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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the WOMEN IN SALES Webinar sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales and hosted by Gina Stracuzzi on March 1, 2021 in honor of International Women’s Day. It featured Hang Black, VP of Revenue Enablement at Juniper Networks and author of Embrace Your Edge.]
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HANG’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “When making a decision, make sure that you have a CLEAR path. C for clarity, L for learn whether it’s from experience and whether it’s from experiments. E for edge, so make sure you embrace that which is uniquely you because that’s your competitive edge. A for access, create your own access. If you don’t have it, create and curate it very well. Surround yourself with people who will uplift you, not with people who will diminish you. Finally, R, with Responsibility. Once you get there, share it. We have to get past tokenism, it’s okay to bring in a token because I’m much happier that I was hired because I was token, because once I get my seat at the table, I will earn it. It’s much better than when I didn’t get hired because I was a token or a minority and we have to get past tokenism because all the studies show that it takes 2 to 3 people in the room for us to no longer have a minority.”
Fred Diamond: We have a special webcast today in honor of International Women’s Day, we’re going to be doing a special show. Typically, on Tuesday I get to introduce Gina, but today it’s Monday. It’s my honor to bring to you the Program Director for the Institute for Excellence in Sales Women in Sales Leadership Forum, Gina Stracuzzi. Gina, it’s great to see you on a Monday, I’m very excited for what you have for us today.
Gina Stracuzzi: Thank you, Fred, as always. Welcome, everyone, and thanks for tuning in to this special edition of the Women in Sales webcast. This will be up on LinkedIn and Twitter in time for the actual International Women’s Day next Monday. I would like to not waste any time at all talking about anything else and just welcome my guest, Hang Black. Hang, I am so thrilled to have you here and to have this really important conversation, so welcome.
Hang Black: Thank you so much for having me.
Gina Stracuzzi: You’re quite welcome. Tell us a little bit about where you are right now, your particular position and then we’ll get into talking about your book, Embrace Your Edge.
Hang Black: As you mentioned, my name is Hang Black. I work for Juniper Networks where I have the pleasure of leading global revenue enablement. For those of you who aren’t aware, that is giving all of our salespeople the right content, process and tools to be successful.
Gina Stracuzzi: How long have you been at Juniper and what was your journey to that position?
Hang Black: It’s been quite fortuitous. One of the things that I want to focus a little bit on today is the journey is not as linear as we think it may be and there’s always opportunities to go to where you might want to go to or go to places you haven’t even discovered yet. I started as an engineer – this will age me – back when there were television commercials, the Intel guys in the neon-colored suits with the disco ball.
I was a process engineer for nearly a decade at Advanced Micro Devices but I always had a love for business. I had the opportunity to move to Cisco, I was there for almost 15 years, 10 of it were in marketing and the last 5 of which were in sales, and I’ve been in sales ever since. I left Cisco to become my own entrepreneur for a few years, then I went back into high tech just because I’m a nerd, and I’ve only been at Juniper the last two years, a little over two years at this point.
I used to say that I started in engineering because I love solving complex problems and I love numbers and I ended up in sales because I like numbers with dollar signs in front of them a lot better.
Gina Stracuzzi: [Laughs] that’s great. Let’s dive right into your book because it’s not only a personal journey, to me it’s a road map that other immigrant women and women of color can use. Also, I think there’s a lot in there that employers can learn from, companies, of all the things not to do inadvertently. More importantly, to really help them understand what women are up against and especially women of color or immigrant women because that’s a whole different ball game. As you point out in the book, you don’t know what you don’t know until someone puts it in front of you and that’s true for employers too. Let’s start breaking the book down a little bit. I want to say right off the bat that I absolutely loved how you dedicated the book to highly intelligent, capable women who might be exhausted. I think that’s just a phenomenal way to put it because, at the risk of sounding trite, the battle is real, the struggle is real and it does exhaust you because you have all these other pieces as a woman that are also playing into everything you’re doing. Then if you have this added pressure, being exhausted is a real possibility. Why don’t you talk to us a little bit about why you wrote the book?
