Name: Jourdan Sutton
Hometown: Brooklyn, New York
Current Title: Case Team Leader, EY-Parthenon
Professional Experience: 3 years at EY-Parthenon; 2 years at Deloitte; 6 years at Citi
Education: B.A., Sociology & Anthropology at DePauw University and M.A.Ed and MBA at The University of Michigan
What is the most important professional lesson you've learned to date?
I have been lucky to learn a great number of important lessons throughout my career, but as I reflect on which of those those is most important, the constant theme that comes to mind is leaning into discomfort. If you aren’t challenging yourself, you aren’t learning. The key to my professional success to date has been my constant pursuit of new challenges. Pushing yourself is never easy, but the discomfort is often short lived and rewards you will find outside of your comfort zone are for a lifetime.
What has been your biggest professional failure to date and what have you learned from that experience?
If you haven’t encountered setbacks, than you aren’t trying! My biggest professional setback (failure feels too permanent) to date happened about mid-way through one of the biggest projects I had ever worked on. I was leading a global project team responsible for rolling out a new trading platform. This was a huge responsibility and I was anxious about doing a great job. Despite constant engagement with all the relevant stakeholders, with just two weeks remaining until our target launch date, the operations team lead sent a scathing email to the entire leadership team indicating they wanted to make drastic changes to the platform. I felt blindsided by his email and called the lead to express my frustration about why he hadn’t contacted me first. As we talked, our conversation became more and more heated. We both said unprofessional things (I won’t bore you with the details). What I didn’t know at the time was that I was on speaker phone and our entire conversation was heard by several other people on the committee. Despite having built years of goodwill with my team's, my knee jerk reaction, and our subsequent argument, left many people who knew me will with a very new, and bad, impression of my ability to manage my emotions. Morale of the story is always try to remain calm, even when you feel overwhelmed with your responsibilities.
What issues have you dealt with being a person of color in corporate America? How have you overcome these challenges?
The biggest issue I’ve faced as a person of color in corporate America is feeling like my ideas or suggestions are not being fully supported. I can think of a number of occasions when I have suggested ideas or said the exact same thing as a colleague and it wasn’t as well received by my team or my manager. This is a hugely frustrating experience and when it happened early in my career, it made me question myself. I questioned if I was smart enough for my job or if I was even communicating the ideas in my head effectively. With time, I learned that there are multiple approaches to getting people to truly “hear” you.
I’ve been able to overcome the challenge of being heard by tailoring my communication style to my audience. There is no one size fits all approach to influencing colleagues or clients. You have to meet people where they are. Sometimes that means calling out implicit bias or directly asking the group, “Didn’t I just say that?”, so people can recognize your contributions. Other times, it means setting up individual meetings to address topics 1-on-1 with key individuals, who can serve as your megaphone during bigger meetings or laying out all evidence to point everyone toward the path you want them on. Understanding when to apply each of these methods is large burden, that feels is disproportionately placed on underrepresented minorities, but having the tools at your disposal is an invaluable skill that has directly contributed to my success.
What resources, professional or personal, have you leveraged to ensure your career is progressing?
My network is easily the most the important tool I’ve leveraged to keep my career on track and progressing. Every job I’ve ever had or big career decision I have made was influenced by a friend, classmate, co-worker, former bosses, or family member. The people in my network have pushed me to accomplish many of the great things I’ve been able to accomplish throughout my career and they are there when I need a helping hand to recover from a set back. Some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten professionally was to always tell people about what excites you and what you are passionate about because it help people think of you when things come up. I’ve gotten tremendous leverage from thinking of others when I hear things they might like or sharing my own thoughts so people think of me.
In addition to my network, I’d say that technology has played a huge role in helping my career progress. I have a never ending thirst for information and knowledge. Google is my homepage because I am constantly searching “how to…” so I can teach myself new skills that help my career move forward. As more of my time is spent on people leadership and client advising, I am constantly reading articles on websites such as Jopwell, Vault, FastCompany, and Harvard Business Review to learn about leadership, and professional development. I’m constantly sharpening my technical skills with company sponsored training courses that help me learn about new platforms and ways to do my job more efficiently. You should always try to take advantage of the opportunities technology has provided for you to continue learning.
Do you have mentor? If so, how did you select this person or people?
I do not have a “formal” mentor currently, but I do rely on both peers and more senior colleagues to help me think about and navigate my professional career. Growing up, my mother always told me, “It takes a village to raise a child”. I am no longer a child, but the mantra has remained with me and I have continued to balance my instincts with the advice and additional perspective that comes from key people in my network. That said, securing a formal mentor is definitely an area where I, and typically many other people, have a little more work to do.
My best advice for identifying and securing a mentor is to start with someone who has a career or position that you aspire to hold. This could be a peer at your level or someone more senior, either way try to make it a person with whom you could develop a natural connection. Truly successful mentor relationships are developed organically as opposed to something forced, so put in the effort to develop high quality relationships and the rest will follow.
What advice would you give a young adult who is about to start their first job post college
There are three things I wish someone told me when I started my career:
Learn the job and consistently deliver high-quality work. No matter the task, you should always treat every assignment as a way to bolster your learnings and reputation. Most people enjoy working with others are who committed to doing great work.
Be in the business of putting yourself out of business. Once you’ve learned how to consistently do your job at a high level, look for new ways to innovate and contribute the growth of your organization.
Don’t be afraid to be wrong. No one is perfect, so you can’t get it right everytime. That said, strive for greatness and don’t be afraid to be wrong or try to hide your errors/ mistakes. Own what you’ve done, good or bad, and people will respect your effort, no matter the outcome.