This blog was written by Product Marketing Manager, Microsoft Teams, Christina Gonsalves as part of the Amplifying Black Voices blog series. Christina shares her experience of navigating her first year at Microsoft as a Black woman, during a global pandemic and social uprising.
My first year at Microsoft was a complete struggle.
Despite having just completed two years of business school and growing my confidence there, I was suffering from an intense imposter syndrome, was lost in trying to figure out where I fit in in this huge company, and with how to get things done across what we know can be a very complicated ecosystem of stakeholders.
When I was in the office, it was easy to see I wasn’t alone. The mirror in the women’s bathroom in Building 3 was absolutely covered in post-it notes with words of encouragement: words like “You deserve to be here”, “You’re killing it!”, "You got this!" and:
Once we were hurled into the confusion of the pandemic, it started to feel like I was more alone. Black lives were being violently taken and needed to be enthusiastically protected, I lived across the country from my closest loved ones, and while I was blessed to be on a team with three (!!) Black women, when I looked across the company and even across my broader org, I just wasn’t finding the representation that I wanted to see.
During the summer months of 2020, I worked during the day and marched at night. I cried in between meetings, I looked for solace in ERGs (shoutout to Blacklight for holding meetings daily throughout the worst of times!), and I somehow felt my voice continue to slip. I felt empowered and heard in Capitol Hill, but when I was in meetings, I felt shaky and unsure, and like I wasn’t providing value.
Everything changed after I decided to take some time off of work. I moved back to New Jersey to quarantine with my family, and I spent time re-establishing strict self-care routines that included daily meditation, diving deeper into my spirituality (I practice Buddhism ), long walks with my dog, and sharing meals with loved ones.
Now that I am in my second year – I finally feel like I know what I’m doing! I can ask the right questions in meetings, spin up decks that create clarity, drive strategy forward, and effectively communicate with stakeholders of all types of backgrounds. I have also learned that taking care of myself is always more important than the work - as Michelle Obama said, “We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own to-do list”.
To anyone currently struggling with finding their voice, I have the following advice:
Take your time to be intentional
It is so easy to feel like you have to rush into a decision, or like you don’t want to take up too much of somebody’s time by bringing up something that’s on your mind. When everyone’s calendars are full of meetings, and you usually only have 30 minutes to accomplish a lengthy agenda, there tends to be things that you end up pushing down.
I have found so much peace and fulfillment in really seizing each moment – a moment of confusion where I needed to ask a clarifying question, or a moment when someone took an action that was super impactful that I really appreciated and giving them a few words of kindness, or even a moment where I feel something was unkind or unjust and felt like I had to give tough feedback. Each of those moments add up to so much more – and it feels great to just be mindful and communicative off the bat!
Surround yourself with people who encourage you
Especially in the past year, when we all got pretty disconnected from each other physically, I think we have all learned that it is so important to have meaningful human connections. It’s important in life obviously, but it’s also so important at work!
Put the time in to find people who you know will be in your corner and will encourage you after a tough meeting or before a big presentation – and learn about your teammates and lean on them as sources of not only work, but of support.
You have to include “life” in work-life balance
In my periods of most voicelessness, I also felt like I wasn’t using my voice outside of work. When I started leading Buddhist meetings and becoming active with organizations where I could volunteer – like Black Girls Code – and using my voice in places where I knew I could speak well and passionately, I started seeing my voice become stronger at work.
It helps your work to feel powerful and connected in your life!
Remember that nobody has all of the answers – and likely other people have the same questions as you!
It is so easy – especially as someone from a non-technical background – to feel like everyone in the room is smarter than you. It’s not true – don’t fall into that trap! Even if you are struggling with a concept, I can guarantee you that someone has struggled with it before, and there is actually a ton of value for everyone in understanding the basics enough to be able to explain it to someone who is confused.
I’m so excited to continue this journey and see what personal revolutions I have in the next set of years. Until next time!