A Conversation With Microsoft’s Rashida Hodge
Meet Rashida Hodge, an executive leader in the AI and emerging technologies space. In this interview, Rashida gives us insight into what it means to bring your authentic self to work, and everywhere else you go.
A native of St. Thomas, and a proud Caribbean woman, Rashida believes in the importance of family, and has a wonderful support system in her mother, who is also her best friend.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Rashida, tell me a little bit about yourself, where you’re from, and how you got where you are.
I am from the US Virgin Islands, particularly the island of St. Thomas and I’m a proud Caribbean woman. My mom and dad still live in the islands and I frequently visit. I’m the aunt of six nieces and nephews so I am surrounded by love daily and my mom is my best friend.
I like to tell people that my mom is my strength, and my driving force of where I am today. My mom gave birth to me as a teenager. She endured not only her own shock, but the shock of many others, including family and friends. Somehow, through the crushing pressure of small community whispers, internal disappointments and love for me, my mother made the decision to relentlessly persevere despite her circumstances. My mother bore out a resolve that imprinted on me a tenacity and absolute vigor for life. She is my biggest inspiration and I am grateful daily for her sacrifice.
Culture is important for Rashida and she is especially proud of her family and her heritage – something many of us can relate to. In addition to her personal culture, work culture is also important.
So we talked about culture a little bit and where you’re from. What is the culture like at Microsoft?
The culture at Microsoft fits me perfectly – a challenging, learning environment, energized, fast paced, fun, and allows me to do meaningful and impactful work.
It’s my family reunion with my extended family daily and we collectively get the opportunity to work with clients to solve their most pressing problems.
Work culture is just as important for most people as personal culture, thus finding a company that embodies a culture that resonates with you is key.
For some, that may be a company that exudes certain values and for others it may be a company that embraces and supports activities that are important to your ecosystem; or enabling and environment that allows you to thrive.
In any case, Rashida supports the idea of embracing your culture and being your full self – inside and outside of the office.
I would love to understand what you mean when you say, “bring your authentic self to work.”
For the majority of my career, I have operated under the crippling belief that I have to be perfect or damn near perfect to succeed in corporate spaces. I often describe myself as having the perfect trifecta of “the tax”. I’m black, a woman and some say I look young. Basically put, I have paid my fair share of the “black tax”. I often worked twice as hard to get where others are with less effort. I would do things to make myself look less youthful , so people did not think I was unskilled or unqualified for the job. However, overtime, I realized this was the wrong approach and my nuance was my differentiator.
If being a unicorn is the main way for women and people of color to access powerful rooms, there’s your reason for why so few of us are in there. Unicorns aren’t real, and it’s unsustainable for that expectation to be placed on us.
There are some who are on their journey to bring their authentic selves to work and others who have not even begun. Knowing why it is so important can help those struggling to make a change, take a chance. What would you say to those who are afraid to take your advice and bring their authentic selves to work?
Creating a life of not just professional success, but significance requires you to bare your boldness.
One of my favorite components of boldness is creating and displaying your own vibe, because it’s basically the brand you carry with you. As mentioned earlier, I am a Caribbean woman, from St. Thomas, US VirginIslands to be more specific. And for many years, I did a good job of tucking away my Caribbean identity from my work identity. I wouldn’t talk about carnival or my rambunctious family. I even got rid of my accent. But, I’ve learned that my vibe is my boldness. I openly talk about my visits home for Carnival. I let my accent slip in and out as I please, and most importantly I share how significant my family is to me. And I hope it doesn’t take others as long to share their vibe, as it did for me. The world needs it. We need everyone to have the boldness to share your quirks, family history and essence. That’s your vibe and your boldness.
Speaking of being authentically you and embracing different perspectives and personal nuances, tell me, what does diversity equity inclusion mean to you and what is Microsoft’s stance on this?
I was actually on a panel recently for Women’s History Month and one of my peers on the panel said that, “DE&I shouldn’t be an initiative. It shouldn’t be a program. It shouldn’t be a thing. It’s everyday life.” I couldn’t agree more. It is essential and should be embedded in our daily fabric of how we drive belonging and purpose for each person in the workforce.
From a Microsoft perspective, our mission is how do we empower every person, every organization on the planet to achieve more? And we certainly want to believe that different perspectives help us all to achieve more on this journey and mission. This is why it is important for all of us to bring our authentic selves, because the nuance and different perspectives allow us to help our clients, innovate and solve pressing challenges in profound ways.
What advice would you give to companies to fully embrace diversity and inclusion across the board?
Take action, make your impact a verb. It’s not about a moment in time, but diversity and inclusion is evergreen. Paying more attention to environments that lack diversity should lead to empathy and ultimately action for those who are underrepresented.
What’s one thing we can all do right now to positively impact DE&I, which is not a moment in time, as you’ve said, but something that’s evergreen?
I believe as leaders, we are required to live a life of significance and not just success, because I think success is about your individual accomplishments.
When I think about significance, it’s not about what we do for ourselves, but what we do for others. I’m vocal about diversity and inclusion, especially for women of color, because I want others to know that we belong in these spaces and we are worthy of being in these spaces.
I also believe that when you are given the platform, you must speak for those who are less empowered to do so. It is important for us to not just lead for ourselves, but lead for others.
As Rashida has said, bringing your authentic self to work is key to driving DE&I efforts across the board because your perspective is your vibe, and what makes you unique. So, even if it feels uncomfortable, be 100% yourself in everything you do – and encourage those around you to do the same.
About the Interviewer:
Terri Petion is a SIS Contributing Writer, and an 80’s baby and Revenue Enablement leader who is passionate about collaboration, transparency, and empowering people to be their best selves. Over the last 10 years, she has worked in Sales, Operations, Advertising, and Public Relations and has found her home in Revenue Enablement. Terri is deeply passionate about amplifying the voices of underrepresented groups and advocating for inclusivity whenever she can. She encourages people to step outside of their comfort zones and to embrace challenges and to find purpose. Connect with Terri on LinkedIn.
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