Reflecting on my career, I can attribute many of my “soft skills” to my parents. My father’s schooling ended after seventh grade, but he wanted his three girls to have access to quality education, and that education was reinforced at home.
Each day, he had us read the New York Daily News, starting with the sports section. Then we’d move to the politics section, with his directive, “Let’s see what Mayor Koch is up to.” As an entrepreneur who sold cars, Daddy always included us in his business. We wrote receipts, greeted customers and even shared the profits. We each received a brand new $20 bill when a car sold.
Becoming an entrepreneur was not in my career plan, but thanks to Daddy, I have an entrepreneurial spirit that I’m happy to engage each day as we transform SHRM.
As I face my first Father’s Day without my Dad, I find myself thinking about the great bosses, mentors and sponsors I’ve had who also happened to be great dads. Many men with these qualities will be spending Father’s Day with us in Chicago for SHRM’s Annual Conference and Exhibition. Wouldn’t it be great if they heard from former co-workers, mentees, interns, students and others they have inspired? Even better, we could share our stories about these amazing men. Let me share a few of my own.
As a night student at North Carolina Central University School of Law, I had a day job with the Duke University Architect, John Pearce. He was a Yale-educated, eco-conscious, hard-driving father of five. Once he learned I was working my way through law school, he began including me in contract discussions with the architects and engineers he hired for campus building projects.
He quietly supported my academic efforts in other ways, even making an appearance at my graduation. He was never concerned about how my hectic schedule would affect my work; instead, his belief in me provided a legal internship of sorts that prepared me for a later position that included negotiating contracts for a university-owned real estate development corporation.
Three jobs later, I had the opportunity to work as an assistant VP under former University of North Carolina President Tom Ross. This academic and legal icon, husband, and father of two presided over a staff of over 300 people, 17 campuses and 230,000 students. Yet he still found time to meet with each new employee in their first week, and seek out “stretch projects” to help elevate the careers of his staff.
That is how I found myself assigned to a project involving university governance, working with the leadership of the venerable Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities (AGB). Just a few months later, I was invited to serve as AGB’s VP of Public Policy. An excited Dr. Ross provided one of my recommendations.
In that role, I had the opportunity to work more closely with the CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund—a colleague I’d known for some time. We’d connect in person or by phone or email from time to time, and when the AGB offer came, he was one of the first people I called for advice.
One day, he called and asked me to come work for him as his General Counsel. It never crossed my mind that we’d ever work together—but the rest, as they say, is history.
Today, I spend each day working alongside this CEO single dad as his Chief of Staff. The number of people Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., has mentored or sponsored is a mile long and growing. And he’ll be working alongside the rest of his team on Father’s Day with his daughter and his own dad in attendance.
Many of the fathers we encounter professionally are committed to the success of the women who work with and for them. Like my Dad, they are some of our strongest supporters.
In addition to honoring and memorializing the fathers in our lives this Sunday, let’s take a moment to remember and share our stories of the male mentors and sponsors who helped pave our career paths. They are an important component of building the inclusive workplaces of today and tomorrow.