Hang Black: It’s been kicking in my head for nearly a decade, because the road was just way more typical for me than it needed to be and there are so many stops along the way where you’re like, “Is it me? Am I crazy-town?” As I started being more open about sharing my story, what you hear is there’s a little bit of the story for everyone, we’ve all experienced it. It’s kind of validating that we’re not individually insane but we’re collectively sharing a narrative, and it’s accidental in many ways.
When I started off writing it, I call it navigating in the dark because when you’re starting your career, the base of the mountain is far and wide, there are many routes up the road and then you certainly can show up with your talent. You can show up, excel and ascend with your talent, but at some point, meritocracy stops working and you get to the point in the mountain where you’re just circling and circling the same routes. You’re looking around you and some people have a helicopter to the top, some people have a jet to the top and some people have access to tools and Sherpas that you didn’t even know existed.
People like me, who have multiple layers of stuff: outlier status, being a female, being a person of color, being an immigrant, all of those things multiply that inaccessibility. I didn’t even know that I was navigating in the dark because how do you know that you’re blind if you can’t see? So, as you mentioned, the first audience is for people like me, those who are part of that “leaky pipeline” because look, I was part of it. I left after 25 years not because the work was too hard to get to the next level, it was navigating the misperceptions and the politics and not having people understand you, that part was what was too hard. Then I did the entrepreneur thing for a couple years and I was just like, “You know what? I’m going to go back and I’m going to go back with a bang, and I’m going to bring all these other women and minorities and people of color with me and give them access to all the things that I’ve learned.” I’ve had 30 years at this point of experience, of reading books, of going to conferences, many years of personal therapy, the last few years of executive coaching. How do I give back to the community things that I didn’t even know existed until much later on?
The last thing I’ll notice, it’s never too late. My career really didn’t start taking off until I was 45 so there is hope out there. The second audience is for people who want to understand people like me. They’re all trying to recruit women, they’re all trying to recruit people of color, some just to make numbers and that’s okay, and some because they actually realize that diversity drives innovation. It’s written for that audience too and it’s written without anger and without judgement. The most rewarding things that I have seen is I’ve had women reach out to me, male immigrants reach out to me, the most rewarding has been white men who have reached out to me and said, “I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and you said it in a way where I was open to hearing it. In fact, I bought two more copies for my daughters and daughter-in laws.” That has been the most rewarding exercise I’ve had.
Gina Stracuzzi: Reading it, that’s what I kept thinking because there isn’t anger or frustration – the frustration is there but that’s not the motivating piece behind it and it comes through in the way that it’s written. That’s why to me, it could be a roadmap for all the things that you don’t know that you don’t know, and things not to do even inadvertently when you’re trying to recruit people.
Hang Black: Absolutely. When I write that it’s without anger or judgement, it is with frustration but I’m not angry or frustrated with the people, I’m angry and frustrated with the lack of acknowledgement of privilege and the responsibility that comes with privilege. It’s okay to be privileged and to exercise your privilege, but just be aware of it and then be willing to share it and I’ll give you three examples. “If it’s meant to be, it’ll happen.” That’s not something you say to someone without access because we have to work really hard to make stuff happen. The other thing that’s really difficult to hear, “Wow, I haven’t had to interview for a job in decades.” That is privilege. When someone says that, and when someone says that to someone like me, it is extremely aggravating because it shows me their lack of self-awareness.
