Danica Nelson is an award-winning Senior Marketing Communications Manager at one of Canada’s largest telecommunications companies, TELUS, where she’s worked for over 11 years in various roles. She specializes in creating direct-to-customer communication strategies across a variety of mediums. She’s passionate about Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in the workplace with an emphasis on Intersectionality.
She’s also an experienced Public Speaker that’s spoken to over twenty-thousand people and specializes in Personal Branding for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) and self-advocacy.
On #CareerConversationsWithLLA this week, Danica discusses her career trajectory, important nuggets on how to put yourself out there at work, aligning professional pursuits with other interests and some invaluable lessons she has learned so far.
Can you briefly describe yourself and what you do?
My name is Danica Nelson and I’m a passionate solo traveller, music enthusiast, and foodie.
I’m also a Top 30 Under 30 award-winning Marketer, a Senior Marketing Communications Manager at one of Canada’s largest telecommunication companies called TELUS, a Public Speaker, and the Creator of a new project called Liberty Leave that highlights people making purposeful life pauses and pivots.
How did you start out in your career, and how long have you been in the ‘corporate world?
I often quote Drake’s “started from the bottom, now I’m here” song when I describe my career trajectory thus far. I’ve been working at TELUS for a total of 11 years – over 5 years in retail sales, and 6 years in the Corporate world.
When I graduated from high school in 2008, I took some time off from schooling to work and save enough money to financially put myself through my upcoming studies at Ryerson University’s Radio & Television Arts program in Toronto, Canada. I was intimidated at the thought of taking on massive student loans, and my parents weren’t able to pay to put me through school, so I was hired at TELUS to sell cell phone and plans in my local mall. I kept up that job part-time while I was in University full-time and was able to successfully graduate with no student debt.
During my last semester of school, my program required us to complete an internship at a company of our choice in order to graduate. I was able to secure an internship within my company’s Marketing & Communications department, and that’s the team I’m still working on today. The job titles I’ve had are Sales Representative, Marketing Communications Intern, Specialist, Manager, and now I’m a Senior Marketing Communications Manager.
What is your number one hack for dealing with difficult colleagues/bosses?
When encountering difficult scenarios with colleagues and bosses, it’s business – not personal. If I know I’m right in a situation but am also emotional when trying to resolve a conflict, I will avoid sending emails or making any phone calls until I can confidently respond with all emotions aside and strictly speak to the facts and my expertise. Unfortunately, it’s an unfair reality that black women are often judged before we even open our mouths and are regarded as aggressive or emotional, so it’s very important for me to maintain my composure and remain poised to avoid perpetuating this stereotype.
2 things you do when you are having a bad day?
If I’m having a bad day at work, I will book myself in a meeting room for an hour or so and listen to my favourite music until I’m calm enough to return. Music is a form of therapy for me and the right tracks always do the trick to help me maintain my composure – especially in a professional setting.
My WhatsApp group chats with my closest friends are also a guaranteed way to help me push through difficult times. I have very healthy relationships with my friends that allow me to be my full authentic self without judgement and I am so incredibly grateful for them.
When you are creatively stuck, you…?
Issa Rae once said at an event for creatives in Toronto that (paraphrasing) “Procrastination is part of the creative process”. This resonated with me because I truly feel that creatives are often sensitive, self-critical, and perfectionists that get in our own way sometimes.
I now allow myself to stay “stuck” for a while, get inspired by life, then get back to the drawing board and create. I try to convince myself that it’s OK to not be perfect, and that restrategizing, reassessing, and reinventing is encouraged behavior.
2 tips for navigating office politics?
Strengthen your communication and de-escalation skills. It’s easy to get caught up into emotions when dealing with office politics – especially when you’re clearly being taken advantage of. However, good communication skills that allow you to approach a conversation diplomatically while being level-headed can save time, energy, and unnecessary headaches. Stand your ground, but select your words wisely and practice with a friend of colleague that’s willing to critically analyze your approach before you de-escalate the actual situation at hand.
Get everything in writing and don’t delete your emails so that if/when a conflict arises, you have your receipts ready to go. Always keep a paper trail.
What’s your take on cliques or “you can’t sit with us groups” at work? How does one navigate such?
Your co-workers don’t have to be your friends. Keep it professional, do your job and do it well, and keep it moving.
This was a harsh reality for me to face because some of the people I worked with while in retail sales at my local mall 11 years ago are still some of my best friends today. However, as you get older and are put into rooms with people who come from completely different backgrounds as you, you realize that it’s OK to just be cordial with people, and keep it moving once it’s time to clock out.
Of course, we’re going to talk about mentorship – what’s your view on it? Important or nah?
Mentorship can be a powerful tool in growing one’s career and building one’s network. I personally don’t have a “traditional” relationship with one single mentor that I meet with on a consistent basis, however, I have people I genuinely look up to and follow their moves and mantras closely for inspiration and guidance. I nurture these relationships by not only focusing on what they can do for me, but how we can make our relationship mutually beneficial to increase the likelihood of our relationship lasting longer.
