Promoting Workplace Diversity, with Michelle Burk-Gomez

June 23, 2021
PRODUCED BY POLLY YAKOVICH

Michelle Burk-Gomez is the Account Director at A Brave New, and she is passionate about building brands and crafting compelling digital experiences for organizations. Her ideas are informed by creative and quantitative perspectives. Michelle has over 15+ years of experience in the Marketing, Brand Strategy, Technology, Finance and Nonprofit industries.

Adept at knowing market trends and how to relate that to an organization’s targeted goals, Michelle is out to discover how best to use marketing campaigns and technology to impact market position and brand perception. She is excited about how to use the power of technology to make organizations more competitive.

She is experienced in concept development and strategy through execution; that is grounded in knowledge of brand, competitive landscape, and market trends. Storytelling, brand strategies and innovation with top ranking companies all play a part.

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • How Michelle's career path led to her role as Account Director at A Brave New, and how she discovered her love of marketing through her varied career experiences
  • What challenges Michelle has faced as an African American woman in marketing, and why it is crucial to amplify women's voices and give them opportunities to grow their careers
  • Why women are often balancing their careers with family responsibilities, and how the global pandemic has disproportionately amplified this added burden
  • What has changed for women in the workplace over the last 20 years, and why not enough progress has been made to help women succeed
  • How establishing quantified and measurable diversity goals has helped A Brave New establish a more diverse team
  • Why truly valuing diversity means making it an ongoing priority, and why business leaders have a responsibility to educate themselves and take action
  • Why it is critically important to call out injustices when you see them, and why the work of increasing team diversity and workplace equity never stops

Resources:

Additional resources:  

Show Transcription:

Intro:

Welcome to A Brave New podcast, the podcast all about how brave entrepreneurial companies are unlocking their business potential using inbound marketing. Here is your marketing expert and host, Polly Yakovich.

Polly Yakovich:

Welcome back to A Brave New podcast. I am so excited to have my colleague, Michelle Burk-Gomez with me today. Michelle is pretty much a powerhouse and we are so lucky to have her at ABN as our account director leading our client service team. I've known Michelle for many, many years and she was always someone I knew I'd work with someday, so I'm absolutely thrilled that she's joined us.

Polly Yakovich:

She is full of talent and wisdom and is freaking hilarious. But today, Michelle and I want to tackle some hard and also very timely and relevant topics around what it means to be a woman in leadership, particularly in corporate America, what it means to be a working mom, particularly in leadership and, at this time, coming out of a pandemic, there's been so much news about what it's been to be a working mom during this time. And we also want to talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Polly Yakovich:

So, just all the light, low key, fluffy topics for us today. We want to talk about these, particularly in respect to how companies, our company, your company can do a better job supporting these super important areas of focus and areas that are really personally important, obviously, to Michelle and I, and how we can also participate in creating better opportunities for all of us, not just some of us.

Polly Yakovich:

So, buckle up because, when Michelle and I are talking, you have no idea where things may go.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Awesome. Thanks, Polly. So excited to be here today with you.

Polly Yakovich:

So, to get us started, to warm us up a little bit here, can you just share a little bit about your career journey, your career path and where it's taken you?

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Absolutely. So, starting way back in the day, once upon a time, I graduated from the University of Washington, [crosstalk 00:02:14] in Political Science and Speech Communication.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah, same. Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

And I think all people at that time, I was positive I was going to be an attorney, go to law school, do the thing.

Polly Yakovich:

Yep. Same.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

And then, things shifted and I actually ended up in finance and taking over my father's company. And, during that time, we actually survived that '05, '08 run. Super stressful. Our clients were so successful, but it was difficult and it's really hard being in a space where you're responsible for people's retirement and certainly just livelihood and it was such a tough time in the market and there are many sleepless nights of stress of how do you articulate this? And I always found picking up the phone, making that phone call, reassuring people, we've got it, we're on top of it, was huge. And then I also decided, at that point, maybe I don't want to do this forever.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

I love marketing, I love telling the story and truly bridging the gap for people and certainly I was doing it in the financial space of showing people why it was important to understand their investments and particularly with women. Here's why, as a woman leader, you need to invest, you need to know what's happening in your portfolio and not rely on somebody else to do that.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Unfortunately, during that time, actually, my father had passed away and I saw firsthand, my mom had never balanced a checkbook, though she was successful in her nursing career and things like that, that it was really difficult to see her try to navigate finances and all of that at that point. So, it was one of those things of, huh, I've got to figure out how to tell that story better, get especially women involved and invested and go from there.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

