Netta Conyers is the VP of Communications at Sequoia Healthcare company. Netta is an African American woman, at the age of 47, who spent most of her formative years in the cities of Santa Clara, Oakland, and Inglewood, California. She graduated from Santa Clara high school and San Jose State College, getting her BS in public relations, then a master’s degree from Seton Hall University, and later a certificate in marketing from U.C. Berkley’s Professionals. It became very evident that family plays a large role in her life. Between her mother and mother in law living close by, she has many helping hands at all hours, which helps her to balance home and work.
“Yeah, graduated high school, um, Santa Clara, high school class of 91 go Bruins. Nobody really knows about them. Um, I went to college at San Jose state, got my BS in public relations and then got my master’s degree at Seton hall university in New Jersey, which has also communications. Education’s really important to my family, always encouraged it. Got a certificate in marketing from UC Berkeley’s professionals. Terrific. And have even thought about what’s next. Maybe it’s a PhD or some type of other, you know, executive program that I might apply to, so.”
I chose to interview Netta because she is a very accomplished, driven woman. She has overcome many obstacles, yet always has stayed true to herself and her passion.
The Working World:
I have learned that if you are a woman of color in the working world, you constantly feel like you must take that “extra step” just to get even with everyone else. Netta has faced adversity in many ways throughout her life growing up, as well as in the workforce. She recalled many times that she felt as if she was passed up for jobs due to her skin color or because she is a woman, even at many reputable companies.
“at Facebook. Um, our CEO Mark Zuckerberg, didn’t have a communications person. So, you know, this email came out to all of our, the communications team. They said, “Hey, oh, Johnny is going to be, you know, the communications person. And this is his team”. And I remember marching right over to our VP of communications. Like, what is this, this job wasn’t posted. You gave no one else an opportunity to even go over this position. All of the people that are in these roles are white men. And we’re already talking about Mark needs to become more aware about his, um, about the people who were using his platform and the people in this company and needs to create more diversity internally.”
Netta was not shy in explaining to me all the extra helping hands she has had along the way in her career. She explained to me that a large group of mentors, or “board of directors” as she calls them, guided her and advised her to allow for extra support. What became very clear to me over the course of this interview (and something that stuck with me following the interview) is that Netta encourages outside help. She emphasized the importance of not taking the world on by yourself, and that it’s okay to have guidance or ask for advice when you need it.
“I had an aunt who is a black woman, who was probably my first mentor and the reason why I went to San Jose State because she went to San Jose State and was kind of that person in my ear, encouraging me to get good grades, think about what I wanted to do, how to position myself as a black woman in the classroom and position myself for a career outside of that.”
“…over the years, my mentor collection, I called them my board of directors, they have grown, and I’ve sought out diverse people, um, and people of color, um, people in different industries and disciplines, (inaudible) my understanding of my skillset and be willing to participate in my life. “
Netta’s discussion of how one of her fellow white colleagues supported her opened my eyes to the importance of using privilege in a positive way.
“Yeah. I remember one, um, (inaudible) executive vice president and the sec, and, and I’ll never forget, this was such a defining moment for me. And it happened like midway in my career, but the CEO came to speak with her, while her and I were talking. And I’m a very respectful person, I know everyone’s busy and I just kind of stepped out of the, ya know, conversation as he approached. And she gently pulled my arm where he couldn’t see and like (inaudible) to stay in the conversation that she later said, and this is, she said, “don’t ever walk away when Paul or anyone else approaches. You’re just as important as anyone else he’s joining our conversation.” So, for her to, you know, see, um, that, that could be problematic, or she doesn’t want me because I’m, you know, not at the C level part of the C-suite to feel like I’m not included was pretty profound. And that’s just one of the things that she did to make sure women, people of color, regardless of your job level, that you feel equally a part of the conversation.“
She also recalled many times in her everyday life when she felt like the color of her skin made others, strangers or not, treat her differently.
“Um, I can remember going into a department store and being followed by the clerk and continually asked, can I help you? Can I help you? And I’m just thinking, Oh, I just said, no. I said, hello, I’m walking, I’m shopping. It’s not like I have a big bag, but that happens often, probably less nowadays, because I think everyone is so aware of the black lives matter and everyone trying to support, but that just became a regular occurrence”
Following this we discussed awareness of race and microaggressions. The Society for the Psychological Study of Culture Ethnicity and Race state, “Microaggressions are intentional or unintentional brief exchanges that communicate hostile, derogatory, negative lights and insults on an individual or group”.
When asking Netta about how her view from youth to now has changed on the topic of gender equality and race, she said something that stood out to me: “I’m just more aware”.
“Oh, I just think I’m more aware. Um, particularly being in the workforce, I’m more aware about the pay gaps”
Wilson from the Economic Policy Institute states, “On an average hourly basis, Black women are paid just 66 cents on the dollar relative to non-Hispanic white men with the same level of education, age (a proxy for work experience), and geographic location.”. This pay gap is quite clearly unjust and offensive in many ways, and we need to create more awareness regarding this issue.
From there Netta and I discussed her role as a mother and her role at work and how she balances the two equally. In class, we discussed Stephanie Murray’s article on the “mom bias”. Within the working world, women with children are always looked at as if they have too many responsibilities and this is often even represented in current media and movies. Murray writes, “with mothers in particular, Delvaux has observed a pervasive perception that they are “less available,” and “too distracted” to do their jobs properly.” Netta Conyers, on the other hand, doesn’t leave room for others to perceive her as having this unjust “mom bias.”
“I have a weekly agenda. This is what’s for lunch, breakfast, dinner, and snacks. And they create the agenda every week. I made sure the food is there, but, and I’ll print up the agenda and is like, don’t ask me what’s for lunch. It’s like, it’s right here. So, I do a lot of spreadsheets and calendars. Here’s your schedule for every day of the week. So, everyone can see it like in one place and be independent and do things for yourself.”
Netta Conyers is an inspiring woman in the working world, pushing through obstacles and not letting anyone bring her down along the way. She is aware of the “unsaid” stereotypes ingrained in our institution but has never let that get in the way for her drive of success.
“…you have to be intentional about dismantling that if we ever want to get to, you know, true change: a world where everyone truly is equal. “
Ellis, James M., and Candice S. Powell. vol. 25, pp. 266–279, Examining First-Generation College Student Lived Experiences With Microaggressions and Microaffirmations at a Predominately White Public Research University.
Murray, Stephanie. “We Talked to an Employment Lawyer about ‘Mom Bias.’ Here’s What She Wants You to Know.” Https://Www.thelily.com, The Lily, 28 July 2020, www.thelily.com/we-talked-to-an-employment-lawyer-about-mom-bias-heres-what-she-wants-you-to-know/.
Wilson, Valerie, and Melat Kassa. “Black Women Workers Are Essential during the Crisis and for the Recovery but Still Are Greatly Underpaid.” Economic Policy Institute, www.epi.org/blog/black-women-workers-are-essential-during-the-crisis-and-for-the-recovery-but-still-are-greatly-underpaid/.