Work cultures differ from one country to another. A joke your co-worker makes may be acceptable in France but not in Japan. Sometimes, we get offended by what other people insensitively say. How does one navigate these situations professionally?
Before joining university, Kome Emuh, Vice President — COO Global Markets Operations Engineering at Goldman Sachs, had the courage to dream big. She worked hard to achieve her goals and made it with the big names from Bloomberg, J.P. Morgan to Goldman Sachs.
Did you have a ‘dream’ company in mind when you were a student?
I studied International Finance and Economics at The University of Manchester. When I graduated, it was the pinnacle of recession. There weren’t a lot of options. How do I ensure I secure a job?
At university, I knew I wanted to get into a financial institution but I didn’t know in what capacity. I knew that I wanted to be in banking and work for Goldman Sachs. At the time, I got to the final round of their Operations Analyst program and didn’t get the job! I cried and felt sorry for myself because I didn’t understand, that was the company for me.
My mom told me:
“I know it’s the company you dreamt to join.
You have one day to cry, then forge your head and move on.”
It was probably for the best. Later on, I was fortunate enough to get an offer from J.P Morgan and got into their operations program.
5 years later Goldman Sachs called me.
I channel my mother’s words for every type of scenario in my life whenever I am disappointed about something. You have to keep your options open in terms of the type of the company you want to join. With time and experience, you will acquire a skill set that is transferable between industries and sectors.
Can you recall a situation where you felt challenged and how you dealt with it?
When I was an associate in London, a transitioning opportunity came up in the States. It was a long shot given my corporate level at that stage. I had a vision in mind and I needed time to get there. You have to keep trying and persevering.
If you don’t ask, you don’t get. I remember the new manager coming in to discuss the opportunity. She looked at me and asked where I was from:
“Well, are you from the UK? With the Trump administration, there are new sanctions on different countries. I don’t know if you’re one of those countries affected on that list..” She assumed that I didn’t hold UK citizenship because I was black. I was taken aback and shocked because I was born and raised in the UK.
These are the types of microaggressions that you face as a black woman, instances where people are not cognizant of systemic racism and it’s potential to hinder access to equal opportunities for black individuals..
Many of us are third and fourth generations of different ethnicities. This diversity should be celebrated and loved. There is still a lot of learning to be done in this space. And that’s not gonna distract me from my goal, or vision for my future, but continuously educating people can become burdensome.
I manoeuvred and managed the situation. It takes great will and a great level of empathy to manage those scenarios. I maintained a sense of calm and kept a level head maintaining my professionalism at all times. Hence, people can’t type cast you or stereotype you. That was a powerful lesson in how to exercise control. Because I am a very outspoken person who feels like I have to say everything. Sometimes you don’t have to and the situation will take care of itself . In that circumstance it did take care of itself. I just demonstrated my skills and showcased my work and abilities and finally landed in New York and found a position that enabled me to do that.
For similar situations, I recall my dad once advising the following:
“Learn how to be your authentic self with skill.
Sometimes, the power lies in remaining still and handling the situation in an opposite way. That’s where the true power is.”
I learned how to ensure that I wouldn’t just go off the handle at any given moment just because I was offended.
“There will be situations where you’ll feel you want to scream from the rooftops because someone has come in opposition of you, you need to determine what hand you will play, giving no emotion away.”
You can’t just go off because you think that’s the most authentic thing to do and you want to be true to yourself. I was able to think about my power position. Sometimes, you have to play the game and be in a position where you hold your cards to your chest and don’t reveal everything. Leave something for yourself.
How essential is mentorship to career growth?
I remember Kamala Harris, U.S Senator, saying to all those people doubting her interviewing for the position of VP during a livestream conversation for the Black Girls Lead 2020 conference:
“There will be a resistance to your ambition, there will be people who say to you, ‘you are out of your lane…They are burdened by only having the capacity to see what has always been instead of what can be. But don’t you let that burden you.”
This gave me great encouragement and hope knowing that somebody of her calibre and seniority too had moments where she might have been told that she might not be good enough for some positions or roles.
People just see where you’re at as opposed to the potential of how far you can go. It’s limiting. Yet, really drilling in and getting your head down in doing the best that you can do, in order to try to continue striving for your goals and ambitions. I think it’s a testament to your strength, fortitude and your ability to believe in yourself even when other people are burdened with not being able to not see your potential.
I got opportunities through great mentors and people believing in me and my capabilities. I always believe in paying it forward, it’s a big part of who I am.
It’s being able to take some time out to share knowledge of what may have worked for you, how to balance ideas of each other. I get so much from the people I mentor in addition to me pouring into them. It’s really a two way street. It’s something that comes quite naturally, so it shouldn’t be forced. It should be like checking, to see where things are going, just ensuring that you’re maintaining that relationship.
The relationship that facilitates growth in you where you can really have an open forum and discuss things in transparency with your mentor.
Stephen Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, talked about beginning with the end in mind. You start a project at work , you embark on a new journey personally or career wise, whatever it is you have inside of you, an ambition or a goal, just put it out there and you’ll be fascinated and amazed.
I am a woman of faith as well, I believe that God has a purpose for everybody and I feel like if you put dreams and vision in you, just watch and see!
10 years ago, when I visited my family in Brooklyn in my gap year just before university, my cousin took me to watch the movie Manhattan by Woody Allen in Dumbo. I remember looking around and thinking “oh my God I wanna live here one day. How do I make this happen?”
Then I moved to Dumbo 3 years ago.
There is an alignment in what God wants for you and what your hearts desire. When you have vision and dreams where you want to be career wise, put it out there. Yes you’re gonna get discouraged along the way, you will have failures and disappointments but keep your eyes on the prize. Think about the end goal, where you wanna be and start working towards that because eventually it does happen. Working hard will get you there and it will align with what God wants for you.
As I discussed with Kome, a mentor doesn’t have to be from the same field of work or industry, it’s like a seasoned acquaintance from whom you seek career advice. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a someone whose experience impresses you. You can definitely have more than 1 mentor. Hear more from Ms Kome’s talk when the recording becomes available in women tech conference or follow her on LinkedIn.