So, from there, after I sold off my practice, I moved into sports marketing. Joined a company that, at the time, had only had five marketers and I loved sports, being a division one track athlete also way back in the day [crosstalk 00:04:36]

Polly Yakovich:

That is where we do not share any similarities.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

I tell people now that I might jog if I have to or maybe to relax or something but as far as going to the gym and stuff, I'm like, eh. I did that plenty in my 20s, but no thank you. I'm super content and fine where I'm at. I'll just leave sports to my kids.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

But I moved over into sports marketing and it was super interesting because it was a global firm and we were a really small group, so had the opportunity to do a lot of different things and had my hands in all kinds of things. I think one of the highlights for me was helping them design the first iPad app, moving away from a commercial print catalog to a digital catalog and also putting together their first email marketing automation platform.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

And so, that actually really transitioned me into data driven metrics. Again, 10 years ago, it was definitely not as popular where certain [inaudible 00:05:50] marketers stay, we're not making moves without looking at the data first.

Polly Yakovich:

Right.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

But getting that reporting and seeing how just buyers would make purchasing decisions, how to move the needle in that space was something that was really intriguing [inaudible 00:06:08]. And so, really, that was the jumping point for me of moving to different companies at different points that really being brought on board to build brands to help take companies from startup to launch or, if they were looking for an acquisition, it was to reenergize smaller marketing teams and get them to level up and achieve the goals that the business wanted to.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

And, a lot of times, it would be organized chaos and I love that. That's the thing that truly excites me because I certainly am always learning. I get to do a lot of different things. I get to work with a lot of diverse people in that space, and then to be able to produce results was thrilling and, honestly, led me to where we are today.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

I love the agency life and working with clients, seeing that kind of success and I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to produce and perform and, obviously, with different clients, there's different means at all times, so constantly moving and shaking and working with my team to produce excellent results.

Polly Yakovich:

Talk about what it was like for you coming up as a woman in corporate America and marketing. I think, for me, too, there's a portion of your life that you don't want to talk about that, because you want to be like, doesn't matter if I'm a man or a woman, everything is equal. But I definitely noticed as I was coming up, when I looked around at people I wanted to learn from, grow from, who was in charge, who I wanted to be my mentor, there were no women, or very few.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Yeah.

Polly Yakovich:

Even for us, and we are obviously super young, vibrant things. But even for us who have been in the workplace for 20 years, I didn't see a lot of women that I wanted to model my career after. Was that true for you as well?

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Oh, absolutely. Oh my gosh, where do you even begin with that? I think, certainly, in the financial space, it was difficult and awkward in the sense that, especially my male colleagues wouldn't necessarily take me seriously and would definitely try to undermine just things that I was doing. And so, it was really important to me to always be on top of my game, to know what I was talking about, to make sure that I had the right data, that I came to the meetings so much more prepared than my male counterparts because it was such a battle to earn the respect, to let them know I deserved to have a seat at the table.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

I even had clients, when we were meeting for the first time, who had no idea that I was an African American woman. I'd come into the room and sit down and get ready to go over their portfolio and I had a gentleman say, I'm waiting for Michelle. And I was like, well, good news, I'm Michelle.

Polly Yakovich:

Wow.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

And we had been talking for months and doing things, so there's a lot of that that would happen at different times and I don't think it's a secret to anyone of different African American women in leadership roles in the workplace. It just hasn't been there.

Polly Yakovich:

Right.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

And we haven't had the opportunity. And so, I think part of my success, I would say, was certainly from my parents, of always encouraging me to be great, to do what I want to do, especially having my father as a mentor in finance, he was like, "You're better than. You can do this. Get out there and show them and prove it with the results."