The third one – and this is going to be a little bit provocative because you hear leaders say it all the time and I disagree with it vehemently – “Don’t be afraid to fail.” When you don’t have access, putting every single dime that you have into that little business might be your one and only opportunity. You don’t get to go back to the bank that was difficult enough to give you a loan the first time, if they did at all. If you get an opportunity for an internship, you don’t get to go back to your mom for another connection that she doesn’t have. “Don’t be afraid to fail” is a very privileged statement and again, my parents, when they left Vietnam, there was one opportunity for all of us to go at the same time. Sure, could we do it later? Maybe many, many years later with even more difficulty than we did when we went. These are things that companies need to be aware of. How about, “Take smart risks”? That’s an interesting statement. “Experiment and learn.” That’s interesting, but “Don’t be afraid to fail”? Come on, some of us don’t have a safety net.
Gina Stracuzzi: I remember reading that in the book and I thought, “That is so true.” I think the statement came out of a good place initially, but now it’s just this free-for-all and it really means, “Go out and try something and if you’re successful, come back and talk to me.” Thank you, but if I fail, as you point out, you may not see me again. That is a very good point. You hit on the leaky pipeline a little bit and this and your idea that people are tiring of the conversation around diversity, inclusion and equity, again, it goes to the idea of privilege in a lot of respects. Yeah, you’re tired of hearing it if it doesn’t really affect you. The conversation doesn’t go away for the people that still need a level playing field and the disconnect between this leaky pipeline and these conversations that people are tiring of, to me, is fascinating. They’re not making the connection that yes, you don’t have a strong succession plan and you don’t have the people you want in that pipeline because you still aren’t doing the things to get them up here. How are you talking to people about that in terms of companies or employers or even people who are trying to make a difference? How would you talk to them about not tiring of the conversation until it’s over, until we have equity?
Hang Black: It is exhausting. I probably spend five hours of a week that I don’t have talking about this stuff. I’d much rather be playing with my kids and cooking. I work easily 60 hours a week, but I enjoy it, I’d much rather even do that than have this discussion, but we have to for two reasons. First of all, it’s the right thing to do and like I said, with great privilege has great responsibility, and I do feel that I have become part of the privileged group now, so it is therefore my responsibility to help everyone else. Secondly, it’s the right thing for business. The reason I go out there and do this all day long is because diversity begets diversity. There are people who come pounding down on my doors whenever there’s a rec open on any of my teams because they know that there’s space for innovation, there’s space for success even if you don’t look like everybody else.
What can companies do? What I am challenging a lot of my leaders now is to say when you create diversity programs, it’s not enough to talk about it. It’s not enough to even create programs, it’s not even enough to invite women to the room. One of the phrases that everyone loves is, “The conversation doesn’t stop when you’re invited to the room because what’s your role? Are you there just to sit? Are you sitting, are you serving or are you standing?” One of the things that we have an opportunity to do right now in this virtual environment, look at the screens, Gina, you and I share the same amount of real estate. I encourage women all day long, turn on your cameras. If you want to be seen, show up. If you want to be heard, speak up. If you want to make impact, stand up. What can companies do? Not only invite women, minorities, people of color into the room but make sure that they actually have a voice. Every executive has a circle of 3 to 5 people, is your circle diverse enough? Does your immediate circle of confidants represent the people that not only represent your team, but what you want your team to look like? Not what your team looks like today, but what you want your team to look like tomorrow. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is when we design programs, do we actually ask the people for whom these programs are designed for or is it people in the majority asking the white male leader, “Hey, I thought of this program, what do you think?” and he goes, “That’s awesome” because I can tell you, 20 years of looking at diversity programs, half of them I can look at immediately and go, “That’s not going to work for me” because I’ve lived that human experience. There’s been a lot of great work around mentorship and sponsorship, but the problem with that is it’s very one-to-one and it still puts a lot of onus on the person that’s struggling in the briar patch. We need to turn our conversation to allyship and role-modeling.
