With a career spanning three decades and leading multi-billion-dollar operations, Bonita C. Stewart is an expert at accelerating digital technology adoption and driving business transformation for major corporations in the IT, automotive, and technology fields, currently as VP, Global Partnerships at Google.
In her new book, Bonita shares her hard-won wisdom and insights about African American women’s significant contributions to business and how they can support one another in challenging but rewarding career journeys. Learn more about Bonita and her book at the website Lead Empower Thrive.
We hope you enjoy her interview with Work Wider below as much as we enjoyed talking to her!
Finish this sentence: I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for ________________.
My father’s 4Cs. Sadly my father passed away in my freshman year of college, though happily, divine intervention made its way onto my path. Early in my career I found a speech he had written titled The Trail to Success as I was sifting through old papers in my grandmother’s house after she passed. With simplicity and clarity, he highlighted a personal framework which guides my decision-making and life purpose. He touted Concentration, Culture, Courage, and Character as a way to sort your priorities and actions. Today, I use these principles to focus my skill building, expand my cultural intelligence, make tough calls — both personal and professional — and be my noblest.
Resumes highlight professional and educational achievements. Which one of your life or personal experiences deserves to be on your resume?
Having lost my father at eighteen, my degree of resilience, ambition and overall grit was likely underestimated by others every step of my journey. I could easily highlight several resume chapters with a “co-author” to showcase the allies and sponsors who had their fingerprints on my success. Careers are not a solo journey; they are supported by family, colleagues, mentors, allies, and sponsors. If I were to add a paragraph to my resume it would reference this achievement as my “Natural Grit”.
What qualities do you look for when hiring someone on your team? What qualities do you avoid?
Beyond domain subject expertise and essence of character, I look for three major qualities. First, I assess the level of curiosity defined as being inquisitive, asking probing questions, and demonstrating an affinity for lifelong learning across multiple disciplines. Secondly, I seek those who are willing to contribute to a workplace of belonging for everyone through effective collaboration with others within their team and across functional lines. Thirdly, I respect the courageous. We must applaud and support those who have taken pivots, made mistakes, and forged new ideas. Agility is the new way forward for building inclusive leadership.
On the flipside, I avoid any inkling of an excessive ego to the preference of a “we” mindset. An African proverb states, “If you want to go quickly, go alone; If you want to go far, go together.”
“To take advantage of the proven diversity benefits, brands and companies MUST hire in multiples and create a sense of belonging in a workplace filled with responsible allies.”
What’s one piece of career advice you wish you could give to your younger self?
Through technology enablement, the world is much more accessible today as we’ve clearly seen during this pandemic-led Zoom era. Looking back, I would have explored with greater intensity global assignments and a second language. Yet, I have no regrets because careers are long and my journey is not over.
Which three books, podcasts, or new sources do you think everyone should read? Why?
I would recommend the following books, including my own, A Blessing, which I co-authored with Jackie Adams. Today I seek books that start a conversation, tingle the brain cells, and tackle tougher, more uncomfortable conversations.
A Blessing: Women of Color Teaming Up to Lead, Empower and Thrive is a data driven analysis of women of color combined with a playbook for both women and leaders of all races.
Caste: The Origins of our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson reveals the history around our “unspoken” systems in America.
Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin is a superb exposé and study of leadership development.
Seeing Around Corners: How to Spot Inflection Points Before They Happen by Rita McGrath which is a must read as we evaluate post COVID-19 business models.
Diversity, equity and inclusion is front and center right now. How do you express your commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in your personal and professional life?
I’ve expressed my commitment to DEI by creating a scalable new narrative for women of color. After surveying 4005 women across all races (Black, LatinX, White, Asian) and across four generations (Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Boomers) we’ve created a playbook for women of color to Team Up and for leaders to expand their cultural intelligence. We’ve coined the phrase Generational Diversity to highlight the nuances across the generations and the importance of this understanding for effective inclusive leadership.
What’s one tangible step every employer should take to help build a more representative organization?
Every employer should think far beyond “tokenism” and the proverbial — “one and done.” To take advantage of the proven diversity benefits, brands and companies MUST hire in multiples and create a sense of belonging in the workplace filled with responsible allies.