Talking inclusion is simple, making it real is tough

  • 06 Sep 2023
Alisha Lyndon

Alisha Lyndon

Inclusivity isn’t just a buzzword – it needs deliberate actions and even seemingly small gestures can have a profound impact.

Childhood playgrounds provide valuable lessons in inclusivity, but as we transition into adulthood, this sense of inclusiveness often fades away. However, Katelyn Sullivan, Vice President of Marketing and Sales Enablement at State Street, emphasizes the importance of maintaining this throughout our professional lives.

In this episode of our Breaking The Bias Podcast, Katelyn opens up about the obstacles she has encountered and discusses how the support of mentors – on all levels – throughout her career has ignited her passion for advocating equity and diversity for others.

True inclusivity needs conscious effort

In our fast-paced world, the significance of diversity and inclusion can’t be overstated. And, thanks to inspirational advocates like Katelyn, we’re seeing more and more organizations having equity firmly on their radar. But there’s still a way to go – inclusion is easy to talk about, but harder to act upon. It goes beyond mere words; it needs deliberate actions.

Seemingly small gestures can have a real impact, and this isn’t confined to professional settings alone – it permeates all aspects of life. Katelyn believes we should embrace this whenever and wherever we can to expose ourselves to different perspectives, insights, and experiences.

“Each day we choose whether we want to be inclusive or exclusive. If we try to include people, like asking people outside of the normal co-working group to lunch, then you’re building a bigger and better network. It’s about being the best provider or employee with the inclusiveness of other people and other opinions.”

The double-edged sword of empathy and emotion

One advantage women can bring to the table, particularly in sales roles, is innate empathy, curiosity, and emotional intelligence. Relationship building is a crucial aspect of these industries and, women have an in-built ability to connect with others. However, this emotional depth can sometimes be challenging to manage – it’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed or emotional in high-pressure situations or during difficult interactions.

Katelyn shared that she, at times, struggled to navigate her emotions early on in her career, recalling a valuable piece of advice from a former boss. “I was told that you want to act like a duck. If you’re starting to get frustrated, you feel down, or you’ve gotten bad feedback you want to act like a duck. You want to be composed, show that you have that composure to mature, you’re professional, but down at the bottom your feet are going and you’re scrambling.”

Cultivating growth through mentorship and feedback

Discovering and addressing unconscious bias is crucial for personal and professional growth, and the power of strong mentors shouldn’t be underestimated. Katelyn is a firm believer in seeking mentorship at all levels, both male and female, across different positions. Diverse perspectives can open our eyes to things we may not have considered, and the guidance Katelyn has had throughout her career ignited her passion to champion diversity and pay it forward by mentoring others.

“I have been fortunate enough to have great mentors throughout my career, so now I try to do that for others and would encourage everyone to get mentored at all levels. Feedback, 360 reviews, and peer reviews are really important. If someone comes to me, it shows they care about what they’re doing and want to improve – that’s very rewarding in itself. And when I’ve gone to people asking for feedback, asking for their time and thoughtfulness, I’m going to hold myself accountable and act on this. That’s helped me become a better leader today.”

Fearless Girl

Unveiled ahead of International Women’s Day in 2017, the ‘Fearless Girl’ statue was created as a direct challenge to the ‘boy’s club’ of the corporate world and part of State Street’s campaign to promote its commitment to gender equality. And it still has a huge impact on women within the organization today.

“It was a relief to be acknowledged by our CEO and across the board – people breathed and were like: ‘Now we can help change that and inspire other companies across the world and in front of Wall Street. We’re going to make progress to fight this, to put more women on boards.’ And there was a sense of being proud working for a company that was really first to make a huge statement about it. I was proud of the company for coming out with such tremendous, impactful campaign.”

A future where everyone’s equal

Creating awareness and encouraging women in management roles is clearly very close to Katelyn’s heart – inspired by the lesson on inclusion she learned as a young girl in the playground. So, what advice would she give to others pushing towards breaking the glass ceiling?

“Having safe places for people to talk and bring their ideas to the table is going to be extremely important for us to be able to really get that diverse population. Invite someone to lunch. Put yourself out of that little group you work with every day. I think we’ve a long way to go. Everyone acknowledges it, but we have to hold ourselves accountable in inclusiveness and diversity.”

Listen to the full podcast here.

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Alisha Lyndon

Alisha Lyndon

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