Polly Yakovich:

Right.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

And so, I've always had that mentality of, I'm always going to better myself. I can do this and I can pave the way and figure out how to maneuver and, honestly, the data and analytics side of it, that's where I could always show my success of being able to put it out there and be like, well, look at how much we grew. Since I've been here, here's all the things we've accomplished.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

But there really wasn't a lot of that and, honestly, I've even recently had someone ask, where's your accent from? And I was like, are you kidding me right now? Read the room. It's 2021. A, what a inappropriate question to ask and I just responded and was like, education. You should be uncomfortable right now that I'm unsure of why you perceived African American women in some kind of way that were less than or are going, to you, speak a certain way, like a certain thing where, in my mind, I don't have that bias and assume that just because you're this, it then equals.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

So, that's always a challenge and I've seen it throughout my career and it's one of those things where I've learned to laugh. I've also learned to speak up.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

And when it is inappropriate or there's ways to do it but, honestly, I've been come across, if I've been pushed a little bit too hard, the angry Black woman persona.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Which I know every Black American woman is like, ugh, exhausting.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

I don't have a bad attitude. How many men are told in appropriate America to smile more?

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

To do that? It's absurd. So, do you think we've come a long ways? We're trying to level the playing field and certainly in the space, I've been lucky enough to have a few African American women mentors that I was able to watch just do their things in different business space, but I definitely think there can be a lot more and I'm always interested in the mentorship of just women in general.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

I don't feel like I see that as much. I'm seeing it more, but I feel like, a lot of times, men invest in their colleagues and their friends. You see them all sitting on boards together which also needs a lot more diversity [crosstalk 00:12:56]

Polly Yakovich:

100%. Yeah. 1000%.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Gosh, and I also look to companies right now and just challenges them of, what are you doing?

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Where are you reaching out to and investing in women like us? Certainly in minority women who are still severely underpaid to the Caucasian man's dollar, which is so troubling still at this point.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

It's 2021. I tell my daughters, you guys go out as young Black women. You can do it. Whatever your brother's doing, you can do it as well. You're fine.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. Yeah. There's so much I want to unpack, but one of the things I'm curious about, because this is true for me personally and I think perhaps we share this, there's so many aspects of diversity that I think are important, but just taking the women aspect to start with, because that's what we share, when I looked around and saw there weren't many women, it really made me feel responsible. And I think this is also part of the problem we have with minority populations of any sort, is it made me feel responsible for bringing up other women and made me really motivated to concentrate on how can we improve our diversity, how can I hire women, how can I amplify their voices? This is so needed.

Polly Yakovich:

Is that something that you feel and have felt as well?

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Oh my gosh, absolutely. I think, throughout, it has always been how can we promote and bring up and certainly, the most qualified is always important, but I don't think we should play the racial card or anything like that in that space, but there's so many brilliant women that are overlooked or are pigeonholed into positions where they really can't grow their careers. I think part of that is, and let's be honest, I've never had this problem of not standing up for myself or being like [crosstalk 00:15:14]

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. Same.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

This may be a problem, no.

Polly Yakovich:

But you shouldn't have to be tough as nails like we are to do that, to get an opportunity.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Oh my gosh.

Polly Yakovich:

In very different ways, I can't say that we've had the same journey, but we've had to break down our own doors. What if you're brilliant, but you don't have that?

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

And that is what is really challenging because, if you are somebody who is conflicted [inaudible 00:15:44], you're not going to stand up in that way. I know, at one company that I was at previously, in a previous life, my male counterpart, we have the same title, he was actually leaving and moving on to another job, but he shared his salary with me, and I was like, how does my Caucasian male counterpart make 30,000 more than what I'm currently making and I outperform?

Polly Yakovich:

Oh my gosh.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

I was gutted.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

And took it to my manager and was like, let's unpack that.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

And took it all the way up to HR and I finally was told, well, he must have just been in the right place at the right time and I kept pushing and was like, let's do a gap analysis and see what's out there and, ultimately, I chose to leave because I think leadership that is willing to really put down minority groups or women and not keep it equal, that's not someone I want to align myself with.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah, even to defend that position seems like, sorry, I'm going to take my talent elsewhere.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Absolutely.

Polly Yakovich:

I also want to unpack something that you said that is a personal pet peeve, because I've heard this a lot in conversations and push back on it, and nothing about this conversation is to be like that I'm doing other things right, that I'm perfect, but these are some areas that are personally important to me. But this whole the most qualified person for the job is the biggest piece of BS I've ever heard in my life and it's such a defense mechanism thing to say, which is to say, there's no possible way that you're getting all the most qualified people for the job.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Literally.

Polly Yakovich:

And if they all look the same and they all look like you, then that's your problem.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Exactly.

