“I’ve learned that there is a massively isolating effect from using the term culture fit. It plays on our worst fears as humans because we are social beings who want to connect with each other. And isolation and rejection are things that we really fear. Like, we die in circumstances where we feel isolated,” said Nikkia Reveillac. Insights Leader, Inclusion Advocate and Podcast Host.
Many of us fall into the assimilation trap at work. Most businesses say that they value diverse perspectives yet few are female or family friendly. Less than a third of senior leaders are women and it’s a fraction of that for women of color. So, when it comes to daily decisions, the loudest voices often win. We hear about authenticity as the ‘path’ to professional growth. But navigating other people’s perceptions at work can be exhausting. And for many, career-limiting. Especially if you’re one of the few or only.
So, how do you stay authentic without feeling diminished? More than half of workers plan to change jobs. So, you may be returning to work or starting something new. And managing all that newness can be exhausting. But Nikkia has found artful ways to show up bold. And diffuse the inevitable friction from navigating differences at work.
Start with Empathy
Nikkia said, “Even before the pandemic, I paid a lot of attention to the person in front of me. I used it unknowingly to disarm others and create safety for myself. I wanted the people I worked with to feel like they had an ally.” As a researcher who has worked in several cultures, she’s naturally curious. “Although people have noted that as a politically savvy move, I wasn’t being politically savvy. I was being an empathetic colleague and leader trying to deeply understand people and what they’re aspiring to become.”
Build Deeper Bonds
“I will start off with a lot of questions to let people know that I’m truly interested in them. So, I’ll say, thinking back to six-year-old you, how much of what you’re doing today would make her, him or them proud? It’s disarming. But it’s also a chance to scrape away the veneer about the job or pedigree,” said Nikkia.
After learning more, she introduces herself. “I say transparently that I am a Caribbean woman who has navigated all manner of environments but I’m still learning.”
Learn to Own Your Gifts
Although Nikkia has built a successful career. And knew colleagues often found her inspiring, it wasn’t always easy to accept the compliments. She said, “Because in my mind, I’m just showing up as myself. Energized, creative and happy to be here. But I need to pat myself on the back for what I have achieved. So, that’s one part of my journey.” Yes!
One of the biggest work challenges, is that not everyone will receive you in the same way. Nikkia explained, “The other part of it is to recognize that in my smile or the way that my accent comes out of my mouth, even though it is coming from a place of truth, it is intimidating for people who are insecure.”
And Correct Misperceptions
Nikkia said, “That was initially upsetting. Because it’s the worst feeling in the world to have good intentions and for somebody else to reflect it back as bad intentions. So, despite what I may give off to others, I am inconsistently secure. Somebody told me that this is the reality for a lot of women of color.” Exactly. Managing other people’s impressions and any biases, adds pressure.
Of course, not everyone at work becomes your bestie. But closing gaps in understanding, can improve your effectiveness and comfort. When the pandemic closed offices, Nikkia wanted to bond with her then colleagues. But she learned that some felt distanced from her.
“I didn’t do anything that different. But because I would still put on lipstick, my image on screen seemed even more buttoned up. And it created a disconnect with some people. I only know this because it came back to me, that there was this perception, that I have it all figured out.” Sigh. She said, “So, instead of creating the impression that we are all the same, it was almost like the inverse. So, I had to make a shift to become even more open with my words.”
Nikka said, “I’m aware that people create stories about you. And one of the stories could be, ‘she’s out of touch’ even though that’s not true. It’s simply because I put on eyeliner and I’m not wearing sweats! Because these are the things, I need to do to feel like I’ve transitioned into work. And that may alienate someone who didn’t do any of those things or may be feeling of out of control.”
Nikka is now intentional about sharing her struggles and creating space for her team to do the same. “I wasn’t going to all of a sudden appear like a hot mess. But I had to find a way to show that I am very approachable and not superhuman. So, now I will let people know that the reason I’m going to take a day off is because I had a bad night.”
Reach out More Often
Nikka said, “I used Slack to send quick videos I recorded with my cell phone to say things like, hey team, thank you for your work this week. I know it’s been rough.” She worked for Twitter during the high-pressure US election season. She said, “That was in November and it was extremely intense. So, I had to reach out a little bit more. I had to find a way to almost give them a hug through the screen.” She’s continued this approach in her current role,“ It’s an extra push that I’ve maintained in this new job. I’m trying to create a little bit of energy beyond the written word so people know that there’s a human here.” Beautiful.
