Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone

In my previous posts, I shared the first of several themes that guide my personal and professional life – never stop learning. Today, I’d like to share with you the other that complements it – get outside your comfort zone. If you look up the definition of comfort zone, you’ll find a description along these lines:

1 :the temperature range within which one is comfortable

2 :the level at which one functions with ease and familiarity

In this comfortable state, there’s little stress and anxiety because it’s familiar, and we know what to expect. So why is this a bad thing? It’s not, unless you get too comfortable, and it’s holding you back from learning and growing. I’ve faced several points in my life where I knew I had reached a comfort level, and I had to choose to remain there or face the risk and uncertainty of a new possibility. No matter the uncomfortableness of the process, I knew I had to choose the latter because it would help me reach my professional goals. Most recently, this came in the form of a three-year international assignment to Beijing, China shortly after I joined Lenovo.

Some of my family and friends were supportive of the decision and some were not. Living in China challenged me and my family, especially the first year. I moved from Austin, Texas with a population of 1M people to Beijing, China with a population of 30 million and a place where English is not the primary language. Talk about embracing the unfamiliar – new to Lenovo and new to China.

While painful at times, I grew a lot during this journey. And I learned the most from little mistakes. For example, I assumed the culture I absorbed for 15 years at my previous company would be the same at Lenovo. I thought believing what made me successful in one place would make me successful in my new company. Through this experience I learned it’s ok to leverage past experiences, but not to let it get in the way of being open to new experiences and a different way of doing things.

My colleagues in China gave me some tough feedback. Within six months in the job, I received feedback that I was not a good listener, and I took action too quickly. My excitement to embrace opportunities and fix problems translated to others as dominating and controlling.  While difficult to take because you know deep down it’s true, I learned to see feedback as a gift. I took feedback from my mentor Gina Qiao to slow down and build relationships first and then align stakeholders around ideas. I began to see issues from an Eastern lens while at the same time, I had real experiences from my Western lens. I now seek out raw, critical feedback as a way continually being mindful of how I interact with others, from other cultures.

My move to Beijing impacted my entire family, and I’m proud that the men in my life adjusted well.  Of course, they faced obstacles in adjusting, but my boys are very competitive and like a challenge. Once we signed up and moved to China they knew we had to make it work for our family. At the end of our time there, we all felt like we accomplished so much – developed new friends in China who we’ll treasure for the rest of our lives, learned to speak conversational Mandarin, tolerated cold, snowy winters (a big adjustment coming from Texas) and broadened our understanding and respect for other cultures through experiencing authentic Chinese food and traveling across Asia.

 

By embracing risk and unfamiliar situations, I’ve been able to do something I never would imagine. I’ve even co-authored a book that incorporated my experiences in China and developing Lenovo’s culture framework. Despite the struggles and the feeling of discomfort when taking risk, I wouldn’t change my decision. I realize what may have felt like a struggle back then was necessary to get to where I am today and share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way about getting out of your comfort zone.

  1. Travel if you can within and outside of the US to gain an understanding of other cultures and traditions.
  2. Diversify your friend group. I have a diverse set of friends representing various cultures – I partake in their celebrations, weddings, etc. I’ve attended Indian weddings and had so much fun dressing for the occasion. To me it makes life interesting.
  3. Share your culture heritage with others. My roots are from Louisiana, so I enjoy hosting Gumbo parties at my house with friends who’ve never experienced gumbo or Cajun food
  4. With risk, you may stumble, so fail fast, re-adjust and move forward.
  5. Go with your gut. For me, after I’ve analyzed and decided it’s the right opportunity and I still have that tinge of discomfort, I know I need to do it.

 

Working Mother Magazine Names Lenovo Top 100 Best Company for Working Moms

Our company culture, #WeAreLenovo, supports working parents around the world in balancing their career and family. When I visit different countries, I’m always moved by the stories our employees tell me about how Lenovo gives them the flexibility to get the job done in a way that makes sense for them, especially our working moms. Today our efforts are being recognized externally – for the first time, Working Mother magazine named us as one of the 2017 Working Mother 100 Best Companies.  We’re in good company. We share a spot on the list with other businesses like Johnson & Johnson and Bank of America, identified as leaders in creating progressive programs in the advancement of women, flexibility, childcare and paid parental leave. We are also honored to announced that the publication has named Laura Latrello, VP of Data Center Group has been named Lenovo’s Working Mother of the Year.

