being sure what to expect or what was being asked of me was not always comfortable, but those same United Way committee members showed me grace, brought me along and were patient as I’ve caught up, which has allowed me to gain a much broader understanding and appreciation for how United Way supports the 4 bold goals to ultimately lift people out of poverty.
What has helped you to be successful in your career?
A sense of knowing who I am and being honest with myself about that. Several years ago, I was passed up for a career growth opportunity. At the time I was given feedback on my opportunities. The feedback was on point and I knew that even as I heard it. The problem was I wasn’t ready to acknowledge it. I’ve since committed to not putting myself in that same position again.
Now, when I take on any project, I strive to be proactive to identify any challenge I’ll anticipate; be it in knowledge, skill, or interpersonally. I weigh that against any personal opportunities and from there, I work with my director to address those concerns to ensure success. Being more strategic and honest in how I work enabled me to refocus and eventually move into a growth role about a year and a half later.
As one of the Employer Campaign Coordinators for United Way, running a successful office campaign is its own project needing to be managed, and I approach it in the same way. However, it’s never been so challenging in scope that we weren’t successful in reaching our office goals to support United Way. It was key to think more strategically and be honest when I needed help – that ensured it was successful!
What are some tangible ways workplaces can increase inclusiveness and positive relationships among employees?
Two things come to mind immediately. First, visibility matters! Ensure your marketing materials reflect not only who you serve but who you employ (when appropriate) and those you with to recruit.
I was once asked as part of an exercise to examine how a company could improve supporting their LGBTQ employees. It was a firm that offered services to families. When I called attention to the fact that their website did not have a single visual that indicated that this company supported, served or employed those who identified as LGBTQ, it gave them pause. This was an opportunity to have more inclusive and contemporary representation of family dynamics.
Secondly, celebrate the differences and acknowledge how they make you stronger. When you have differing perspectives that are valued in the workplace, your employees thrive, and your end product is stronger for it. The success of inclusiveness and diversity drives engagement, loyalty and further success. This is a win /win proposition.
The United Way has built and executed successful campaigns year over year. This is not a fluke of course. The United Way relies on the engagement of our Cass and Clay community. A key reason for their success has been ensuring that all in the community feel welcome and included in participating and benefiting from their work. They have established a sense of inclusiveness. They also do a pretty good job recognizing participants contributions along the way, as well as sharing and celebrating that success when it’s done.