Variety is the spice of life, right? Today's feature exemplifies that truth through her intriguing career trajectory and personal passion path. Jhan has worn a number of hats throughout her career, and the cap she currently dons is that of an Executive Director at ETS. For some of us, ETS might drum up a bit of consternation (they administer warm and fuzzy exams like the GRE and Praxis tests). However, there's a testimony to be found in the test (center) world, and Jhan's involvement in inclusion and diversity at efforts at ETS highlight that fact.
It was a pleasure connecting with Jhan; her passion for her work, for the importance of knowing yourself in and out, and for ensuring that there are seats at the table for people who come from diverse backgrounds shine through in her jovial voice and her kind advice below.
Read on for details on Jhan's work life, her experience spanning across industries and roles, and her advice on maintaining a strong sense of self in Corporate America.
Into the Details
Multi-dimensional person; chameleon; I move very fluidly across roles.
I've had so many different lives at this point - therapist, professor, researcher at Yale medical school for two years. I've even had people reach out to me specifically about that, that diversity of experience. I don't pay that much attention to feeling like I have to be one thing all the time. I feel very comfortable in that; I feel comfortable conducting a conference call and being a mom, and bringing my kids along with me. And I really try to ensure as a tenet of my own personal brand that I show up the way that I would want others to show up for me. If I were to schedule time with someone, how would I want them to show up? Would I want them to feel like they were open and honest with me? I think about that kind of stuff, about the concept of treating others like you want to be treated.
As a specific example of what that looks like in practice, I remember often having women express interest in my sorority as a college student. I remember being a student myself and I remember realizing that you don't know what the right organization for you is until you talk to someone who has lived that experience. Because I remember that feeling, now when anyone expresses interest in my organization, I make myself available and approachable in the same way that others did for me.
How has the increasing attention to inclusion and diversity at the corporate level supported the evolution of your work?
A couple of things on this point: I have seen a lot more thought and attention being given to every stage of the employee life cycle around D&I (Diversity and Inclusion). What I mean by that is that because of the increased attention, we (my company, ETS, and others) are now putting more thought into how we give employees more incentive to work for our organizations. How do we recruit those people and how do we retain those people? Seeing that increased focus on D&I, having people talk about D&I stages at every step of that life cycle - it's so much more important than we realize.
You'll see employers talking about recruiting more minorities. My reaction to that is typically "I hear you, but, how are you sourcing those people to begin with?" I say this because D&I is a good thing, but only if that same care goes into the rest of the process of engaging and retaining an employee. How you source (organizations, universities) is important because there's a lot that goes into sourcing. Once you have good relationships with people, you must carefully consider how you will get them to choose your company over the other options available to them, and that is no less true for diversity/minority hires. To sum that up, more care and thought are going into the entire employee life cycle now more than ever in part thanks to the focus on D&I, and I think that that is a good thing.
What chain of events led you to your current role and what advice would you give to someone pursuing a similar path?
That is such an accurate way to describe it - as a chain of events. I was introduced to the D&I space and my role within it is a hybrid one - while I am responsible for learning & talent development at ETS, I also have a national responsibility to support diversity initiatives at the federal level. So, there are many different hats that I wear. In terms of the learning and development stuff, I came about the role in an odd way. I worked in higher education for over 10 years. Spent a lot of my time as a professor and an administrator, so, I have always done work around learning in some form. The components of the learning process are important to me - how people learn, learning design, knowing what it's like to teach adult learners, etc. When it comes to the talent development piece, I was always interested in what things people need to support their personal and professional goals and I have always been concerned with understanding how people accomplish the goals they set for themselves. Similarly, as a therapist, I spent a lot of time working to understand and assist with my patients' personal / professional goals. So, to connect those dots, both my life as a former therapist and my life as a former educator blended into my current role in learning and development.
As a therapist, I started out working with people with severe mental disabilities. As a woman of color, I have a lived experience with diversity, but I gained another lens into the D&I space after working with persons with disabilities. I have some research publications that speak to that. Then, as I went through graduate school, I was undergoing a lot more work with research programs, and specifically programs whose chief aim was getting more students of color into graduate and research programs. When I got to Miami and worked as a professor, I continued to do some of that work and ended up in an administrator role working on retention for students of color. After that, my family and I moved from Ohio to our current home and I found a job (Strategic Diversity Consultant) on LinkedIn (LinkedIn plug!). I said "You know, I do that kind of work now, at Miami, maybe I can do it at ETS!" I interviewed for the job as a Diversity Consultant and from interview to hiring, they changed the job title from Consultant to Director. They had beefed up the role based on my experience and so serving as a Director was what I did for several years before being promoted to Executive Director.