At Lenovo, 54% of our female employees in the U.S. are working mothers, a statistic that reminds us why we focus on creating a diverse and inclusive family-friendly culture. This award also helps affirm that all the work around new programs and policies we’ve put into place for our employees is working. For our employees and for me personally, I have a sense of pride to say I work for a company that actually gets it.

Our philosophy is about supporting the whole employee, whether it’s at home or at the office. To grow the diversity of our leadership, we’ve expanded our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) most recently with as the Hispanics of Lenovo Association (HOLA) and the African American Forum (AFF), and our long-standing Women in Lenovo Leadership (WILL) initiative is continuing to offer women professional development and guidance within the company. And we’re seeing these efforts pay off. In just the past year 19.1% of the women in WILL became an executive. We believe, and we have the data, that proves happier, more engaged employees leads to better work and better results. That’s not only good for employees, it’s good for our business.

While we’re humbled by being named a 2017 Working Mother 100 Best Company for our focus on employee benefits and programs, our people are our best testament to our culture – they say it best. Here are some stories about how Lenovo supports them as working parents.

“I have been lucky enough to change my work schedule to accommodate my kids’ school schedules. I get to work at 7:30 and leave at 3:15 every day to pick my 6-year-old son Max up from school-we play at the playground together and then pick up my daughter from pre-school. We have time play together, cook together and just relax and hang out together so I can be with them as they grow up-which of course is so important to me as a mom!”

Oona Newman-Floyd, Senior Manager, User Experience

“Life as I knew it completely changed on August 5, 2015. My then fiancé’ suffered from a hemorrhagic stroke (bleed on the right side of the brain with full paralysis on the left side of body). During the entire process, I kept myself busy (and sane to an extent) by being able to work remotely. I’m grateful that I had the support of my Management Team and peers during this very difficult time.

The rainbow at the end is that I didn’t miss the 1st time he opened his eyes, said words, wiggled his left hand/fingers, stood up and walked on his own.?I was/am even more grateful to Lenovo for allowing the flexibility for me to work ‘off the grid.’”

Anitra Henry McKoy, Global Account Fulfillment Manager

“I was 6-weeks into my maternity leave at Lenovo when I saw an opportunity posted that I wanted. I interviewed while holding my 6-week old in my arms praying she didn’t wake up and disrupt the calls. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to start until August – did I mention that it was only May? I got the job and I got it because Lenovo said that I was the right person for the role, regardless of when I was able to start. I have had two kids while working here and not once did I feel that my career was stalled or that I was held-back.”

Brandi Einhorn, NA Learning Business Partner

“I love working for Lenovo because as the husband of a working wife and the father of two beautiful and active girls (ages 11 & 2), the Organization understands the importance of a healthy work life balance.  Having a flexible schedule available (when needed) and a management team that is also supportive of a healthy work life balance has been instrumental in helping my family achieve our goals and master our daily routines.  Items that seemed impossible to achieve before.  I could not be more thankful to Lenovo (and I am sure my family feels the same) for being a company that just “gets it” when it comes to the work life balance argument!”

Marcus Cole, Worldwide ThinkPad Product Manager

“My 82-year-old mother got sick a little over a year ago and had to put her in hospital. Once she got better I then had to sell her house move her into my home as she was no longer able to live alone. I am able to keep an eye on her as I am fortunate enough to be a home worker and take her to doctors as needed. Lenovo is a wonderful company to work for and I feel they really care about me and my ‘Work Family Balance.’ I have received nothing but great support from Lenovo. I am proud to say I work for Lenovo.”

Donna Rust, Adv. Sales Management Support Specialist

“When I was offered a role in December 2013 to run the Public Sector business for Lenovo Canada, I was extremely hesitant to accept the position as I was actually 3 months pregnant and hadn’t yet announced it. Once presented the offer, I shared my hesitation and [was] told to please not let that be a reason to decline the role and that Lenovo was very interested in having me here for the long haul. I pretty much decided on that spot that Lenovo was where I wanted to be knowing how supportive they would be of me having a family, and would very much respect work/life balance!”