Polly Yakovich:

You're not looking hard enough. Your spaces are too similar to who you are.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Right.

Polly Yakovich:

And don't have enough diversity. It may take more effort.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Absolutely.

Polly Yakovich:

It doesn't mean that effort is going to bring in less qualified candidates. It's your fault for not knowing or finding them.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Absolutely. I'm in 100% agreement with that. I had an opportunity [crosstalk 00:18:04]

Polly Yakovich:

Do you feel like you have to say that, though, because [crosstalk 00:18:07]

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

I do.

Polly Yakovich:

Because that's a thing that people say to you and you have to defend yourself in a way?

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Well, and just saying it, I like to point that out to people and certainly, as I'm more seasoned in my career now, I'm very comfortable in challenging people to branch out.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

And challenging leadership of why do we have an all white male board?

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Did we not think to look outside of this? Studies show diversity and companies that are invested in that truly are more successful and more profitable.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

You would think, at this point, just having diverse opinions, and it's certainly so much more than just skin color and stuff like that, and gender.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. Yes.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Which is so easy to identify and point out, but it's also interesting to me in 2021, again, of you can't define or just decide on a person's race just by looking at their LinkedIn photo.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

That I have nieces that are mixed and they're definitely on the fair side of things. God bless my son, he made a comment when he was probably 16 years old of, oh, they're Black? And I was like, are you joking? It was so mind blowing to me. He was raised better than that and I can only imagine someone who you know your aunt, she's Black. Her husband's white. What is happening here? Yes. They are. That was just mind blown. You can't just identify that, and I think that's always the challenge and I think it's also, I've really struggled with, and it's something that I'm not confident I think until later in career to think about, I'm comfortably Black for some people. I'm comfortably Black for corporate America, of I don't necessarily fit all these biases that people have and so they feel like, you're a unicorn and then, certainly, with my last name being Burk-Gomez, it's even more interesting to me of how it's automatically this, that I'm fluent in Spanish.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

And sometimes I'll get just different things completely in Spanish and the last name actually comes from my married last name of Gomez out of the Caribbean.

Polly Yakovich:

Right.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

From [inaudible 00:21:01] that being the southern most island in the Caribbean and knowing the Spanish diversified quite a bit of the world.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

So, even Asia Pacific and other places where I'm always just, are you kidding me? Come on, people.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

This is exhausting at this point.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Of trying to explain it.

Polly Yakovich:

It's a really good lesson just broadly and I wanted to talk about this last year, but just assumptions aren't serving us well. It's better to try and discard them as much as possible. And I appreciate what you're saying, too, because I think gender diversity is important, age diversity is important.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

So much. I think, for me, that is one of the scariest things of, in my mind, if I had to list 10 successful women over the age of 60 right now [crosstalk 00:21:56]

Polly Yakovich:

In marketing.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

If you [inaudible 00:22:00], I would just put it across the board and then that are in true leadership positions, I can't think of them, and that's terrifying, that that's the example that we're seeing, because we know people are staying in the workforce longer and longer and if you look at how it's historically been, yeah, absolutely. It makes sense how a Caucasian male is still sitting in place into his 70s and maybe his son is a VP or whatever that stereotype is.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

But it's like, women are there. We still need to pay bills and invest in retirement and do all the things that, just because we hit 50, we're not going to be obsolete.

Polly Yakovich:

Well, which brings me to my next topic. I told you we were going to get into it all.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Oh, yeah. I'm here for it.

Polly Yakovich:

Which is being a mom in the workplace and being a mother in the workplace and the burden, which I think you don't have to go far to see a recent article about the burden over COVID that has fallen dramatically or maybe exposed how much more of the home burden women are still carrying, even if you think you have a semi-equitable household, women are still primarily carrying that home burden.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

For sure.

Polly Yakovich:

And, particularly after the year like COVID, when kids were home from school, when you talk about being a woman in the workplace, when you talk about being a woman of color in the workplace, when you talk about being a mom in a position of leadership, it becomes a very dicey balance.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

For sure. There's so many places I could go with that. When I think of that, just all together, just being a mom and a leader and all the things, I'm exhausted.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. And also no wonder you feel like a unicorn, you know?

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Right. Unicorn/fairy godmother/chef/maid/marketer.

