Leaders share tips to steer careers in the right direction

In honor of Black History Month, the Human Resources’ Office of Workplace Equity and Inclusion hosted a virtual panel event—Leadership Insights: Race, Identity, and Career Navigation—with leaders from the University of Miami and South Florida. More than 180 faculty and staff members joined the discussion and shared valuable takeaways from the engaging dialogue. 
Leaders share tips to steer careers in the right direction
Art by Tina Talavera.

Renée Dickens Callan, assistant vice president of student life for the University was the moderator of the panel.  She was joined by panelists Gale Nelson, president and CEO, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami; Richard Sobaram, assistant vice president for the Division of Student Affairs, housing and strategic initiatives, University of Miami; Teshamae Monteith, associate professor, clinical neurology and chief of Headache Division, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, and program director, United Council of Neurologic Subspecialties Headache Medicine fellowship program; and Nikki Traylor-Knowles, assistant professor, marine biology and ecology, University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. 

“Leadership Insights is a key annual event open to all employees across all campuses and is a component of the recently launched Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Certificate program for Coral Gables and Marine Campus faculty and staff members,” said Mary Harper Hagan, vice president for Human Resources. “These sessions provide an opportunity for leaders to share valuable lessons to overcome challenges in pursuing their personal and professional dreams. We welcomed participants in a virtual format, which allowed individuals from across the University to gather in a safe space, build resilience, and embrace challenges on the path to personal and professional fulfillment.”

Throughout the event, key themes arose as panelists shared their experiences and approaches to success. The following includes some words of wisdom from the panelists, as well as feedback from those in attendance. Did you miss the event? Watch the full recording here. 

Have intentional conversations; don’t ignore the importance of representation.

Nelson: Intentional conversations are so important as we think about representation. If you can't see yourself in the room, then you may feel systemically, personally, and emotionally that you don't belong. And for far too long, we've had folks who look like me who have been sadly made to feel as if they don't belong.

Traylor-Knowles: I would go even a step further, that I don't just want a seat at the table, I want to make my own table—to empower and build new systems. I think this is an important piece to think about as we’re navigating this world and the things we’re dealing with.  

Develop resilience and self-awareness

Monteith: You have to know who you are to cultivate your voice. There are all sorts of distractions—friends, family, social pressures—we all experience it, and sometimes we forget who we are and what it is that we truly desire. Everyone has their own way or method, but recognizing the importance of self awareness will save you a lot of time, money, and heartache; and I think that certainly applies to career. Being able to hear that inner voice is key, as we are often our biggest critics. Coach yourself to become more resilient. It can be awkward at first; but over time, it will make you more aware, powerful, and resilient.

Sobaram: It starts with humility; you have to be humble. If you’re going to lead or manage, you first have to lead and manage yourself. Let go of your ego and don’t let it guide your thoughts and actions. Resiliency starts with self-awareness; but to develop resiliency, you also have to practice self-compassion. If we can focus on the good, even in bad situations, there’s an opportunity to learn what to do and what not to do. I try to take a lesson from every experience. 

Nelson: The road to resilience is paved with disappointments. I wish someone had told me at an early age not to let adversity stop you from being who you are. When you get knocked down, just get back up. Messages of fear and always being careful suppressed me at a younger age.

Pave your own path to success.

Traylor-Knowles: I wish someone had told me that people in positions of power have opinions and they don’t always matter. It took me a long time to realize these are just opinions and not to let opinions knock you down. If you’re passionate about something, even if you’re the only one that looks a certain way, it’s OK. You belong.

Monteith: Destiny is in your hands. Acknowledging that is scary, because the ball is in your court.

Sobaram: Don't focus so much on the destination, just enjoy the journey. Don't get too high on the highs or too low on the lows.

Protect your mental health.

Monteith: Burnout is real, especially in the medical profession. It’s important to set limits and have balance and boundaries. If you feel exhausted, take a break. Know who your friends are and the people who love and support you. Guard your own mental health and have conversations [about it]. 

Nelson: A perspective I've adopted over time: My life includes work, but work is not my life. You can substitute work for anything that may have you preoccupied. When I'm not OK, I don't need permission to take steps to address it. Find efficiencies. Do what you need to do, but don’t ever apologize for taking care of yourself.

Shift your mindset to avoid imposter syndrome.

Monteith: Imposter syndrome is how you see yourself, not how others see you. Seek out the areas that need improvement, but celebrate your accomplishments. Learn who your mentors are, and educate mentors on who you are.

Sobaram: You have to give yourself that self-talk that you belong. Shift that mindset and self-talk. We all belong.

Traylor-Knowles: You’re not here by mistake. It’s not an accident; you worked hard to get here and deserve to be here. 

Nelson: Messaging and images matter. This feeds the imposter complex. Bring the table, bring the chair, it is your room. Flip the script–you’re not an imposter; you’re running the show.

Takeaways from attendees. 

There were so many great gems!Andrea Dortch, clinical systems trainer, University of Miami Health System

We need to have open and honest discussions around race, identity, and career navigation within the workplace—the proverbial elephants in the room. These conversations are necessary to spark action from our leaders within the institution. What these panelists brought to light was exactly that. We should all aim to be a sponsor and provide agency for our employees while being authentic. Kesha D. Grayson, manager, Student Center Complex Technology

It was inspiring to hear genuine encouragement to “expect to be at the table” or even to “create your own table” while also working to “cultivate your voice.” Lisa Reid, English lecturer, College of Arts and Sciences

I have to make sure I not only create a safe space for people to be their authentic selves but also ensure others on my team do the same. Meredith Camel, executive director, communications

Work is a part of my life. It’s OK to take time for yourself and step away from the desk sometimes. Do what you need to do, so that you are in control of your mental health. Desmond Davis, patient access supervisor, University of Miami Health System

As part of the University of Miami’s commitment to creating an inclusive workplace, faculty and staff members are invited to explore other diversity and inclusion resources. Visit hr.miami.edu/diversity.

Do you have a favorite quote from the panel? We’d love to hear from you, let us know at lifeattheu@miami.edu.