Cheryl Stookes, NA Chief of Staff

We know growing a career and family isn’t easy, but we’re proud that 33 percent of our senior leaders on our executive council are women – many of them working moms – and we’re working to increase our number of female executives across the company. In this video, you can learn about how they manage both career and family.

Join the conversation about the 2017 Working Mother 100 Best Companies on Twitter by following @_WorkingMother_ or #WM100Best. You can also hear more of our employee stories by following @LenovoPress on Twitter and @WeAreLenovo on Instagram.

Why I Never Stand Still When It Comes to Learning

Never stop learning. My parents taught me that lesson early in life, by example. As the youngest of seven children, they wanted a better life for me than their own.

 

The most important lesson I learned from them – grit. You make your own opportunities through perseverance and hard work. And they showed me what that looked like firsthand. My father, a seaman by profession, didn’t receive formal education. He worked his way up from sweeping the galley to Chief Cook on his ship, and in his spare time, he taught himself to read. I still remember sitting next to him as a little girl as he taught himself to read and write at the kitchen table. As the Chief Cook, he used what he learned to write his shopping lists and to create menus.

My father, deceased now, inspired me by what he said and what he did.

My mother wasn’t standing still either. She went back to school as she raised seven kids: First she earned her GED, and then again to earn a certificate in child care technology.

My mom’s 80th birthday highlight – meeting Michelle Obama.

These powerful examples formed the backbone for my insatiable appetite for lifelong learning, taking risks and trying new things. Often in college I was the only woman, not to mention African American woman, in my engineering classes. When I spent three years on assignment in Beijing after Lenovo’s acquisition of IBM’s PC business, I looked different from the majority of the population. Like my parents, I had no guarantee of success in any of my endeavors, but I knew the upside outweighed the fear, uncertainty and change that came with each decision. In order to grow, I’ve learned to embrace the unfamiliar and pursued new experiences, beginning early in life. In high school, I went to a predominately white school where I felt the frustration (that precedes learning) of being the different one. In my career, I’ve also experienced the frustration employees have when they feel limited in their role and the exhilaration when they create new opportunities for themselves to be challenged and learn. That reference helps me in my HR role to help create an organization that’s constantly finding new ways to cultivate our diverse employees at Lenovo.

As an engineer and consumer, I’m continually fascinated by technology’s ability to impact our lives. The rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its potential, not just in the smart home, but on the go, is becoming accessible and relevant to mainstream consumers. Personal computing now really has become “personalized” computing, as I rely on my smartwatch to track and analyze my fitness, and in the future, to predict and prevent health issues. I recently visited MIT’s AI lab to learn more about how Lenovo can tap into the research and innovations coming from university talent and pair it with our own AI work. I’m truly amazed at how devices are getting smarter, and it’s becoming more important than ever before to make sure systems are diverse and inclusive. For a personal device to be truly useful, it must understand all the nuances of “diverse” individuals, and that comes from collecting diversity of input and context from a variety of people representing different cultures, ideas and perspectives.

 

Back to my engineering roots playing with robots at the MIT AI lab.

Never standing still and continually learning embodies who I am and the company I work for, Lenovo.  From constantly iterating each product to make it better, we’ve got the same drive to challenge the status quo. I’m continually looking for ways to stay ahead of the curve in my personal and professional life. That’s why I keep learning by reading what’s trending on social media, listening and valuing what my kids and their friends say and remembering that new challenges at work are opportunities to grow. That’s what keeps me inspired.

Follow Yolanda’s posts on her blog,  Twitter @YolandaLConyers and Instagram.

Feeling Fantastic at Fifty & Sharing Advice to My Younger Self

Navigating the intersection of a tech career, marriage and family

Today, I am 50 years old.  I wasn’t sure how I would feel at 50. When I was 40, I thought 50 was so far away and old.  Now that I’m here, I don’t feel old – instead, more confident, accomplished and wiser.

For the past 20 years, I’ve delivered many speeches and mentored many people, especially women.  They always ask me, ”How do you do it?”  “How do you travel around the world, as a global Vice President, a wife, mother and daughter?”

