"Why do you do what you do?" is a question I have often asked over my recruiting and coaching career, to allow me to better understand the person more from a big picture perspective. One can never assume why someone likes it or how they got to that point in their career, and because of that, I love sharing stories of people in my network that inspire and show folks that there are many ways to reach the same goal - not all of them how you might assume! For my blog in 2021, I'm focusing on highlighting a variety of professions to share with folks out there who are either still figuring out their next step, or know what they're interested in, but could use a little external motivation!
Today's spotlight is on Deena Pierott, who I feel like I've known forever as we've partnered on a number of projects and initiatives over the years. Before leaving Portland, I loved attending her annual MLK Breakfasts that brought together hundreds in the Portland/Vancouver area of all ages and backgrounds to celebrate his amazing legacy (one of the biggest memories I have is how she surprised the crowd in 2014 with the legendary Congressman John Lewis!). As a fellow entrepreneur, I have loved watching her grow her nonprofit and get the much-deserved recognition as a leader both in the Northwest and nationally. Check out her powerful piece in the Portland Business Journal that calls out the tokenization, gaslighting, and wokewashing that is all too common in the corporate world in regards to Black women.
In this interview, Deena's providing an overview of what her work as an Diversity & Equity Strategist looks like, but also how she got there, why she loves it, and her advice for job seekers looking to break into the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (AKA "DEI") field.
Check out Deena's professional journey...
Describe what you do for a living!
As a Diversity and Equity Strategist, everything I do is centered around equity, whether it be workplace equity and inclusion, or education equity for youth. I’m doing what I love and what I have a passion for. I'm also the founder of iUrban Teen, launched in 2011, a STEM+Arts education program for teens that brings together underrepresented teens and young adults for career exploration and mentoring. I consider us a career accelerator for communities usually left behind.
What do you enjoy most about this kind of work?
I love the impact of my work. I love seeing organizations creating change and dismantling systemic racism. As a D&E Strategist, I first share with them the root causes of how we got here so far (racism) and how “we” can level up. People created systems rooted in racism and people can change them. What I love with iUrban Teen is seeing a spark of curiosity in their eyes when they learn something new, and when they realize “hey, I can do this”.
Describe your career path to get here.
I was born to do this. I remember when I was a child that I was the one making sure others were included, that they were not left behind. So think about it, the work I do now encouraging inclusion, that no one is left behind. And ensuring our underestimated youth are not left behind either.
How did you gain the skills to do the work? What helped you advance?
I learned DEI practices on the job and simply by gathering interest in making changes to improve our DEI efforts. Once I started in that space, I just kept going and learning more to further develop my skills. I also learned community engagement, program management, and budgeting while working in city government, all used in my business. There are several people that helped me advance (including you, my friend). I realized early on about the power of authentic relationships and the power of helping others. I still have a “tribe” of individuals who I consider to be my power circle who are there for stellar advice and more importantly, they sponsor me. That’s huge.
What advice would you offer to someone wanting to get into this line of work?
You have to answer your reason why. WHY do you want to get into the DEI space? It shouldn’t be because right now there’s money being throw at anyone who says they’re a DEI consultant. So first, learn and understand your why. Then attend as many workshops being offered, seek a volunteer role with someone in the space (i.e., job shadowing), and get certified as a diversity trainer (Cornell University has a stellar certification program I highly recommend).