Also, one thing I learned this year is that people, especially those who are marginalized, tend to gravitate towards mentors or people who inspire them that share a similar story to them. However, what some of the people I’ve been looking up to this year have stressed is that we should be inspired by and build relationships with people who live in the center of privilege. Marginalized people are often brought up in an intergenerational “scarcity” mindset, where we’re told to take what we can get if it meets our basic needs and don’t aspire to do too much as a risk of losing everything.
However, people who live in the center of privilege who have “abundance” mindsets and don’t think in terms of limitations, and they should also be a source of inspiration for us so that we can truly achieve even our most ambitious goals.
Two things – what have been your best and worst career decision – and what did you learn from each respectively?
Best career decision: Continuing to “feel the fear and do it anyway”. Most things that I do in my career scare me. When I first started in Marketing, I was self-taught and didn’t have a formal education in the field like my peers. When I first started public speaking, I was afraid to even speak up on a conference call out of fear of judgement or saying the wrong thing. Almost everything I do in my career scares me – but growth and comfort do not co-exist. I constantly put myself in uncomfortable situations, I often fake it until I make it, and that’s the sweet spot for my growth and career success.
Worst career decision: Thinking that I’d become successful without building my professional network. Prior to this year, I didn’t see the value in putting myself out there, attending networking events, getting to know people in both my direct industry and adjacent industries, etc.
I thought simply making meaningful connections with the people in my direct workplace was enough to deem me successful. That was wrong because you never know what’ll happen in the future, and the more people you know and maintain genuine, mutually beneficial relationships with, the more opportunities you have to open doors that will lead you to success.
Do you have a “side-hustle” and what’s your view on having other interests outside of work?
I have a few different side hustles: I’m a public speaker that focuses on Equity, Diveristy, and Inclusion, Personal Branding for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) and of course Marketing and Communications. I’ve also recently started creating a new project called Liberty Leave that focuses on my personal solo travel journey that I’m on right now, where I’m travelling through Southeast Asia, as well as highlights people making purposeful pauses and pivots in life. Previously, I was the co-founder and co-host of the Damsel in the 6ix podcast, which focused on career navigation, self-help, self-care, and dating. All 65+ episodes are available on all major streaming platforms!
Here is my very honest and transparent truth on having interests outside of work: it is all about balance. It’s great to have an outlet that allows you to creative execute passion projects – especially if said projects/hustles allow you to utilize skills you’re not able to in your day job. However, it is very easy to get carried away and burnt out very quickly. I can transparently disclose that while executing my “side hustles” over the years, I have developed high functioning anxiety, which means that while I appear to be fine and even thriving by outsiders, I am often obsessing over my to-do-list and am addicted to completing tasks to a point that relaxing makes me anxious.
I share that to encourage people to understand that it’s OK to rest, and it’s also completely OK to not have a side-hustle. Our full-time roles can be fulfilling enough, and in an age where “side hustle culture” is overwhelming, simply choosing to have one main hustle and work on building your personal relationships, and enjoying your hobbies that you have intentionally chosen not to monetize is completely okay.
How do you advise girls facing harassment in any form, from their superiors at work to handle it?
No one should have to tolerate harassment. If engaging the harasser directly to cease the poor behavior isn’t successful, talk to your trusted peers, and speak to HR anonymously to learn what your options are to safely put an end to it.
If there are no signs that the harasser will be dealt with accordingly (perhaps due to an unbalanced power dynamic), leverage your network and find a harassment-free environment you can thrive in. Protecting your peace and mental health is vital to your success and livelihood.
3 greatest career lessons you have learnt on your journey?
Advocate for yourself
Women are often taught that we must be humble about our accomplishments. We’re told that we shouldn’t be too loud and proud , and that “self praise is no praise”. That ideology no longer aligns with my professional goals. If I played a pivotal role that lead to success on my team, I am not afraid to share my success details in quantifiable metrics to show the value I bring to that table. We need to be our own cheerleaders and our own personal PR teams. We also must not be afraid to nominate ourselves for awards we think we deserve, put our hands up for opportunities we think we’d be a good fit for, etc. We must believe in ourselves before others believe in us.
Never stop learning and build your industry-adjacent skills
While it’s important to be a master in your direct field (and keep your skills up-to-date), it’s also key to build your skills in your adjacent industries so you can be a strong cross-functional team player, making you even more of an asset. You don’t have to know everything about the industries yours is adjacent to, but taking crash courses to build your skills that will help you understand the development of an overall project or process will make it easier for you to collaborate and come to a better executed result.
Master your elevator pitch
One encounter with one person can change the course of your career, and your life. Master a clear, succinct pitch that captures who you are, what you’re passionate about, who you aim to serve, and what your mission is.