While on the surface it appeared easy, as most things usually do, underneath my accomplishments laid years of experiences filled with trials, tribulations and divine interventions. They got me to where I am today.

At 50, I’ve grown wiser because of all of those rich experiences, and it made me pause to think about what I would tell my younger self. If I had to start all over again, what would I change?  I’ve thought about this periodically through the years, and if I had to do it all over again, even though there are things I wish I had handled differently, I wouldn’t change it because of how it has broadened my experience and added depth to my life.

For the next 12 months, in honor of my 50 years of this God giving life, I’m going to reflect on the lessons I’ve learned and how they’ve helped me become who I am today in my personal and professional life.

I’m going to start focusing on the personal because I’ve learned that if things aren’t humming in my personal life, it can affect my professional life. Getting this right has been the foundation for my success in the workplace.

Lesson #1: Choose Your Partner Wisely

Pick a spouse or life partner with no ego and who will support your career aspirations. Boy did I get lucky. When I met my husband, Chris, we connected instantly. I just knew in my soul he was the one. In fact, after seriously dating for three months, we got engaged on a romantic trip to Jamaica, and we married within one year.  The first year was the toughest of our marriage.  I was 28 years old and he was 32. We were both independent, and we had to learn how to exist under one roof, as one. We sought counseling to work through our issues:  It was the best investment of time in our marriage. Sometimes couples are afraid to seek counseling or admit they’re going because they think of it as a negative, but we saw it as a positive. We were two different people, committed to making things work and saw the value in leveraging an objective party to help us.  It was worth investing the time.

I admire so many things about Chris, but I appreciate most of all his ability to support me as a successful, African American woman – some men are uncomfortable with a woman who challenges the status quo.  Five years ago, I had the opportunity to do an international assignment, which required working and living in Beijing, China with my family.  One of the reasons I appreciate working for Lenovo is because of the opportunities the company gives employees to grow and learn at all different levels.  This opportunity would increase my business acumen and leadership skills at a global level by stepping out of my comfort zone living in another country.  I recall the conversation with my husband. I wasn’t sure how he would respond as this would require him to put his career on hold for me.  He reacted with genuine excitement for me and immediately explored taking a leave of absence with his job. Long story short, he took a leave of absence for the first year and then resigned to support my career. We spent three years total in China. During that time, I fell in love with him all over again. I saw a man who managed our household and our two young sons with style and grace, while I worked crazy hours and traveled the globe. He adapted in a country with almost 30 million people speaking Mandarin Chinese as the primary language. When we returned to the US, he went back to work.

At the beginning of our relationship, I didn’t know he would be so open to my demanding schedule and global travel, and I didn’t know my career would take me to Beijing. But I sensed early on a committed man, willing to do whatever it takes to make our family successful and to make me happy. I didn’t realize at the time how important this would be. We communicate constantly and collaborate on the things that are important to us and our family.  We have mutual respect for each other and share responsibilities so we flex and check in a lot to stay on track. We’re both keenly aware of the balance of power and responsibility:  My role doesn’t eclipse his role, even though on the surface, I may have the bigger more visible role. But underneath one would discover that he holds other critical pieces of our puzzle that are based on our commitment and values.

Having a supportive spouse with no ego let me balance my desire to have a career and advance in the executive ranks, while being a wife and a mother. He understood the multifaceted nature of my life, and that has made all the difference. So, younger self, definitely follow your instincts when meeting a partner. We often know when it’s right or not. Don’t settle.  And, please be sure to look for signs that ego stays set aside.

We All Live (and Work) Here

“We All Live Here” – what a simple but powerful phrase. When I hear those four words, I think of Lenovo’s diversity and inclusion belief statement, “connected people change the world.” I love that Lenovo embraces the things that make each of our employees unique and celebrates differences that ultimately make us better. June brings great opportunities to celebrate diversity at Lenovo, both generally and in acknowledgement of LGBT Pride month.