Polly Yakovich:

Yep. Yep.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

All of the above. I have a joke with my kids of I'm really good at one thing every week. It's parenting, work, or relationships. And usually work wins, and if one of the other two categories wins, we should buy a lotto ticket because it's a big week for us.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

No, I have three kids and they are actually three only children because they're 19, 11, and six.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah, and you were a young mom. Most of your career, you were a mom.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

I was. Yes. I had my son at 21. I just was graduated from college and, yeah, it was an interesting juggle and I definitely have had people that supported me through all of that and I think I love that my parents always were like, you can still do it. You can be all things and you still have to carve out that time for yourself.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

So, I am all those things but I also have boundaries that I put up.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

And even if it's with my kids or with work, that work life balance is so critical and certainly in this last year. I think, the other thing, if my kids could tell my secret, they would tell you, I stop parenting at 9:00.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

That I need that time, from 9:00 until I want to go to bed of, that's my time to watch shows, it's my time to read, to catch up or whatever and, obviously, it's not like I wouldn't help them if needed, but this isn't my time to play games or whatever, that you should probably be going to bed and you'll get tucked in and then that's that. You can now quiet time yourself.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

But it's something that is really important for us.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. Yeah. Let's pivot just a little bit. My first question is, have you seen anything change substantially for women in the workplace in the last 20 years or moms in the workplace or women in leadership or women of color?

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Absolutely. For all of those things, I would say we have come long ways, but it's not good enough.

Polly Yakovich:

Right. Right. 100%.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

That I think there's finally that acknowledgement. We're seeing tons of articles about it. We hear about it. But then, I'm always like, then what's next?

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

How are you doing your small part to make a change? That I know for me, just in management styles and stuff like that and working with younger team members, especially women, it's super important to me to coach them on finding their voice, of being able to articulate, to get the confidence, in your reviews and stuff like that, to articulate your value and then, obviously, be able to show it with substantial document. This is why you should give me a raise.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

This is why, that I accomplished all these KPIs. This is what our goals were. Why not? That I've always led in that space of, I would want my manage to have to justify to me why I'm not getting that raise.

Polly Yakovich:

Right.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Explain to me, when I can come to the table and say, I've accomplished all this, how can you not value that? So, it's giving people their voice, but I also think it's our responsibility as women to [inaudible 00:27:55] other women.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

And to provide that mentorship and leadership.

Polly Yakovich:

So, from a couple different perspectives, what would you say to companies, organizations, how can companies do better? How should they do better? How can we, as a company, do better?

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

As a company, I think, statistically, we're killing it in the diversity area.

Polly Yakovich:

Our company.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Yeah, our company, personally.

Polly Yakovich:

Well, one of the things... so, I will share this a little bit and, Michelle, feel free to interject and say whether you've felt it or not.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Yeah.

Polly Yakovich:

But I would say Josh and I as owners have a unique opportunity to do some of the things that we want and that we personally are driven by in our values for us. And diversity was a value for us and I think we're doing, and this is not at all to say we are doing an amazing job, because I don't think you can ever say that of yourself. First of all, other people need to say that of you, and second of all, never stop.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Exactly.

Polly Yakovich:

You should always be pushing more, but I would say, prior to last summer's especially, not that Black Lives Matter didn't exist before then, but as it became so much more prominent in the public eye, before then, Josh and I really wanted to focus on diversity and we did an okay job. But I would say we still allowed ourselves, oftentimes, to be like, well, we're going to hire the best person for the job. Well, the best person for the job was in our network that applied, that we knew, that wasn't always diverse enough. Sometimes, it was.

Polly Yakovich:

And so, last summer, we were like, what we are doing is not good enough, even by our standards.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Sure.

Polly Yakovich:

And, certainly, we had a somewhat diverse staff, but we were like, unless we really put some sort of quantified goals, we are going to give ourselves an out. We're going to give ourselves the out of we're a small business, we only know these people, or we don't have the money for a recruiter. We're going to give ourselves an out and, if not now, when? If not us, who?

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Exactly.

Polly Yakovich:

We can't say we're about these things if we're not putting our money where our mouth is. And so, last year, we were like, we want our staff to reflect the diversity of the country. You can break that down into percentages.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Right.

