Cheryl Grise: Top 10 Lessons from 2019’s Women of Color and Their Allies Event

In a TED-style talk at Fair360, formerly DiversityInc’s Women of Color and Their Allies event on Oct. 2, Ernst & Young Americas Solutions Leader Cheryl Grise listed her top 10 lessons learned about mentoring and sponsorship from the 2018 event.

1. Know your brand and be planful about your career

“When I mean your brand it’s as simple as what you’re known for,” Grise said.

But, she said, what you’re known for today may not be what you’re known for tomorrow, and it’s important to be mindful of that.

Being planful is about being intentional, she said.

“By being planful about your career, you can have very intentional conversations with your peers, with your leaders above you to really say: ‘How do you see me?’”

Creating that dialogue makes the person you’re talking to a potential advocate in getting you where you want to go, Grise said.

2. Never rule yourself out

If you go out of your way to tell someone that you don’t want to be a partner or managing director, that plants a seed in someone’s head, Grise said.

“The best position for you to be in is to be in a position where you say no,” she said.

3. Not everything matters

“I took on everything and not everything was going to get me to the next level, but I thought it would,” Grise said of advancing from one position to a more senior position.

She said she learned that she could give things to people around her and develop her community by surrounding herself with people who wanted to do things with her.

“We take a lot of things personally that potentially we don’t need to,” Grise said. “So put your Teflon coating on and walk into that room with confidence.”

4. Your network is your most valuable asset: Cultivate it

“The people that you meet in your career today may take you somewhere in the future, 20, 30, 40 years later,” she said.

Grise said she met a woman at the Walt Disney Company who is now one of her closest friends.

In a question from the audience at the end of her remarks, Grise was asked about how to identify sponsors. She said one way to find a sponsor is they find you. Another way is simply to ask.

5. You’re an extension of your company

Grise shared a story about meeting a man on a plane who felt compelled to talk to her while she was trying to read a book. She said she didn’t want to engage, but he persisted.

At the time she was with Pricewaterhouse Coopers, the accounting firm that oversees vote counting and results distribution at the Academy Awards.

After telling him that she worked for PwC, he told her that he ran the Grammy Awards, which was and still is an EY account, but they were debating a new auditor at the time.

“The worst thing that could have gotten out to Pricewaterhouse at the time is that I ruined that opportunity,” she said.

6. Be public with your praise and private with your criticism

Grise said the first thing she asks someone who comes to her to complain about someone else is: “Have you told this person?”

She said she won’t take feedback that isn’t given to that person, and instead offers to give coaching on how to have that conversation.

7. Amplify other voices

“Women’s voices, women of color, your voices often don’t get heard,” Grise said. “Why is that?”

Grise said that there was a group of women in the Obama administration who made a pact to amplify one another’s voices. The former president took notice and started amplifying their voices, which led to more women entering the administration. Obama’s cabinet was 30% women in his first term and 35% women in his second term.

8. Lead with a point of view and be mindful of likeability bias

Having a point of view “not only makes you interesting, but it makes you stand out,” Grise said. Even if you’re wrong, that point of view can help you grow, she said.

Grise referenced a video from Lean In on likeability bias, which says, “We expect men to be assertive, so when they lead, it feels natural. We expect women to be kind and communal, so when they assert themselves, we like them less.”

9. Mentors give you “eggs” — sponsors give you “skin”

In borrowing from her boss, Sam Johnson, Grise said mentors are like chickens, and sponsors are like pigs.

“[Mentors] can give you lots of eggs, and they’re very valuable to your career,” she said. “But a pig is going to give his skin for that football.”

Grise said she used to hand out “egg after egg after egg,” but decided to step up as a sponsor last year. She said she picked an ethnically diverse group of people, four of which were up for partner, and pushed to get them there despite traps along the way.

Fair360, formerly DiversityInc CEO Carolynn Johnson had Grise elaborate on those traps in the Q&A session following her remarks. Grise said likeability bias is one of the biggest traps women fall into.

“If you over-rotate on likability, you could end up in a place where you’re not as smart, not as competent,” she said. “Everybody likes you. You’re a good team member. But are you a leader?”

10. Family and health always come first

Grise said no one will fault you for putting those first. She said while it’s important to be planful about your career, it’s also important to be planful and intentional about balance.

“You often hear this, at your obituary you don’t hear that they had a great fourth quarter in 2004. It was, you were a great woman. You were a great friend. You were a great mother. You were a great family member. You were a great sister. You were a great brother.”

EY is a Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Top 50 Hall of Fame company.

Connect with Cheryl Grise here.

Related Article: White Women Who Are Intentional Allies to Women of Color