Bie’s Winding Path
Bie Aweh, 33, lives in Newark, New Jersey and Dakar, Senegal and moved from running programs at nonprofits and universities to developing underrepresented talent. She received her MA in Social Justice Education and serves as HR Business Partner at DoorDash.
In two-three sentences how would you describe what you do most days/weeks?
I spend most of my days coaching managers and leaders and identifying opportunities to engage employees and promote opportunities for development.
What did you want to be when you were eight?
I wanted to be a firefighter only because I was fascinated by the selflessness of firefighters and really liked the color red.
What did you learn about work that you learned from your family?
Coming from a first-generation American family, I learned two things: I had to work 10X harder as a Black woman for half the recognition. One unfortunate thing I learned from my family was regardless of how detrimental work can be, you must persist. The context here is that we were very poor, so walking away from a job that was detrimental to your mental and physical health was not an option. Because of their sacrifices, I am in a position of privilege where I have a lot more professional options but have stayed in places longer than I should have because of what I saw growing up and the survivor's remorse and guilt I felt.
What professional experiences/employers had the greatest impact on you?
The most impactful professional experience has come from my current employer. This journey has come equipped with executive sponsors who have shown a genuine commitment to my growth and development. An executive sponsor is someone with a lot of social currency and capital who uses their capital to advocate on behalf of those without. This is also where my superpowers as a connector and community builder were actualized. Building meaningful connections is a concept that is popular today but I quickly realized that many people were not good at it in person and certainly not virtually. With the support of an incredible manager, she helped me realize my superpower; giving me the autonomy to build programs and systems that honored those superpowers. From that the Women and Non-binary and Underrepresented Talent, Career Accelerator Programs were born.
What is something about your career journey that people might not expect?
As shared through my story, my journey has not been linear. I think people see my success today and assume that the red carpet was laid out for me. Folks also expect that it will be as simple as getting an online certificate and employers will knock on your door. What they don’t see is the million times I got told no or ghosted. They don’t see the two layoffs I went through 6 years ago which caused me to fall into a deep depression.
Why did you pivot?
Honestly, I pivoted because I wanted to do meaningful work related to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and I wanted to be paid well. I started my career in higher education and I loved the work I was doing, but I hated living paycheck to paycheck. As a first generation American, I know firsthand what it feels like to live in poverty and I wanted out. I believe you can do good and still earn a living wage. Poverty isn't just about money, it also impacts our mindsets.
I was operating from a place of scarcity. Feeling like everything can be stripped from me or that I was not worthy of doing impactful work and being paid for it.
When I first accepted my offer to join this company, I didn't negotiate. I was just so happy to be “in”. My boss at the time actually called me and made me negotiate. Little did I know she was equally invested in making sure women of color like myself are paid equitably. Building generational wealth is something I am deeply passionate about and this role has made that possible. I have been able to gain meaningful assets and adopt an abundance mindset which means I know opportunities are endless for me and everyone around me.
What skills were portable from what you had been doing previously and what was brand new to you?
One of my superpowers is the ability to build community and bring people together under a unified vision. This is the same superpower I leveraged to help me change my career. Little did I know that this was a critical skill set known as cross functional partnerships on the corporate side.
What was the hardest part about making a career pivot?
Getting a yes, particularly as I was looking to transition to tech. In the early days of tech, you could not get past the gatekeepers without a degree from a top tier school (Harvard, Stanford, Cal, MIT, etc).
What were the most important lessons you’ve picked up along the way?
Most folks don't know what they are doing regardless of title and tenure. This is not to discredit anyone but a reminder to myself and others to extend the same level of grace to ourselves that we extend others. A title does not confer leadership or the ability to lead. I was always hard on myself and the realization that the top performing individuals are successful because they are not afraid of experimentation, not afraid of failure, or afraid to ask difficult questions. This reframe saved me and I hope it will help others practice grace with themselves.
What would you say to others who are doubting their ability to make a change in their career/vocation?
1) Getting rejected is a part of the process, that doesn't make it any less difficult to hear but I truly believe that there is redirection in rejection.
2) Relationships matter, if your career strategy is simply applying to job boards, you are not setting yourself for success. Also, important to know that some relationships take time to fully blossom. I met the person who brought me into my current company almost 10 years ago. I was active in a DEI professionals’ channel and some of my posts caught her attention and 8 years later, we are working together.
Where did you get the confidence and support to make such a change?
Having a core group of people at work and outside work has been critical to boosting my confidence and navigating my career change. In 2014 when I was feeling stuck in my career in higher education, my good friend urged me to apply to a program called Startingbloc. Startingbloc was known for its incredible community of changemaker. Having nothing to lose and everything to gain, I took the flight to LA. In LA I met an amazing group of humans who poured into me and help me put together a roadmap to help me transition out of higher education and into tech. The roadmap came equipped with referrals and interview prep. Outside of the incredible people, the Startingbloc experience helped me gain the business acumen I needed to navigate to navigate interviews and strong industry connections. 4 months after that experience, I got my first tech job! I could go on and on about what that experience did for me but the chief takeaway is having a group of people who hold the mirror up to you and remind me of your greatness is so important. Whether it's Startingbloc or something else, invest in building community.
What was the hardest thing you had to overcome in your professional life?
Overcoming imposter syndrome and self-doubt has been the hardest part of my professional career. It can sometimes feel like I spent more time doubting myself and not nearly enough time doing the great work I am capable of. Having recently transitioned to a new role internally, I thought I successfully conquered myself doubt but this new role has proven otherwise. It’s easy for me to compare myself to my peers who have been doing the work for a lot longer than I. Every day I am learning to practice grace with myself.
What, if anything, are you hoping happens next in your professional life?
I really hope to be in control of my time. I am no longer chasing the shiny titles or company names; I am chasing peace of mind. I understand how extremely privileged this thinking is and as someone who has worked since 13, I’m eager to know what this level of control feels like.
—Russ Finkelstein [linkedin.com] is the opposite of your High School Guidance Counselor. A career coach, social entrepreneur, and advisor to founders, he is currently the Director of Coaching with the Roddenberry Fellowship, Coach-in-Residence with StartingBloc Fellowship, and a Co-Founder of Title8 a Legal Marketplace. He was a founder of the noted careers website Idealist.org and was chosen as a Generation Z Influencer by LinkedIn.