Polly Yakovich:

That is not unreasonable. And we are going to say to anybody recruiting for us, whether we hire them or they're internal, that we're only going to accept a diverse pool of final candidates. If you are going to hand us three final Caucasian male candidates, that's not good enough.

Polly Yakovich:

And so, I think we've made some strides and we always do better, but those are some really practical tactical things that we were like, unless we draw this line in the sand, no one is going to make this happen but us.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Absolutely. I mean, I think it's such a deep topic to jump into because there's so many things that you can start it all the way back to education and resources.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

The affordability of childcare and things like that.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

And just political, socio economical, all the things, that it's diverse people are out there, diverse women are out there and, like you said, may not be in your network, so find the networks that they're in.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Find where they're participating. They're in plenty of professional groups. Companies that want to find them do find them.

Polly Yakovich:

Yep.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

So, I think part of the challenge there of how much effort do people want to put into recruiting diverse candidates, you can't just be passive and sit back and hope that it just comes to you. And I think, also, flexibility is huge, I think, in the workplace for... that's something I always look for, just that work life balance. The kids are important to me. I want to be able to go to sporting events. I also want to have growth in my job and feel valued and to be able to get continuing education and stuff like that.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

So, especially in marketing, it's always moving, don't want to be obsolete.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

You've got to always be learning.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

And if you don't have an employer that embraces and supports that, it's really challenging.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. Yeah, and I would say this is obviously a statement that comes from privilege and I want to acknowledge that, but I really do encourage people when they're safe and when they can, to leave places that they're not valued and look for places where they can make an impact and where people are going to truly support them and grow them and believe in them and invest in them and not just give them lip service.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Absolutely. And I think more companies really are coming out and standing behind that. I think with the shift with COVID of realizing people can be productive at home and have that flex time and space, I think we will see women grow in these roles, in these leadership roles more than what we have in the past just because they do have that ability.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

So, it's a good thing.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

But we'll see.

Polly Yakovich:

The other thing that I would say from a brand perspective for companies is, if you say you value diversity, you need to do something about it. If you truly value it, and this gets into tokenism and all the other stuff, but you can't post your rainbow in June. You can't post your rainbow for Pride. You can't post this or that. If people look at your board and they're all the same person, they're going to call you out on it, right?

Polly Yakovich:

And your employees, and your customers. If that's something that you value, you truly value, then you need to find a way to do something about it. You need to make it a priority.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Absolutely. I mean, I think employees especially can see and right away know about brand culture and stuff.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

And is this just something we're putting on the website with the diverse stock photo with all hands in and whatever? I think people can see through that. Just the conscious consumerism that is out there now, people are also aware and I think, in general, people are exhausted.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

I think, with the Black Lives Matter movement, with all the things that have happened this year, if you didn't know, well, now you know and you're aware.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

So, it's time to step up and be part of the solution and not just be like, well, that's really terrible and I'm really sorry that it's happening to you.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

And I think, especially as a Black mom of a son that's 19, it's been an exhausting year and there's definitely times that I've got a lot going on with work and my mom passed away and everything else. 2020 was awful and then having to worry about the safety of my son?

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Exhausting. And then it's so hard to show up the next day at work and to be like, a smile on my face, ready to engage and people don't necessarily know what's going on.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Why is it like this? Maybe you're not as engaged and, honestly, I think the mental health aspect of it, too, just was so taxing.

Polly Yakovich:

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Yeah.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. Absolutely.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

It was a lot. That was a lot for the year. And, thankfully, I've been with a company that is supportive of me. I have the ability to work with my therapist, which I think everyone needs a therapist and a life coach.

Polly Yakovich:

100%, yeah, I support that.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Just to bounce things off of, keep them grounded, and just to have that added voice. Even with COVID, disproportionately, it affects African Americans, it impacts the community. I think it was something like 39% COVID-related deaths are attributed to the African American community. There's a big article in the New York Times about this. When African Americans only make up 15% of the population. And, yes, for sure, there's underlying things and we can go in a lot of different directions with it, but that's a problem, a problem that needs to be solved for of how do we help in that space?

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Polly Yakovich:

So, we talked a little bit about companies and company responsibility. What's the personal responsibility for each person? One of the things I think about a lot is the burden. You just talked about the burden of being a Black woman in America. Literally, tip of the iceberg of what that's been like over the last year, at least.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Right. Yeah.

