By Orlando Hampton, General Manager USA
One thing I have tried to do consistently throughout my career, is get into a room where some may think I don’t belong.
I consider it a privilege to be the least accomplished, lowest paid or least well-known person in a room! Those types of environments are ripe with opportunities to learn, and I cherish those opportunities. My brother once said to me: “You don’t know what you don’t know”. That one phrase has both motivated and haunted me throughout my entire life. The idea that you are missing out on some unknown facet of life serves as motivation to achieve, while the idea that you don’t even know the stuff you are missing out on can be haunting. With that one phrase, my brother started me on a life-long mission to constantly say “yes” when conventional wisdom might suggest a more conservative answer. Typically, ‘conventional wisdom’ sounds like this in the real-life voices of my closest friends: “Are you crazy bro?!”
My latest adventure has had a profound impact on me. A few weeks ago, I participated in a Women in Leadership Roundtable event led by one my colleagues. I was one of five men in a room of 50 or so attendees.
For two hours I sat and listened to a group of some of the most successful and talented women I know discussing issues that I frankly had no idea my colleagues were even considering on a daily basis. I heard leaders talk about the assumptions:“you packed the kids’ lunch, right?” and the guilt: “am I short-changing my family by being at this work event? Am I short-changing my colleagues by being at this family event?” It occurred to me that many of the most inspirational and important mentors in my life are women, and while they were advising on my career and life goals I had shamefully never thought to ask them about the unique challenges that women in my business face every day. As the moments passed, I felt that haunting feeling creeping in and the voice inside me screaming “you work with women every day. Why don’t you know about these challenges they are facing???” So, I did something that surprised more than a few of my colleagues. I closed my mouth, opened my ears and used every ounce of energy available to focus on hearing the stories of these incredible women. At the end of the event I knew that a new door had opened and I had to immerse myself further into this conversation.
With that in mind I followed one of the panellists to her next speaking engagement, and this past week I found myself as one of ten men amongst 1,200 women at the Women in Cable Telecommunications (WICT) conference in New York City. As a veteran of a few hundred conferences, I can say unequivocally this was the most impactful conference I have ever attended. I heard so many inspirational stories from so many exceptional women that I wrote half of my notes on the cover of my notepad after running out of space inside (true story!)
- Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them
- Constructive criticism is a gift
- Stop giving away compliments. Men live by the rule that it’s not a mistake unless someone notices. In sports if you step on the line and the referee doesn’t notice then it didn’t happen! Women self-report. “Great speech” “yeah I forgot the 3rd point I was going to make”. “Great Memo” “Thanks, but did you see the typo on page 2?”
I was approached maybe 50 times by different women to ask why I had decided to come to the event as they warmly welcomed me. As an executive in the software space I have been to more conferences dominated by men than I can even count. What I do know, is that I never made an effort to seek out anyone at those events and welcome them into the fold. That was a mistake on my part and I plan to do better in the future.
As an African American male, I have been in many situations where no one in the room looks like me. Still, during this WITC event I found myself obsessing over thoughts like, “did I dress appropriately? Should I be wearing a tie? If I don’t phrase this question perfectly will it reflect poorly on all men?” As women told stories of triumphing over the insecurity of being the ‘only woman in the room’, for the first in my life I heard them loud and clear. Again, the women around me came to my rescue: “It’s so great that you are here”; “I appreciate your level of engagement”; “I’m so glad you asked that question”. I promise not to miss an opportunity to pick up the spirits of someone the next time I walk amongst the majority.
By the end of the conference, I had settled in so comfortably that I no longer felt like one man amongst a thousand women. I just felt truly blessed to be there amongst all of my sisters in the workforce. When Marge Jackson implored us to communicate our personal brand and to deliver on that promise every day, it brought me out of my seat. When Meeka Bondy said, “if it’s not confidence, then let it be passion” I thought she was addressing me directly, and when Italia Commisso Weinand paused to gather herself during an emotional acceptance speech for the Woman of the Year award I felt the tears well in my eyes as well.
These experiences have been a total blessing, and to all the wonderful women who greeted me with such warmth and grace I would like to offer my deepest regards and know that I look forward to standing shoulder to shoulder with you all again soon.
The world is a better place when we all actively work to understand each other. I implore everyone reading this article to find a way to get out of your own comfort zone. The rewards are amazing!
Original article here