Success does not have to follow a logical and predictive path for career progression. Our skill sets, strengths, and goals evolve over time, and that can lead you down new paths in all aspects of your life including your career.
With an ever-evolving job market, we are seeing nonlinear career paths becoming the new normal—zigging and zagging as we learn more about ourselves.
Bianca, Vice President of Content Optimization and Marketing Strategy at BET, can attest that having a nonlinear career path requires the timing to be right, risk, a little serendipity, and belief in yourself to know what’s best for you. As long as you have that, you can jump at the various opportunities that excite you to continue moving up the ranks nonlinearly.
Join Bianca and Quyen as they have a candid discussion surrounding futureproofing yourself and holding on to your mentor relationships in a virtual world.
“I was born in Richmond, Virginia, to a Black father and a Mexican American mother. So, I come from not one but two groups that have been historically sidelined in US history. My dad was a high school dropout that turned to trucking and later to chauffeuring celebrities, and my mom was a child farmer whose way out was to serve in the US Women’s Army Corps. On a personal level, I am always searching for meaning and petitioning a higher being or the universe for my heart’s desires. I am the big sister to three girls and mother to my son. There is a doggedness about me because I like to roll up my sleeves and be very transparent about what I want in life. I am the Vice President at BET, leading the Content Optimization team where we test everything from loglines to series using various research approaches. I am also a board member of the Insights Association and a Chair member of the IDEA Council.”
To learn more about Bianca, watch her introduction below.
“I come from an immigrant family, but I am not first-generation. I am an immigrant to the United States. My family came to the US post-Vietnam War, and in fact, we were one of the last waves of people that escaped by boat out of the Mekong Delta. We were lost at sea for nine days and eight nights until we shipwrecked. After that, we spent a year in a refugee camp in Pulau Galang in Indonesia before finally immigrating to the United States. It was a wild upbringing from the start. I believe this moment was very defining for me, and that was when I started kindergarten three days after landing in the US. I knew a handful of English words, and as we all know, kids are not nice when you are different. My family made many sacrifices to risk our lives to come here, which is what pushed me to work hard. Where you come from, your parents, upbringing, and the things you have been through add a unique perspective to who you are as a leader and your worldview. I am now the Vice President of Swoon’s new entity, Swoon Consulting, where I help our clients solve data and analytics challenges with solutions driven by globally diverse industry experts.”
To learn more about Quyen, watch her introduction below.
Megan: Bianca, how did you get to be in market research for BET? What has your career progression looked like?
Bianca: My first gig after graduate school, when I left Purdue, was in a large market research shop as a research analyst. It was a tactical role – project management, research management. So, this is where I learned how to run weighted averages, look at cross-tabulations, push up my glasses, etc. I learned a lot in that role, but there was still a hunger and drive in me where I wanted to manage a team and talk to clients. It scared me, but it was something that I wanted to get comfortable with to elevate myself in market research. So, I started looking at other opportunities and found a quirky behavioral economics market research startup called Brain Juicer. It was day one of that role when my boss came up to me and told me that I had someone reporting to me, and by six months in, I needed to be pulling in half a million dollars. There was a lot of pressure, but it was everything I had asked and petitioned for. So, I learned client management and what a book of business and p&l were. Then, I learned how to lead teams. Once I proved myself in developing that one person, it became three, which became seven, and then ultimately a group of 15. On top of all that, I learned how to develop products and create influence inside and outside the business. I did that for eight years before deciding to consciously uncouple, which is the language I use to say that I left this role, as it was time for me to move on and experience something new.
So, after leaving that position and before I got the role at BET, I took eight months off to sit with what was next for me. It was such a magical time to explore, figure everything out, and journal. I even went to Australia for a soul coaching certification. I was in Melbourne for a couple of weeks to see and explore the cosmic and listen to myself. As that experience was coming to the end, I saw a fantastic opportunity come up on LinkedIn for a Vice President of Content Optimization and Marketing Strategy at BET. When I read the job description, it was almost like it had been written for me. So, I leaped at the opportunity and never looked back.
The beauty of BET is that I am squarely in the middle of media entertainment. I get to sit within one industry vertical where I can learn about streaming, the difference between streaming versus linear, and how to take the logline through to our pilot. I am working with the marketing team to create the promos for all the shows and movies we make, and I love that.
My most immense joy feeds back to the point of standing up for social justice and racial equity because I am also the voice of the Black consumer. In graduate school, I studied a lot of Black versus White disparity regarding wealth. All of it was from a disparity angle, and as we all know, the story was not light. It was not hopeful. It was not promising. But what I love about BET is that we are driving the stories that we tell, and it is not always this comparison story. There is power in that.