I bring it up in the book, but MLK would not have been successful without JFK. No social movement has ever been successful without some sort of allyship from the majority. On the other hand, JFK would not have been successful in his Civil Rights Agenda without an MLK, why? One provided the voice, one provided the platform. JFK was speaking without the human experience, without the credibility of MLK he would not have been as moving and as successful, so we really need to celebrate our role models. We really need to not demonize the people and the majority because what does a minority mean? Is it race, is it gender, is it age, it’s tenure? It’s literally the small population in the room, full stop. When we make that realization, then we can unpack unconscious bias. We won’t say that women are too timid, they need to speak up more, they need to raise their hand, we won’t talk about that because when I run diversity workshops, it’s the men who are in the back of the room, it’s the men who are not speaking. When the do speak up, it’s the women who speak on top of them. It’s just when you are in the majority of the room, it’s easier to have voice, period.
Gina Stracuzzi: We have a question from someone in the audience and this is Queirra Fenderson, Queirra is one of the facilitators for me in the Women in Sales Leadership Forum and she’s an awesome woman, you really should know her. She says, “Love this, Hang and Gina. How would you suggest handling micro-aggressions in the workplace?”
Hang Black: That’s a great question. I would point you to chapter 5 called Sit Down and Shut Up where I talk about transactional analysis. There’s this thing called transactional analysis where when you break down a conversation, people can act as the parent, they can act as a child and they can act as an adult, but parent and child personas are built in our heads, that’s how we record experiences before we’re 5 years old. When you’re having a conversation with someone, typically micro-aggressions are the result of someone becoming a parent and treating you like a child. A parent can be either domineering or they can be super nurturing and that causes two problems. If they’re domineering, they’re not giving you voice, if they’re super nurturing, they’re not giving you trust. The parent triggers a child response, so the child can be really submissive – which a lot of women do and that creates that, “Women are too timid, they don’t speak up” perspective – or it triggers the petulant child, which is me, which is like, “Oh, no you didn’t!” You can’t do that even though it’s frustrating, but you actually have to bring people back into an adult mode, so you have to look at how you respond, and I always tell people, kill them with kindness and uppercut them with data. That is how you get people back into the adult state and there’s three or four really good examples of how you do that.
Gina Stracuzzi: I love that kill them with kindness piece, my father, also an immigrant, he used to say that all the time. I love the uppercut with data, that is great.
Hang Black: Because you can’t argue data.
Gina Stracuzzi: Queirra follows up with, “Very interesting. I remember learning about this concept in therapy but never thought to apply it to the workplace.” Queirra is an executive coach so she’s fabulous in that right too, I know that she’ll start to integrate some of this into conversations. Let’s talk a little bit about the melting the glass ceiling versus breaking the glass ceiling because I loved so many of your analogies in this book. They’re generous and accessible, and by that, I mean they’re not pointing fingers at somebody, they’re just pointing out the prevalence of certain words and what those words mean in a bigger context, particularly like this one. Take us through that.
Hang Black: There’s a lot in this book about accountability, responsibility and what’s in your environment. I talk a lot about control what you can, influence what you can’t and know when to leave good to make room for great. With that context in the background, think about breaking the glass ceiling. From controlling what I can, and I choose to break the glass ceiling, doesn’t that sound a little bit violent to you? Doesn’t it sound a little reckless? Who is it going to hurt on both sides of that transaction? I prefer to think about influence, influencing what I can. Again, if you have the voice without a platform – this goes back to the allyship and role modeling – you’re just screaming, you’re just making noise. In order to get that influence, you have to approach people with collaboration. In all of my work with advocacy, it’s been very clear to me that people are unable to hear unless you speak in a language with which they can process. I’ve been laid off three times, never for talent, always for reorganization where I was conveniently replaced by a white man. Was it intentional? Absolutely not, I don’t believe that, and all three times was after I had children. Do I think it was irresponsible? Absolutely, because it was never for talent, it was always an assumption of, “Oh, she worked remotely.”
