Why I'm paying it forward with Empower Work

This segment originally aired on KQED-FM on June 5, 2019. You can listen to the original airing here.

You okay?

It was a text from my mentor. I struggled to read it between the tears streaming down my face. I was on my first big work trip—an event I’d been anticipating with equal parts excitement and dread. A male colleague had just made an off-hand comment that shook me to the core.

As a young Asian-American woman navigating a predominantly white field, his remark validated all the voices in my head saying I didn’t belong.

That night my mentor took me out to Vietnamese food. Over a bowl of phở we unpacked the experience—interspersed with bursts of laughter and levity. She listened and asked questions that helped me re-frame the situation and loosen its grip on my self-worth.

“I believe in you,” she said looking me directly in the eye. “And you deserve to be here just as much as he does.” I felt my confidence and determination being restored.

That was ten years ago. I’m grateful for the astute mentor who reached out that day, and the many others who have been there for me. Looking back, I’m not sure I would have made some of the career-defining decisions I did without their support.

Like advocating for a promotion. Going on to hold senior positions at other organizations. And trusting that I belonged, when I often felt so alienated.

In return, I try to be this person for co-workers, friends—and now even strangers—at a text hotline for work issues.

But you don’t need to have a special title to be there for people. Simple actions—like reaching out when something’s amiss or asking open-ended questions like ‘how can I best support you?’—add up. And they matter.

It can mean the difference between stepping back or stepping up; feeling disempowered or feeling heard; closing doors or creating space.

I know what it feels like when someone has your back at work, even if the conversation starts with a single, simple text message.

With a Perspective, I’m Lauren Brisbo.

Lauren Brisbo lives in San Francisco and works for a nonprofit that provides peer counselors for employees in tough work situations.

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