Our next Career Q&A is with my friend and colleague Lisa Lee, VP of Global Culture, Belonging, and People Growth at DoorDash. Lisa provides fantastic advice on bouncing back from failure, creating stronger and more inclusive teams, and the need to continually invest in building relationships.
Lisa Lee is the VP of Global Culture, Belonging, and People Growth at DoorDash. She oversees Employee Connections, Diversity & Inclusion, Internal Communications, and Learning & Development, weaving together these four critical areas to create an interconnected strategy so DoorDash’s employees can do the best work of their careers.
Lisa joins DoorDash from Squarespace, where she led the creation of its first diversity and inclusion strategy. Before Squarespace, Lisa served as Pandora Media’s first Director of Diversity and Inclusion Strategies. Prior to joining Pandora, Lisa was at Facebook where she led initiatives in User Operations, Product Operations, and Diversity Programs.
Lisa served as the publisher of Hyphen magazine, an award-winning publication about Asian American arts, culture, and politics, co-founded Thick Dumpling Skin, a positive body image community for the Asian American community. Most recently, she co-launched The Margin, making space for people of color at conferences around the world.
What’s a book that has influenced your career or life, and why?
Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy is a book I will forever remember not just for the important message it has for all of us, but also for the way it made me feel.
Just Mercy documents Bryan Stevenson’s life long quest to free wrongly convicted people from death row. The majority of his clients being poor people of color from the South who were targeted in a justice system that is systematically unjust.
I remember the day that I finished the book, I went to a meeting for a nonprofit organization that I volunteered with and just cried the whole drive there. In doing diversity and inclusion work, one can easily become so well versed with the data and “the business case for diversity” that it’s easy to forget about the lives of real people who are impacted as a result of racism, sexism, and other forms of bias. Bryan Stevenson’s message reminded me that if we want to solve the problems that we see, we must become intimate with the people impacted and the system that perpetuates those persistent problems.
Was there an experience you had before age 21 that shaped who you are? What was it?
I was born and raised in Taipei, Taiwan. At the age of nine, my family immigrated to South Africa and we immigrated again to Los Angeles, California when I was 15. Throughout, my parents weren’t always with me and my siblings because they worked abroad to provide for us.
The experiences of assimilating within such vastly different cultures without a traditional family unit had a profound effect on me in my understanding of the world and myself. I learned to be independent and to trust myself (as much as this is a lifelong journey). I learned to be resilient and to acknowledge my differences. I also learned that you can learn from everyone around you, especially those who don’t look like you or reflect your upbringing.
How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
Earlier on in my career, I prided myself on being principled. I had a strong sense of right and wrong. Frankly, I probably felt like I was right most of the time! While this served as a guiding light for me in my life, it didn’t help me to be a great listener and I didn’t always make room to understand other people’s perspectives. Rather than asking myself, “how can I make sense of this?”, I would double down and become frustrated.
This lack of curiosity on my part resulted in some major failings with internal partners and stakeholders, where even as I wanted to lead, I was getting further and further away from that goal.
Looking back, the failures helped me to learn a few things:
- Listen, and do not listen to speak or defend. Listen to understand the other person’s perspective and the impact that you had on them through your actions
- Hone and master your craft. Deliver excellence always, even when it is hard. If you’re thinking that people have different standards of excellence, sure. Then go back to #1 and also ask yourself “am I putting out work that I am proud of?”
- It’s ok to feel ashamed, but don’t let it erode your faith in yourself. We all have our good days, bad days, highs and lows. Take the time to acknowledge, “I could’ve handled that better” and even sulk for a few days is absolutely ok! But don’t beat yourself up to the point when you’re so down on yourself that you can’t see clearly.
What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?
Graduating from high school, I didn’t get accepted to any of the schools I had my heart set on. Growing up in a community where mostly many people in my circle touted their prestigious school acceptance like a badge was especially tough. It was around that time that my dad told me that life is a marathon, so don’t let one milestone (or the lack thereof) be the determination of where you’re going. This stuck with me. We all have our own timeline, even if you don’t know where that destination is. Focus on being the very best at what you get to do every day. Be prepared, do your homework, and ask questions. Be open to all possibilities, and friendships, because you never know what doors people can open for you.
