Raising Our Hand: Black Women In Tech Leadership
I originally met Krystn through the HUE network. In the group’s Slack channel, I noticed her name would keep popping up, offering opportunities and advice to BIPOC persons in comms in need of support. She stood up as a matriarchal figure that communities of color have long looked to as a source of stability. When you really think about it, her actions are nothing new under the sun. They’re almost expected.
Throughout time, the Black woman has been propped as an emblem of strength. While the subsequently formed beliefs around this image have given some level of respect, it generated a deprecating inner voice that differs from their peers. Wipe away your femininity, take up their crosses & don’t ever ask for help.
If you relate, I hope this conversation serves as solace in moment of time where you are being poured into. If not & you have Black women in your working and personal life, I anticipate this piece will be considered a starting point for reflection. Enjoy.
Krystn Robinson is currently Senior Director of Brand Activation for Athletic Greens, a global health company with a mission to empower people to take ownership of their health through a focus on foundational nutrition. In her current role, she’s working to connect customers to the mission of Athletic Greens by cultivating relationships and creating experiences that center on health and community. Krystn has spent over a decade shaping brand experiences, working for companies like Gap, Inc., Amazon, and Sonos, and currently sits on the board of Sol Sisters, a Bay Area-based non-profit focused on ensuring that women from all backgrounds have access to opportunities for personal and professional evolution.
Who is Krystn Robinson & what do you think has brought you to the space you’re in right now career wise?
“I’m a lot of things. I’m a friend, daughter, sister, dog mom, & a real bad plant mom. I think at the core of me I’m somebody who loves other people and has so much faith and optimism about the human condition. When thinking about what brought me to the position I am in, it’s really just wanting to foster and nurture relationships. I really believe that for better or worse, you have 30 seconds to make an impact, positive or negative, on someone’s life. There’s all of the functional stuff with creating, having a good business mind, and possessing good marketing sense, but I think at the end of the day it really just boils down to pouring into people.”
I’m very similar in that manner and sometimes it can feel heavy when you’re one of the helpers. In the corporate world and even within some of the healthiest work cultures, we still see the dog-eat-dog mentality run rampant. How do you manage being an empath in its midst?
“Honestly, I think it’s been more positive than negative. I’ve been successful because I can look at another function or leader and recognize the thing that is most important to them and lean into that to get work done. On the flip side of that, I’m not the type of person that can detach. I’m not the girl who’s going to come to work, collect a paycheck and move on. I’m very invested in the work and the mission of the work that we do. It’s extremely difficult to disagree and let go of things professionally that I’m passionate about because I want to be able to make a difference and feel like the contribution wasn’t in vain. It has not been easy to have a caring , empathetic, & compassionate heart, but I think it’s also what has made me a great leader. I try to focus on that part of it, and in the moments where I do feel weighed down by it, being comfortable to say that this is tough for me right now. It took me a really long time to get there. Earlier in my career, I tried to be tougher about it and that did not come off right, because it was inauthentic. People thought “oh she’s intimidating” or she “won’t let go of things” because I wasn’t owning the vulnerability in that moment and being honest about why I was having a hard time letting this particular thing go. This did not serve me well early in my career, but it was such a great learning opportunity to take vulnerability and use it as a superpower.”
Asking for help has traditionally been aligned with promoting inferiority, especially for minority individuals, and/or proving you’re incapable. As a Black woman, have you battled with this at any point in your career?
“Yeah! I hate asking for help, professionally it’s been a real challenge. I try to flip it and switch to a learning mentality when going into a conversation with somebody. Being curious and asking a ton of questions. It’s not explicitly asking someone to do the thing for you but more like “hey! I want to learn & I’m curious about your world” or “I’m struggling in this area and would love to know how you overcame it.” Before you go into the conversation, really understand what you are hoping to get out of the conversation. You’re not asking for a handout, you’re asking for education about something or some guidance. Framing it in that way versus asking for a specific thing helps make it much easier. You’re not being weak, you can actually feel empowered.”
As black women we are so used to operating from “I got it, don’t worry about it!” or “what do you need?” We never had the luxury to interrogate ourselves to recognize what we need and raise our hand. When turning our attention to our careers, this mentality can create a significant block in our growth as leaders. This is why stories like yours matter. How has lateral mentorship played a role in your success?
“I mean… it’s everything! I would say I’m a socially anxious person. I’m an introvert & I don’t love putting myself out there but I do love learning about other people. In the last two or three years, I’ve been more deliberate about just grabbing coffee with others even if just for 15 minutes. Really leaning into those conversations, especially when they’re not framed as your actual mentor. Keeping an ear out for those life-changing gems and nuggets of information. I learned more about myself, where my growth and opportunity areas are, and also the things I’m actually really dope at that I don’t realize I’m excelling in!”
Yes! I’ve seen the value of having mentors inside and outside of my organization along with some that are not even in my industry to round out my learning.
“I cannot advocate for that enough. Within your organization, if you’re committed and passionate about the organization, find yourself a sponsor inside that organization who will advocate for you. You can look for general people to learn from who you just think are amazing. Follow them on Linkedin! Absorb that brilliance! Finding people who can validate those parts of you and help uplift those parts of you little by little. They’re a part of building that confidence in you so that you can say unequivocally “ I do belong in this space, I do have value to add here, I do matter, I can contribute.”“