I used to tell people all the time, I’m so much more productive than other people and I just work non-traditional hours. It’s funny because people would say, “No, studies show people cannot be productive remotely.” Guess what? I’m loving this pandemic because chaos is my jam and I write in the book, I hate to say I told you so but I told you so. In fact, what’s happening right now is people are burning out, people who work remotely, work from home, they burn out because they get used to this continuous cycle. I’ve actually just learned to work hard but work it into my day so I’m still emotionally healthy. People did not have the eyes and the ears to listen for that so what I’ve always said was I’m the same person, I’m the same talent yet without melting the glass ceiling, my part of doing my work to influence and show and to help understand, I was just banging against the glass ceiling hoping to break it. Guess what? It didn’t break.
Gina Stracuzzi: You certainly have moved it aside [laughs] and I love that. “Look, I didn’t even have to break it, I just needed to slide it over this way a little bit.” Speaking directly to women who might be in your situation or in a situation of either being a minority, being an immigrant, being a woman of color or just being one of a few women at a company, let’s talk about your three R’s. I really loved how you didn’t just use them one place in the book, you used them throughout the book, and you took those three R’s and applied them to both personal and professional situations. To me, that is really a valuable tool to have. Do you want to take us through those a little bit?
Hang Black: Before I start there, let me ask you, Gina – and we’re going to cheat a little bit because I know you’ve read the book – what does success look like for you?
Gina Stracuzzi: In this particular part of my journey right now, success is to keep elevating the conversation around women, getting them more places at the table and equipping them with more tools to help them. Success means that I don’t have to have these conversations anymore, that’s what success looks like. I don’t have to tire with the conversation, but I don’t need to keep having it.
Hang Black: Let me paint a picture for you. When I talk to a lot of young women, and it certainly was the case for me, success was either I’m going to be a martyr stay-at-home mom that takes care of my children, that has my babies, bakes cookies for the entire class and takes care of my elders. The other equation of success was a baron, grumpy female executive at the top, The Devil Wears Prada. I talk to young women and they’re like, “Yes, I feel that way too, I feel like those are my two options.” Again, if we go back to the mountain analogy, what if there are all these vistas along the way? Who says you have to stop at the base and who says you have to target the summit? There are all these beautiful vistas in-between, what if you get to a vista and you want to hang out for a while? What if you want to hang out there forever? What if you get there and you’re like, “Actually, I do want to go for the summit” or, “I want to go over there for a while”?
I think about three spectrums of success: significance, do I want to make an impact? Security, how much money do I want? Do I want to have a hut on the beach, or do I want to have multiple vacation homes everywhere else? Then stability, how much spontaneity do I want and how much stability, that I want to be in my hometown that I grew up in with my network of friends and family that have always been there? The good news is if you look at success in those spectrums, then you can move along those spectrums. Who says that what you decide today won’t change tomorrow? That’s why I actually encourage people, don’t make 30, 50-year plans, make 1, 2, 5 year plans.
Now comes in the three R’s, how do I do that? First of all, you have to Reflect. Where are you today? If you could wave a magic wand, what would that look like? What would success look like for you? What would happiness look like for you? Then you Recalibrate. What am I doing? Am I doing the things that are going to make me happy today or am I on a trajectory that was based on somebody else’s map that someone else gave me that they drew many, many years ago? Why would you limit yourself to that? If you were on Trip Gina, do you want one paper map or do you want a dynamic Google map to tell you all the obstacles that happen to occur along the way, any new destination? The final one is Reset. You’ve Reflected, you’ve Recalibrated, now you’ve got to Reset. Reset your engines, change your direction if you need to, and go.
Gina Stracuzzi: I can tell you that throughout my career, success has changed many times. I became a mother a little bit later than most women do but I still kept doing what I was doing in my career and I baked the cookies, and I went to one thing and another and I took care of my ailing parents because you just do it. I had to recalibrate by the end of it, it was like, “Now I’m exhausted.” Not being afraid to change what your view of success is, is crucial because you’re not going to want the same things at 20 that you do at 50, it’s highly unlikely anyway because your point of view changes so dramatically.