Quyen: I love that you took time off and went on a sabbatical. Sometimes you need that time before you can find your true north and what drives you. I have to ask, though, how did you get yourself in a position to take an eight-month sabbatical and be able to rejoin the workforce in such an empowering role that was right for you and your career? So often, if we take a month off, people think that you are un-hirable or it will be hard for you to reenter the workforce.
Bianca: With the eight-month sabbatical, I had put so much sweat equity into the company – building up the Chicago office, the New York office, and even working in the LA office. So, senior leadership recognized what I had put in and when it was time for me to consciously uncouple, they worked with me to make it happen. It was what my soul needed to heal and move on to the next thing. I wanted to take the time to figure out what it was that I genuinely wanted to do. For example, I enjoyed working on the tech account. It delighted me, and it was interesting because I was learning a new language and how to test their creative differently. I knew that was something I wanted to bring into my future career. Looking into what I wanted to do next, I realized there is a whole world out there with the innovative edge I wanted.
As for my impression of rejoining the workforce, I would say that I had concerns myself. I was having so much fun finding myself and bonding with my son because I felt that I did not have a proper maternity leave. However, what set me up for success here was that I never stopped networking. So, it was not hard for me to rejoin the workforce. I was putting more pressure on myself because it might be a little disjointed, but it turned out that it was not. During my first week, I remember that I was already running meetings and doing debriefs, so I knew I still had it. However, I will say that there were not many questions about why I needed that eight-month window. Most people thought it was unique and loved that I was able to do that for myself.
Megan: What does futureproofing mean to you, and how has that impacted your career choices?
Bianca: For me, futureproofing is the act of not being afraid to lean into the future. Take those small steps to welcome the abundance out there for you. If you had asked me fifteen years ago, when I started my first professional gig during the economic meltdown, my response would have been more fear-based. It would have come out of scarcity because people were getting laid off or furloughed. However, now, I wholeheartedly trust myself and the strong foundation I built up from networking. My opportunities and where I am at in BET are a testament to that.
Quyen: Covid has brought a new landscape to the work environment. Companies are investing in technology which might not have been the case if the pandemic did not push us forward rather quickly. For example, we do all our Leading with Purpose interviews over Zoom rather than in person. Things are changing, and we have to think about how we can continually make a virtual world more collaborative and intuitive than it is today. I read an article in Harvard Business Review published in October of 2021 that talked about future-proofing your organization. They surveyed large companies across all industries to determine themes around future-proofing organizations. The three that came out were:
- An increase in technology investment
- An increase in automation
- Using data to make more informed decisions
Companies are already thinking about this, and we as individuals must do the same with our careers. From a more personal perspective, I think about the pandemic and what I have done personally to move into a very remote environment and the opportunities that the move has brought me. Before, I traveled three out of four weeks every month, and when the pandemic started, I was meeting with customers in Phoenix. When I heard about the possibility of getting stuck in the United States, I immediately booked a flight from Phoenix to Nicaragua (my husband and I own a boutique hotel there). I thought, if this pandemic gets worse, I do not want to be stuck in the US. I would rather spend this time in Nicaragua, so I figured out how to work there remotely while still doing my role and impacting the others on my team. We got through it together, and I would say that it was the move I needed to make at that time.
How did I get to where I am today? It comes down to a couple of things for me:
- Having mentors who understand their strengths and weaknesses to cover my gaps and offer advice.
- Having influencers, or champions, in my network that help influence my career and give recommendations.
Those are two very different facets because your mentor can be your peer or someone who has worked for you in the past but has a unique skill set you want to learn. An influencer, or champion, should be someone who can assure that career and help guide you forward while opening up opportunities for you. I think it is imperative to have both.
The last thing that I will say is to be careful. You need to make sure that you have mentors and influencers that appreciate and care about diversity and inclusion. I had a mentor at one point in my career who said, “it’s amazing what you can accomplish despite you being a woman. Despite you being a diverse woman in a room full of white male leaders.” I think they meant to say that as a compliment, but I realized that it was not despite, and they were missing the point. It was because I am a diverse woman in a room of white men that I provide a different perspective. It took me a little while to come to that realization. But, I was successful because of all the differences I brought, the things I stood for, and my perspective. So, when choosing your mentors and influencers, make sure you select those that bring to light what that means, what is important to you, and that understand diversity and inclusion.
Bianca: With the mentors in your life, did you still hold those relationships even though you were abroad? How did that work for you, or how did you make it work?
Quyen: I am very proactive about my mentors and relationships because I truly care about them. I want to know just how they are doing in their lives and when the pandemic started, I just reached out to ask how they were doing personally. Over time, that changed into how they were reacting from a business perspective. We were all still learning how to navigate this new landscape, so we used this to bounce ideas off each other.
Relationships are key in everything that we do. So, continuing those relationships with my network, mentors, and influencers was something I needed to make time for. The important lesson here is not to let technology get in the way of your relationships because making space for that will help you in your career, not just today but tomorrow.
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