Polly Yakovich:

A part of me is really hesitant to be like, so, Michelle, now your additional job is, how do you make room for other women and how do you bring people up and whatever.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Right.

Polly Yakovich:

Truly, it should be every single person's burden.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Sure.

Polly Yakovich:

If you're leading a team, maybe you don't own a company, maybe you're not in charge, maybe you're not on the board, maybe you're not the CEO. What is our responsibility and also how can we help each other, whether you're a Caucasian man, whether you're a woman of color, whether you're a white woman like I am? How do we help elevate? What can we do? What should we be doing? I mean, I have my opinions.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Sure.

Polly Yakovich:

[crosstalk 00:38:30] do something at all times.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Right. I think that's the first thing: Do something. Be that ally. Be that support. I certainly cannot speak for all Black women in Black experiences and this is fully just my experience through corporate America and stuff like that, but it's certainly to my Caucasian counterparts, educate yourselves.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

It's so annoying. It is not your Black friends' jobs to teach you about Black history.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

If that was a miss for you in school and you didn't know about Black Wall Street and all the other things? Google it. It'll be fine.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

It's available, but it's not the responsibility. And, also, Black people aren't looking for an apology, either. That also is so cringy and awkward, when people are like, I'm so sorry for all white people, and I also can't deal with that. That kills me. Everyone needs to do their small part in their space but everybody's circumstance is different that if you are responsible for hiring, look and see. Do we have diverse hires? Are we looking in the right places? If you're looking amongst your team and stuff like that, try and think outside the box, like how can I help? As a manager, that's something that I think about all the time with my team of how can I help?

Polly Yakovich:

Yep. Yeah. Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

I was raised in a different space. There's people that have kids. There are some that don't. There's all kinds of things happening in their world that's important to them and it's in addition to, yes, we need to get the job done, but let me be empathetic enough to engage with you to learn about what your day to day experience is because I want my colleagues to be excited about coming to work. I want them to wake up and want to be part of my team, not so stressed out with everything else that's happening with their life that they can't show up their best self when they come to work.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. Yeah. For me, personally, I think some of, and, again, this is a long work in progress, like I will never have arrived, but I think for me, personally, I'm a crusader and it's hard for me that I can't fix things. It's very hard that I can't go out there and fix a thing for a person. And so, one of the things that I've just taken as my personal mission is just to do everything that I can, every day, to be better with the opportunity I have.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Yeah.

Polly Yakovich:

Do I need to hire a position? What can I do to go out of my way and not make it easy on myself and live out my values and bring diversity to my company like we talked about from all different perspectives that makes us better. Homogenous life does not make you better.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

No.

Polly Yakovich:

And to never, ever, ever feel like you've done enough, I really feel part of it is true even with this podcast. I look around at voices that I want to amplify and all the voices that come to mind in our field are men. And then I'm like, why is this still the case? How can I dig deeper? How can I cover women who have so much to offer who haven't had the opportunity or had a chance or aren't known or how can we, just everyday, in a very small moment or action, break the system or the cycle for ourselves or someone else?

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Totally. It's just like you said. It's the responsibility of those in leadership to continue to build up other women and to [crosstalk 00:42:15]

Polly Yakovich:

And this is not just women building up other women.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Yeah. Men need to do it, too.

Polly Yakovich:

I think there's a lot of really wonderful male allies who think it's just as important.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Oh, absolutely.

Polly Yakovich:

So, I want to make sure everyone feels like they can make a difference.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Oh, for sure. Definitely. I feel like it's such a cliché of, oh, you can make a difference, but you actually can.

Polly Yakovich:

You can.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Do your small part, like call out the injustice when it's not just, that it takes a village. If we want to evoke change, if you see something that's wrong, say it.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Especially if it's a corporation doing it and you're engaging with them, A, reconsider doing business, but also, I would arguably say their leadership team and especially with corporations that are global or just even a larger company, they don't want that and they don't want that kind of publicity because that isn't what their value is.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