So, I've always had the diversity and inclusion portfolio, but I picked up learning and development along the way. It's been a windy way, but I think that's normal.
What are a few key takeaways that you got from your time as a student (both at Penn State and at Yale) that still benefit you today?
It's very important to have a diverse skill set. As a student, and even as a young professional, I never turned down work or learning opportunities, even if they were not related my major, even if I thought "ugh, that is beneath me!" That mindset is important because you never know what skills you're going to need to draw from later in your career. I encourage you to get as many skills in your tool chest as you possibly can. Similarly: be flexible. No one's career stays in one place forever these days, lived professional experiences are not one-dimensional anymore. You have people like me who dip into multiple ponds when it comes to their jobs. And for that reason, in my work specifically, you have to prioritize learning, know how to develop people, be able to apply learning and development models to people of color - it's a lot. As a student, that's one of the things that I would witness in other people, that ability to adapt and to go above and beyond. My mom was also that way, and I think being able to be a lifelong learner is important. Whatever your major or your career path, how can you take what you have and stretch it? If you're a business or a math major, can you teach the skill set that you have to other people? Can you do accounting? Can you take your math degree and apply it to budgets or spreadsheets? No matter where you excel, you have to be able to fully stretch your skills into a a multi-faceted jar of goods.
"No matter where you excel, you have to be able to fully stretch your skills into a a multi-faceted jar of goods."
I had someone ask me "you're not a therapist anymore don't you miss it?" And my response to that was: "Are you kidding me?" I apply and am actively engaged in the same skill set that I utilized as a therapist every day, even within my new position. You need to really stretch that thinking because that way you can better position yourself for different jobs, you can move yourself to different places, and it's just a really great thing to do for your own development. But, to stretch your skills, you really need to develop a good relationship with yourself. What I mean by that is that the work world is an interesting place regardless of where you work. There are people that will try to tell you about you. They will define you for yourself and tell you what your skills are and what you can and cannot do, placing limits, expectations, judgement on you, rightly or wrongly. You have to really know yourself to know which things are signal, which are noise - which things you can't let stick. Students may not realize that knowing yourself, getting good rest, taking good care of you is so critical to your success in corporate America. It can be a very challenging and competitive environment to be in. ETS is a non-profit organization, but we are a global company and we function in many cases like a corporation, so you have to really know yourself pretty well here, too. At the end of the day, that true knowledge of you protects you against how many likes you do or don't get on a post or what people say about you. It's truly important.
"At the end of the day, that true knowledge of you protects you against how many likes you do or don't get on a post or what people say about you. It's truly important."
How are you best able to lift as you climb?
This is an active part of my personal mission. I always talk about "tables of influence:" we want to get more women of color at tables where they can make influential real change, but how we get them there is just as critical as how they show up and what they do once they're there. I try very hard to work on just that; at my organization, I am one of the few people of color at my level. I try my best to mentor people, to bring other people of color onto my projects so they also get exposure to things that I'm doing. I try my best to bring others into the fold, which is part of the reason why my schedule is so crazy. But as my administrative assistant knows, I'm going to make time for people to talk to me about my journey and my work because it's important.
Once you get to whatever that cool place is in your career for you, it's important that you don't forget that kind of stuff. I feel most days at work that I have a very vivid memory of sitting in a classroom in undergrad - that nostalgia and connection to my beginnings is very real for me. I can feel the seat, I can smell the room - I haven't forgotten. I know what it's like to be a student and it's also generally a very fresh experience for me, so I don't forget my journey, I don't forget who helped me and who didn't, and I don't forget how I felt when certain people delivered certain messages to me. I don’t' forget the times when people thought that I was too sensitive to take feedback even though the feedback would've helped. I take all of these memories as lessons into my own future as I support others.
If you had to list one go-to garb item in your work wardrobe, what would it be?
I am a huge bracelet person. I can't leave the house without bracelets on. I have like 10 zillion of them because they're such a big go-to thing for me. I'm also a big purse person. I like having a big bag that I can put stuff in because I do go from meeting to meeting, so, I need something that's functional, but cute.
Want to learn more about Jhan's work experiences? Check out her LinkedIn page!