And Push Through Misunderstandings
Have you ever felt out-of-sync with a colleague? Nikkia tackles those moments directly. She said, “I push through the fear of confrontation by just calling it out. And it’s a developed skill. Recently, in a meeting I thought I had sufficient context on a particular issue to offer my perspective. And someone immediately countered it but in a very loud way. I’ll use the word loud because I want to talk in fact and not in judgment. So, afterwards I was like, are you angry at me? From your tone, it felt like you believed I did something wrong.” Bravo!
Even if It’s Painful
Most people avoid difficult conversations. But she names the emotions, “Often if we feel stung, it’s like ouch that hurts so, we move away from it. It happens in relationships in real life. And all the time at work,” Nikkia said. Exactly! But ignoring it isn’t helpful. She added, “You can build resentment or become more sensitive unintentionally. And so, the way that I’ve dealt with those situations where maybe we weren’t fully on the same page, is to have a non-confrontational conversation. If I’m going over it in my head, then it’s like, what do I have to lose?” Amen.
Bring the Conflict into the Open
Nikkia approaches the conversation with respect, “I use language like, I know I’m new and I may be completely dreaming this up. But when I offered up my perspective, I took away that you were disappointed. I make it about me.” Brilliant!
“I’m still being assertive and brave. But I’m also letting that person know it’s my interpretation and that seems to be working. But as I said before, I’m learning every day because everybody is different and quirky. I don’t want to lose any bit of myself throughout this process. But it does require a little flexing.”
And Share Your Communication Style
Sharing your style can help to preempt friction. Nikkia is also intentional about this with colleages. She asks, “Can we talk about the ways you would like to communicate? Let me tell you what my little quirks are so, that you know if I do this, it’s not meant to hurt you.” So good. She added, “And that actually clears it away. Because sometimes we’re inadvertently causing harm or being hurt. So, take the time to clear the air before you get to month six or year one.” Why is this so hard to do in most work cultures?
Tap Into Your Courage, Even When it’s Hard
Nikkia said, “I recognized through all of my mentorship that it takes courage. And sometimes, a little bit of experience. But the courage part is the biggest thing. A lot of people say, ‘well, you’re just good at that.’ And I’m like, no it takes practice. Her passion for demystifying work dynamics led her to launch the podcast, Culture Unfit. Where she hosts courageous conversations about those rarely discussed work taboos. The ones that tend to keep women and people of color ‘out’ of the insiders club.
While we advocate for systems change, let’s use every possible tool to flourish, despite the hidden workplace rules. So, boldly bring your true self to your job. With candor, humor, curiosity, and transparency.
Many thanks to the talented Nikkia Reveilliac!
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Nikkia is a visionary, thought leader and change agent in the arenas of innovation and marketing strategy, product development, organizational design and team culture enhancement. She is incredibly passionate about leaving everything she touches – people + product – better than she found it and has found success doing so by artfully challenging the status quo, thoughtfully asking the questions which others are often afraid to and dedicating her time to coaching and mentoring young people, often those in marginalized groups, so that they can grow and thrive, not just in their day-to-day team environments, but also in their careers.
She leads Consumer Insights at Netflix. And over the course of a diverse career as a leader in the arts & entertainment, consumer packaged goods and technology sectors, she has continuously leveraged an unending empathy for people and their nuanced lived experiences, an open growth mindset, a deep love of multi-cultural moments, a passion for storytelling, a pioneering attitude, and a proven-ability to develop high-functioning teams to shape business thinking and decision-making in ways that unlock pathways to deepening customer satisfaction/loyalty and increasing revenue/profit.
She is exceptionally adept at recruiting top talent, bringing out the best in individuals, cultivating diverse (esp. neurodiverse) and inclusive work environments, fostering psychological safety and growing motivated and high-performing teams.
As a Strategic Insights leader, she has demonstrated an inspiring ability to quickly transform and elevate the impact of the multi-disciplinary research/insights teams which she has led so that the quality of decision-making is greatly enhanced. She has accomplished this by guiding her teams to design and execute multi-layered research plans that mix qualitative, quantitative, secondary and primary research, syndicated, analytics and trend-based approaches, and then package the resultant learning in thought-provoking and persuasive ways to successfully close critical knowledge gaps, debunk myths, validate hypotheses, bolster marketing sell-in stories, and ultimately drive smarter decision-making that shape winning brand, marketing, innovation and multi-touchpoint communication strategies.
Nikkia is also an advisor to several technology start-ups, a frequent speaker on leadership challenges, women’s empowerment, and people-obsession based product development, and in March 2021, helped to launch an initiative (IG: @WhoSheFeelSheIs) that is focused on helping women across the Caribbean diaspora traverse their unique leadership paths.Tags: Career development, Career Development for Moms, diversity equity and inclusion, Moms Career Growth, Working Moms