Born in Trinidad and Tobago, Adanna Welch moved to the UK at the age of 13 before studying Geographical Information Systems and Business Management at the University of Kingston University, London.
Dr. Alexa Canady, the first African American female neurosurgeon in the United States, inspired Adanna from an early age. She said the biggest challenge she faced in becoming a neurosurgeon was believing it was possible - and Adanna has held that close to her heart ever since.
Now Vodafone’s Head of Operational Governance and Business Manager to the Group CTO, she is passionate about helping other people from minority groups to succeed in technology careers. She is a Sponsor for Race and Ethnicity, an active executive for the Multicultural and Inclusion Network and an ambassador for Change the Face - an alliance of 12 global organisations that have agreed to collaborate to increase diversity and equality in the technology industry.
Launched by Vodafone in March 2020, the #ChangeTheFace initiative is building a positive community of individuals and organisations who can be a force for positive change.
Here, Adanna shares her advice to help people from minority backgrounds succeed in a technology career.
1. Fall in love with YOU
You need to know and love yourself – and I learned that a lot later in my career than I should have. I only wore my natural hair to work three years ago. It was the first time in my entire career that I felt confident and comfortable enough to walk into a room as my true self – wearing my natural crown.
I always felt I needed to blend in, that I needed to soften myself to be accepted. Many black people struggle with their own identity, because from a very young age, we are taught that straightening your hair makes you more beautiful.
I have a son now, who has an enormous afro. I’m teaching him to love himself; to love his hair. Even at three years old he already knows his value and that he is limitless. When he goes into school, he feels confident to wear his natural curls because they make him uniquely perfect.
2. Ask for help, and don’t see it as a sign of weakness.
Early on in my career, I was rejected from a graduate programme. When I asked why I didn't get it, I was told it was because I didn't fit in. And that really shook my confidence. So I asked the interviewer to become my mentor. I said, ‘You're going to coach me for the next 12 months to become the person you want to hire.’
I see now that this wasn't the right approach: I was uniquely perfect, and I thought I needed to change myself to get on to the graduate programme. But by asking for help, I managed to secure a place the following year.
The more you feel comfortable in showing your vulnerability, the more you're able to learn; you're opening the door for someone to educate you. Seek out mentors and people whose leadership qualities and values inspire you.
3. Open the door for others to follow
Even before I worked with Vodafone, I came to our offices and saw people like me: I saw people from minority groups. I saw people dressed normally, being themselves. The person who hired me at Vodafone saw me as a young person full of passion who was very determined and capable of doing the role.
Early on in my career, one of my managers threw me into a presentation in front of a lot of senior stakeholders. I was scared at the time, but I will always be thankful for him, because it was in that moment that I truly understood my power.
I struggled to come back to work after having my son. I really lost my confidence. And then someone else - Johan Wibergh, Vodafone’s Chief Technology Officer - opened another door for me and allowed me to step into the role I'm in now.
It's so important – particularly at executive level – to think very carefully about who you're hiring and how you can open the door to people who are not represented around the table.
4. Focus on what you can control, not what you can’t
As someone from a minority background, you will naturally be up against microaggressions in the corporate world. You must step up and rise above these situations, because you can't control them. You have to look beyond and say: “Okay, so what can I control?” I can control me; I can control using my experiences to grow and educate. Sometimes this can be difficult in the moment, but you are the sum of your experiences, and they make you a stronger person.
Be in control of your destiny, your career, the challenges that you take on. You've got to work hard and allow nothing to limit you. Believe in yourself, your capabilities and your experiences.
5. Share your story
As an industry, we are making steps towards improving diversity, equality and inclusion. But we need to be more intentional about what we do, to inspire more minority groups to join technology organisations. Telling stories is an important way of doing that, because seeing is believing.
This part isn’t about you - it's about inspiring others. It's about telling a story that inspires someone else and lets them believe that they too can be as great as they want to be, so they can step into rooms where they're not represented and still shine. But we need change; we need more representation, so that more intersectional voices can be heard, and talent can thrive.
I first got into Change the Face because I was serious about making a difference. It's important to have a social impact, not just in terms of what your own organisation is trying to do, but what the whole world is trying to do. To make a difference for generations to come.
Share your story. In doing so, you’re inspiring someone else.
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