I vividly remember my days in the drudgery of Corporate America. I worked at several different companies, but this one was particularly bad, and it was home to the now infamous italics incident. Miraculously, I had a tiny window in my cubicle, and I'd stare out it (when the boss wasn't looking) and dream about all the good I could be doing if I didn't work at a soulless for-profit corporation intent on getting investors a huge payout.
I could be empowering women! Or working toward peace. Or organizing and rallying voters. Or contributing to literacy and consciousness. Or just making copies at a place that contributed to charities every now and then.
But I wasn't doing anything that made the world a better place because I was stuck in that cubicle. Woe was me.
Kind of a wallow-y attitude, right?
What if you could do good from inside that cubicle?
What if you didn't have to get an entirely new gig in order to enjoy your job and feel good about what you do?
What if you could be an undercover, secret social justice ninja???
My good friend and fellow difference-making warrior, Shivangi Patel, has graciously written us a short guide on how to pitch do-gooding projects at work, even if you don't work for a for-purpose company.
Someone once said, “If the grass looks greener on the other side, stop staring. Stop comparing. Stop complaining and start watering the grass you’re standing on.”
That's like a slap in the face when you read it because you know that it's true. I have spent many days acting like I had so much of my life together while admiring the lives of others who seemed so fulfilled in their careers. I envied those people, the ones that actually did what they had set out to do. I was an Accountant, and that’s how I identified myself...but in reality I wanted to be so much more. I chose this path because I needed stability and security in my life to get to where I really wanted, which at the time just meant success.
I felt very accomplished as I moved up in my career to a senior level accounting position at a startup, but I just hated the monotony of my job. Lucky for me, I was destined to never follow a traditional route to stardom. As thrilling as accounting is, I had a passion that was bigger than me.
I wanted to make an impact, and I wanted it to be more than a volunteer position at the local nonprofit that I was a part of. I wanted to be a badass.
Here is the thing about being a badass: it requires a tremendous amount of confidence in yourself and in what you are setting out to do. Many people around you will make this difficult, but part of it is being willing to jump through hoops and the other part is never taking "no" for an answer. Of course I had the fear of rejection, but the Girlboss in me kept saying, "you have to try!"
Since quitting my job without a vision was not an option, I started watering the grass I was standing on.
I began to research the world of non-profit and all things associated, which is when I came across the term Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Businesses use CSR to practice social good through employee engagement activities, sustainability, and other practices. I spent all of my down time at work reading various articles from Harvard Business Review and anything else I could find on the Internet. I learned everything I could about CSR but I wanted to take it further than just research. Then an idea occurred to me: the current company I worked for did not have a CSR department.
I knew I had to approach the CEO of the company to make it happen. How was I going to do that? First of all, I was not at a very high level position in my company. Second, I had never had a conversation with the CEO of my company. There are limitations to being a badass in the workforce. You have to know when to follow rules and when to break them. Here, I had to follow the rules because there are ways to approach executives and have high impact conversations with them. So, I waited until our next Town Hall meeting to get a one-on-one with him without actually having to set up a formal meeting. The minute he was alone, I nervously walked up to him and spoke a few words about letting me start a CSR department in his company. His response was, “OK, put something together and get a meeting on my calendar."
I was-of course-about to shit my pants at this point because not only did he agree to it, but now I actually had to pull through! So I went home and spent the next week putting together a deck to wow him on this CSR program. I got my boyfriend to set up a meeting with the head of CSR at the big cable company he worked for and had her review my presentation. I practiced my speech in front of the mirror over and over until the big day.
The day of the presentation, anxiety had turned into a giant ball in the pit of my gut, but I sat in front of him and gave the best performance of my life.
It took him two minutes to flip through weeks of work and said, “Okay, I will let you run with it but keep me posted on your progress.” I wanted to jump up and down screaming right there in front of him but instead I said, “thank you” and walked out. Over the course of the next few weeks, I sent out surveys to all of the employees to quantify their interest and rounded up my own team of people who could help me put this department together. I proceeded to set up the first employee engagement activity, the Making Strides Breast Cancer Walk around Central Park. I even got the CEO to approve t-shirts for everyone who came to the walk! I was on a role, and it truly made me feel like a badass!
Thirty people showed up on the day of the breast cancer walk, and my group raised over $2,000. Success!
My Advice to You:
Whatever it is that you want to do, make it happen, but do it right. Do your research, prepare yourself, and be confident.
Many of us sit around waiting for results rather than taking action. As women, we are more cautious of being too assertive and we don’t always sit at the executive table and speak up. You will never be noticed if you can’t shout. I don't mean literally shout, but speak up, ladies!
Being prepared means that you have done everything you need to fully cover the main topics of the conversation. Nothing looks worse than being unprepared and not doing your research; have a goal in mind and stick to the main topic. CEOs and other executives will lose focus quickly, so don't overanalyze or provide too much detail-it will derail your meeting or end it fast. Do not start crying if you don’t get your way the first time around, at least not in front of your boss or the CEO. I got really lucky with pitching my project to the CEO, but not everyone will get the support they need from executives.
If you get a big fat NO, then go back to the drawing board and do not give up! If you are truly confident in your dream, you will not let discouragement stop you.
So what did I learn?
I stopped staring and comparing, and I implemented.
I didn’t know what to expect, but I set out to succeed, and succeed I did. I won the respect of my CEO and my colleagues. I became visible to people who didn’t even know where the Accounting department was. Being your own boss means holding yourself accountable to sustain what you started.
Developing this program and seeing it come to life was one of the most liberating experiences of my life. It helped realize my potential and that I did not need a rule book or a specialized degree to move mountains in my career.
It also helped me overcome a great deal of anxiety around being assertive in the workplace. All I had to do was speak up and be confident in myself...even if I didn’t know what I was doing. This was not the finish line for me-it was the beginning. I just have to keep watering the grass.
Shiv lives in Los Angeles where she continues her fearless pursuit as a girlboss at a financial services firm. When she is not sitting at the executive table, you can find her volunteering her time on the board of a non-profit, discussing the why and why nots of life with friends and embracing her inner foodie, with a glass of wine in one hand and a pen in the other.
Shiv is a complete and total badass, and I have crazy big gratitude that she chose to share her story with us and embody her Girlboss by taking a stand. For more inspiration on making a difference with your career (or even getting the confidence to), don't forget to sign up to the VIP list below!