And I think that's the difficult part, I think, to navigate for me. I have to look and ask myself, is that a corporate value? Is that the value of the leadership? Is it in alignment with my values? And if it's not comfortably being like, then I do not need to be here and this is not for me.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. Yeah. The other thing I would say, too, to a lot of people listening is don't look for credit. Don't look for, oh, I've achieved this thing. It's time to pass the mic. Other people have really important things to say.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Definitely. I can't even imagine thinking that we could be done with this, that you'd check it off and be like, great. Accomplished that.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Our business is diverse and we have all the right hires and here we go. That it's how do you continue to support that and certainly, as your organization grows, how do you support these different groups that we hear of some companies are doing a good job of it. Other companies, not so much, and I think with where people are and the ability to choose of where they want to be and align themselves, if you don't get on board with that, you're going to lose out in the end and the companies will lose the talent and everything else.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. Yeah. I also think we are in a cutthroat space. Agency life is not easy. It's a very burnout. I see a lot of women leave because it's hard to manage a family. And so, I think as a manager and as a leader, I also look for how can I make your life easier so you don't feel like you have to stay home to be a good mom? If you want to, great.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Sure.

Polly Yakovich:

But if you don't want to and you feel forced into that choice, how can I give you autonomy? How can I keep your voice in the mix? How can we get more women at the table?

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

So, I actually worked for an executive search firm that was one of the first firms in the country to no longer ask previous salary history of their candidates, and it was something that was huge for me. Women in minorities are historically underpaid.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

So, if a recruiter is like, well, what's your range and you're always underpaid, it's nearly impossible to get there.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

But it was great in seeing how, when they were working on the client side, if a client would define, okay, this is the range that we're looking for and it was like, great, I'll only interview and bring you candidates that are within that range. I was able to watch a leader placed. She went from a job that was paying her $80,000 a year. She was excellent at what she did. Same type of title, different company, to $160,000 that year.

Polly Yakovich:

Wow.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

And the executive search person was like, I don't know if that's okay. And I was like, what do you mean? That's what the range is. It's fine. The company is willing to pay this. She has all the credentials and the criteria. We're not going to undercut her, discount her and say, well, she could just come in at $110,000 because she should be happy with that. That it was value her for what she's worth and I think just pushing women to value yourself.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Nobody cares about your career like you do and you can't expect somebody else to always fight the fight and I don't think it has to be something that's aggressive or rude, but it's very much, here are the facts. Here's what I'm worth, pay me what I'm worth.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. I love it. I love it.

Polly Yakovich:

So, my last question, thank you so much. This has been so great. Thank you for going there with me.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Of course.

Polly Yakovich:

Always.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Definitely.

Polly Yakovich:

I like to ask everyone this question about what would you say is your superpower?

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Oh gosh. I would honestly say, and if you don't know already, my superpower is to be a villain, that I embrace that wholeheartedly. I'm very comfortable with the know and then also being the villain just helps cut down the smoke and mirrors.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

And we get down to the bottom of things real quick and we're able to course correct. We can fix things, but a lot of times, I find that people have such a hard time with that and, when you know me, I'm very direct and speak the truth.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

You may not like it and that's okay. We're going to figure out a solution to get it done.

Polly Yakovich:

I love it.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

So, somebody's got to be the villain.

Polly Yakovich:

It's so funny, too, because obviously my child is still young. He's only four, but I asked him literally just yesterday, what do you think's more fun? To be the good buy or the bad guy?

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Definitely.

Polly Yakovich:

Leading the witness.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

100%. And I think, too, that's also where I for sure surround myself with people that aren't necessarily villains and can counterbalance stuff like that.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. Yeah, you shoulder a lot of that for the rest of your team.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

I do, but I enjoy it and it gets things done.

Polly Yakovich:

Yep.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

And I think people are surprised sometimes. When they deal with me, they weren't quite sure that's what they were going to get. We get the results and we get there and I think this is, too, and you know it, this is where some parenting comes in.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

I can definitely convince you to do a thing and I'm going to make you think it's your idea and we're going to run off and be successful together.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. That's so great. I love it so much.

Polly Yakovich:

Where can people find you, hear what you're up to? Read your musings?

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Oh, yeah. Totally. Well, obviously, I'm at A Brave New.

Polly Yakovich:

Yep.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Directing accounts there, and certainly on LinkedIn as well, would probably be the two best places to find me. I'm currently updating my blog.

Polly Yakovich:

Great. Awesome.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Yeah, for sure. I'll share that out later.

Polly Yakovich:

We'll have to do an update there. Thank you so much for the conversation. I appreciate all your wisdom.

Michelle Burk-Gomez:

Yeah. Thank you for having me. Thanks so much.

Outro:

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