This may be an unpopular opinion, but I would ignore the advice around “don’t worry about money,” or “just follow your dreams.” Financial independence for me was incredibly important since my family was far from well off. At a young age, I knew that my parents were under a lot of pressure for taking care of their four children and I knew that I wanted to 1) not be a burden on my parents financially, and to 2) take care of them one day. Depending on your circumstances, money could be a very real reality for you. Find ways to feed yourself and your family (literally), as well as your soul. It may mean putting in more work, after work hours, but know that the two are not mutually exclusive.
What are the bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
These are more common mistakes that get shared out as good practices rather than bad recommendations.
- Start with “gender diversity”: Gender diversity is oftentimes, in action, synonymous with increasing, promoting, and retaining white women. This is dangerous because it implies there’s a pecking order in how a more diverse and inclusive workforce can and should be achieved, and it further ostracizes and excludes women of color (and men of color) by not addressing experiences that they’ve had.
- Setting up Employee Resource Groups as (the start to) a company’s diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts: Employee Resources Groups can only be as successful as the leaders of the company want them to be. They’re oftentimes seen as fun extracurricular activities that only the employees themselves care about, yet companies like to tout them as a badge of honor. It’s important to remember that Employee Resource Groups are oftentimes formed to yes, build community, but also to address gaps that underrepresented employees feel, whether that is a lack of representation in the company’s leadership or practices that could be improved to be more inclusive. Therefore an incentive and reward structure needs to be created to sustain Employee Resource Group participation, and funding, as well as leadership involvement, needs to be built into the structure from the beginning.
- Focusing D&I efforts mostly on recruiting, or at the talent attraction level: Many companies think of D&I as a recruiting problem, and think that investing in recruiting is a good start, instead of looking at the employee lifecycle holistically. While it is important to set goals around increasing underrepresented people in the applicant pool, it is just as important to ensure that people can come into your company and grow to have meaningful impact.
- Learning and Development efforts being separate from D&I efforts: “Unconscious Bias Trainings” have traditionally been divorced from manager trainings and other curriculum offerings at a company. Amongst training topics, such as coaching and delegation, where unfair treatment often happens, it is important to educate how bias can cause us to give disparate amounts of time to people of different backgrounds and how we may inadvertently delegate more “house” work to women, such as note-taking and planning team offsites. In order to correct unhealthy power dynamics at work, especially if your company has had a more homogenous workforce, it is key to embed D&I training into all L&D efforts because it is incumbent on everyone to create an inclusive culture that will enable diversity to grow.
What’s one of your proudest professional accomplishments?
In addition to purchasing my own home before I turned 30, I’ve been able to support my parents and siblings in their home ownership. As an immigrant and a child of immigrants, I’ve spent most of my life being obsessed with the idea of “home” and I love that we’ve been able to find it and create it for our family.
What habit or practice helps you manage stress?
A few years ago I made physical fitness a priority to help me manage stress and to feel more balanced. I work out with a kettlebell trainer twice a week and go to yoga about twice a week. During the summer I love biking in New York as a form of (fun) commute.
I also set reading goals every year to get through a number of fiction books. To reach the goal, I go down the rabbit hole of finding my “next book” and it can be fun researching.
One of the greatest benefits of living in New York is, of course, experiencing great art! I was a theatre and performance studies major in college so I make sure to attend theatre performances, live music, and even comedy. It’s always inspiring to be wow’ed by other people’s creativity, which helped me to think about how I can be even more innovative in my own work.
If you could go back in time to when you were entering the workforce and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Invest more time in relationships. Given that I had a lot of interests outside of work, I didn’t spend a lot of time getting to know my coworkers because I always had somewhere to go, whether that was volunteering or my existing friend circle. Many people that I used to work with are doing absolutely incredible things now with their lives and I could be learning more from their journeys.