Hang Black: Let me tell you another privilege comment, “You can have it all.” It’s not true. Let me tell you, for someone who worked herself into the ER twice – because I did do all of that too, Gina, raise two kids, was a single mom, baked the cookies, was on the board, was working on my career, meanwhile getting laid off three times – I did it all and I went into the ER. You cannot have it all, and if you do, it’s a privilege and it should not be deemed as normal. The way the public school systems are set up right now, there’s an expectation of a non-working parent which is a privilege. We’ve got to caregive for each other and stop judging each other, working moms to not judge non-working moms and vice-versa and to not compare ourselves. “She baked cookies, why couldn’t I?” I just showed up in the classroom differently. I had baked cookies and I decided, “No, not for me.” I joined the board of the school instead, much more productive for me, that’s how I could contribute for my children and for the school but you cannot have it all or you’ll work yourself to death and that’s where I have a whole chapter on Pick Your Poison. What cocktail are you going to make from the different poisons that people give to you and that you serve yourself? No matter what the environment is, it is your choice to drink from the vial so just don’t.
Gina Stracuzzi: Comparison is the death of innovation, spontaneity and pretty much everything. When you start comparing yourself to other people – and I can only imagine how difficult it must be for immigrant women and women of color because you have that extra layer of things to compare and that’s just awful. It’s not the same playing field.
Hang Black: That’s the thing. I go into the good, the bad, the ugly. Let’s start with the bad: life isn’t fair, it just isn’t [laughs]. Your playing field is going to be harder. Anybody that says you’re on an equal playing field, it’s just not true. The ugly is that so many people don’t realize that, but the good is just because you weren’t born with access doesn’t mean you can’t create it. As you’re going up the mountain and you get stuck, at some point you hit a steep incline and you get stuck and you go in circles, what you haven’t realized is, “Meritocracy always worked for me, I’m just going to keep working harder.” Then you land at the ER twice. That was of my own doing because I was too stubborn, I didn’t recognize, I didn’t have the eyes to see when people were willing to help me, to see when opportunity presented itself, I wanted to do things the hard way because I’m going to earn it. Every event I went to, networking and brand, networking and brand, and here’s Hang going, “I don’t have to, that’s gross.” I would have to go take a shower if I went networking, I’m too good for that.” The thing is that was arrogance, I wasn’t that good, I was just that arrogant. What I learned to do and what I teach or share in the book is how you can learn to network and brand from a very authentic place to where it feels natural, to where you’re not being icky. I did it in multiple rounds, first I practiced with my friends, then I practiced with acquaintances, but you have to get yourself out there in order to create access because when you’re on that mountain and you’re circling around, what you need is that secret person who’s going to show you the door and give you the secret code.
Gina Stracuzzi: Is there one piece of advice or guidance that you could give to the people listening that they can put to work for themselves right away if they want to be on the leadership track and maybe they’re feeling a little lost?
Hang Black: In the beginning of the book, I issue a call to undiscovered heroes and I ask people to be clear and get clear, which was advice that my boss has given me. People ask me all the time how often I use the three R’s, I use them every day, in every major decision I Reflect, Recalibrate, Reset. What are my biases that I’m coming into this decision with and what do I need to reset? At the end I talk about making sure that you have a CLEAR path. C for clarity, L for learn whether it’s from experience and whether it’s from experiments. E for edge, make sure you embrace that which is uniquely you because that’s your competitive edge. As Oscar Wilde once said, “You do you, because everybody else is taken.” A for access, create your own access. If you don’t have it, create and curate it very well. Surround yourself with people who will uplift you, not with people who will diminish you. Finally, R, with Responsibility. Once you get there, share it. We have to get past tokenism, it’s okay to bring in a token because I’m much happier that I was hired because I was token, because once I get my seat at the table, I will earn it. It’s much better than when I didn’t get hired because I was a token or a minority and we have to get past tokenism because all the studies show that it takes 2 to 3 people in the room for us to no longer have a minority.
Transcribed by Mariana Badillo