This week in our Chicago office, interns learned about how we approach diversity by giving back to the communities we serve. The interns helped install a mural at a local elementary school working with We All Live Here an organization that promotes inclusion and diversity through public art projects. Interns also helped run the school’s field day activities, having fun and breaking down barriers by dispelling stereotypes between themselves and the students from the under resourced community.

Employees in our Morrisville offices will be volunteering with the John Avery Boys and Girls Clubs of Durham by conducting STEM activities for under-resourced students who attend the club. Students in grades 3-5 will be designing a backpack that incorporates an LED circuit, challenging the students to exercise both engineering and design skills. Middle school students will be learning about electromagnetic induction by building electromagnetic motors with Lenovo volunteers activity.

To celebrate Pride month in June, Chicago employees will be marching in the Chicago Pride Parade on June 25 with Lambda Legal, a national organization that fights for human rights and equality.

In alignment with our support for LGBT individuals, Lenovo is proud to offer transgender inclusive health benefits (currently provided by only 15% of U.S. employers). Our plan covers a variety of services including gender-reassignment/affirmation surgery. We know embracing diversity and being inclusive helps us grow – both professionally and personally. That’s one reason why we’ve spent a lot of time optimizing our employee benefits around the world to fit the needs of modern families. For example, in the U.S., we offer up to 24 weeks of paid leave for maternity and seven weeks for adoption, including domestic partners, and provide financial assistance for adoption. We also offer backup child and elder care and support for families and children with special needs. In India, we provide 26 weeks of fully paid maternity leave and paid leave for paternity as well as paid leave for adoption.

We believe connected employees and communities can change the world, and this inspires us to continue to find new ways to support them.

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Celebrating Women In STEM: Women’s History Month

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More than 30 years ago, I made a decision to pursue a career in high tech, which at the time that I knew very little about.

It wasn’t a part of my history or my upbringing.  No one in my family had pursued a technical degree.

Yet, I graduated with a STEM degree in Computer Science because someone else believed in me…and thought I was smart in math.  I worked hard.  Very hard…And I went places often as the “first” or the “only” because someone else was my catalyst, my mentor, someone else removed barriers that stood in my way — and all along the way, there has been someone else that has helped me to achieve a global career in high tech.

It’s one of the reasons the film of the three black women who launched the U.S. into space was so moving for me.  Like those Hidden Figures, and so many of us in STEM careers, I had to tap into that internal source of courage to say: ‘I can do this.”

The high tech industry has pushed me to grow. It has forced me to confront my own fears and biases.  It has made to think critically and caused me to become a fierce advocate for our girls in STEM. I want all girls, who are smart in math to believe that they too, can launch the dreams of their communities and their nations.

During Women’s History Month and on International Women’s Day I am advocating our girls to be able to make their mark in this industry and for them to be VISIBLE by highlighting women in STEM – both past and present – who inspire me!

First In Class: Lenovo Scores Perfect 100 on Human Rights Campaign Index

When we live by our values other people notice. At Lenovo, one of our key values is diversity and inclusion, and every day I am inspired by Lenovo’s commitment to our greatest resource – our human capital. Our employees are diverse and we believe these differences make us better – for both our company and our products. Our commitment was recently recognized by the Human Rights Campaign – Corporate Equality Index (HRC- CEI). We are very proud to share that Lenovo scored a perfect 100 on this index, which measures how well corporations embrace differences amongst its workforce, specifically from the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community. What makes this recognition more special is that this is Lenovo’s first year participating in the HRC-CEI Index.

Lenovo is a global team guided by integrity and trust. We know our perfect HRC-CEI score means we are on the right track and that our culture and policies are making a difference for the LGBT employees at Lenovo, as well as all of our employees globally. We have grown by acquisitions over the years and we understand how different cultures, opinions and insights come together and create something even stronger. We build trust by creating a culture where employees bring their LGBT identity to the workplace. As a senior leader and Chief Diversity Officer at Lenovo, I have special ownership in making our culture inclusive, however, it is team effort:

  • We have benefits that focus on attracting best-in-class talent and ensuring equity and fairness to our transgender and LGB employees.
  • Our Motorola/Lenovo Foundation supports LGBT entrepreneurs through grants and contributions to build capacity and help innovate new product/services
  • Starting with our CEO and Chairman Yang Yuanqing,  our top leaders across the globe provide guidance and support to LGBT equality in the workplace and support our grassroots efforts with our LGBT groups in Chicago, Bratislava and other locations around the world.

