Hi, Alexis! Tell us about yourself.
Hey! I’m Alexis and I’m wrapping up my 2nd year here at the Wharton Business School. Before coming here, I served 8 years in the military on active duty – I was an army engineer officer.
What role has the black community played in your professional career to date?
In the army, there isn’t a whole lot of diversity in the officer corps, specifically among the army engineers. I joined a professional network of black engineers in the officer corps, which really helped as a way of getting advice, and of seeing more representation of people like myself, especially in the higher ranks. Sometimes, in a career where you don’t see any representation of people like yourself at senior levels, it can be hard to imagine getting promoted and achieving that senior rank and status yourself. [That professional network] gave me a great place to get good advice, and helped me to see that it’s possible for someone who looks like me to be successful, get promoted, and eventually achieve a senior rank one day.
What role did mentorship play in your career, and what advice would you give to people seeking mentorship?
Mentorship played a huge role. In the military, mentorship is huge. The Army actually mandates that seniors take their subordinates aside and give them mentorship periodically, so it’s built into the system – everyone has to do it. Quality mentorship allows for junior officers such as myself to get 360-degree feedback on the job they’re doing – if you’re doing well, it’s nice to hear that great feedback, and if there are areas for improvement, it’s also great to hear how you can improve.
My biggest piece of advice: don’t necessarily look for mentors who look like you, especially if you’re someone of color or if you’re a woman working in a male-dominated world. You have to look for people who have power, people who have a seat at the table, because they know what it takes to be successful. Just because they don’t look like you doesn’t mean they won’t be able to give you keys for success and critical, useful advice. It also helps to have a champion further down the road, so that when career opportunities such as a promotion come through, you have access to someone who can give you insider tips and feedback that can make a real difference to your career. So don’t just seek out people who look like you.
What do you wish for the future of diversity and inclusion in the workplace?
I hope we achieve a true meritocracy. I think the Army has done a great job making it all about the merit of your work. In the Army, if you’re hard-working, hard-charging, you will get promoted – it’s just about how well you do the job. Of course, no system is perfect, but I’d like to see that emulated in every industry. It shouldn’t matter what family you come from. It shouldn’t matter what you look like. It shouldn’t matter what religion or what gender you are. Whoever works hard, has potential, and is a hard charger should be rewarded. At the end of the day, all the other stuff shouldn’t matter.
However, I would say that it is great for companies to have unique, diverse perspectives. Furthermore, diversity encompasses so much more than just race or religion or gender. Your socioeconomic status, your experiences growing up – those aspects of your life can really give you different insights, and I think all companies would benefit from having a wide range of perspectives that aren’t just limited to the ways we traditionally think about diversity.
If you want to learn more about Alexis’ journey, reach out to us on firstname.lastname@example.org and we are happy to connect