If you are part of the Lenovo family, you probably don’t need to be reminded of the business value of LGBT inclusion – enhanced engagement, increased innovation, decreased cost due to turnover, enhanced employer brand and the ability to attract young tech savvy individuals. Thank you for being a part of our success and recognition in this area. If you are not part of the Lenovo family and are considering becoming a Lenovo employee who is LGBT or LGBT friendly we, want you to know you are welcome here – all across the globe.

Yolanda Lee Conyers

VP, Worldwide HR and Chief Diversity Officer

 #IAmLenovo #EqualEverywhere #BetterTogether #DifferentIsBetterBP_17-4c

National Coming Out Day

At Lenovo, we celebrate our diversity; after all, we are a truly global organization with company culture that reflects our commitment to cooperation and understanding. I believe that is a major factor in our success. On this National Coming Out Day, I want to recognize the At Lenovo we value all of our employees, inclusive of gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, ethnicity, race, and abilities. Congratulations to those who have chosen this day, or any day to come out.members of the LGBTQ community for their courage to be who they are.lenovo_logo_red

 

School Days: Tips for Mom When the Kids Head Back to School

It’s that time of year again: we’ve got our class assignments, school supply lists, and shopping excursions for those all-important back-to-school fashions. Whether the kids are starting kindergarten or finishing high school, the start of a new school year is an exciting, yet stressful, time for parents and kids. For successful working moms, the stress can be compounded by the competing responsibilities of work and home. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be so bad. Here are some tips that I’ve learned to make things easier.

  1. Plan Ahead: We’ve all read about the importance of parental feedback and guidance in a child’s scholastic achievement. Schedule time throughout the year with teachers to review each child’s progress, and keep the appointment. Your kids will know you care, and they may just get a lesson in the importance of time management and responsibility to others.
  1. Communicate: Make sure the kids know that, although Mom would love to attend every recital, ball game, or quiz bowl event, sometimes there will be conflicts.
  1. Improvise: When an opportunity in your schedule opens up, do something special with the kids.
  1. Take care of yourself: As a successful working Mom, you’ve got two jobs. We can’t take care of others if we don’t take care of ourselves, so pencil in some time for your own favorite activities.

Remember, it’s all about work-life flexibility. With proper planning and communication we can be all-stars in the boardroom and at home by being able to flex between our personal and professional lives We’ve got this!

Lenovo Announced as Finalist for PR News CSR Awards

Lenovo has been named a finalist to receive the PR News Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Award in three categories: Non Profit/Corporate Partnership, Corporate-Community Partnership and Diversity Communications. The awards honor the most outstanding communications efforts that exhibit an understanding of the power of CSR in public relations. Winners will be announced at the PR News Awards Luncheon on March 15 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

“The PR News CSR Award nominations underscore Lenovo’s commitment to empowering our employees and the communities we serve,” says Yolanda Lee Conyers, vice president of human resources worldwide and chief diversity officer at Lenovo. “Diversity is a core business strategy at Lenovo and the educational and cultural initiatives being recognized are just a few examples of our focus in these areas.”                              Lenovo Award

In the ‘Diversity Communications’ category, Lenovo is being honored for its unique company culture that was captured in the 2014 book, The Lenovo Way. Written by two female Lenovo executives, Gina Qiao and Yolanda Lee Conyers, the book reveals many of the behind-the-scenes challenges involved in building a culture that embraces diversity as a core strength.

Lenovo is also a finalist in the Non Profit/Corporate Partnership and Corporate-Community Partnership categories for a unique business/school partnership with the National Academy Foundation (NAF) called the Lenovo Scholar Network. The Lenovo Scholar Network centers on a robust mobile app development curriculum and delivery program for high school students at NAF academies in the US. As part of the partnership, Lenovo provides ThinkPad laptops and YOGA tablets for students to design and develop mobile apps and create business plans to take their apps to market.

For more information on the PR News Awards, visit http://www.prnewsonline.com/PR-News-CSR-Awards-Luncheon.