#CareerSheroes Only Black Female Millenial Partner at FleishmanHillard Says Undervaluing Herself Was Her Greatest Career Failure

Emily K. Graham, SVP & Partner, Americas Co-Lead, Financial and Professional Services Sector at FleishmanHillard
Emily K. Graham, is a 32 year old trailblazer in public relations and corporate communications. She’s the only Black millennial female partner at her firm, FleishmanHillard, an award-winning global PR & digital marketing agency. She is a diversity & inclusion champion and architect of leading programs that strengthen company culture. Emily serves on firm-wide D&I Leadership Team. Her communications career started with an internship at Burson-Marsteller. Currently, she leads the financial and professional services division at FleishmanHillard New York.

What is your biggest career failure?
My biggest failure is undervaluing myself. Early on in my career, I was working in a near-entry level position as the most junior person on a piece of business, but I shouldered most of the execution. I lived and breathed this client. I knew the inner workings, all the players and the subject matter backwards and forwards. I took great pride in the work I did and it offered tremendous growth for me – in fact – some of the work I did in these early days set the stage for my executive career today.

At the time, the person that I reported into resigned. Upon her resignation, she gave the recommendation that someone else who wasn’t on this specific team, take her place. I was to report into this new person and I was furious. I felt overlooked and undervalued. But, it was completely my fault because before she undervalued me, I undervalued myself. I allowed all the pieces to be set in motion, until finally one day I was venting to another team member who was in a leadership role, and she chastised me for not standing up for myself. She made me evaluate why I didn’t feel deserving to speak up for what I wanted.

What did that teach you?
I learned that no one can advocate for you, like you. If you’re not purchasing stock in you, incorporated, why would someone else? I learned to be laser focused on my own career and not set my sights on what anyone else was doing. Never again did I allow someone to broker my career without my input. I recently even told someone that I respect that while I appreciate his or her interest in my career – I didn’t need a spokesperson. I can speak for myself. Champions and coaches, absolutely are necessary, but ultimately that story has to start and end with you.

How did you recover from this failure?
I knew I’d recover because a long time ago I learned two sage lessons: Remember who you are and whose you are, this mantra keeps me centered. I never want to get too far away from the girl who was born in Shreveport, Louisiana and grew up in Dallas, TX, born from parents who navigated Jim Crow, had big dreams and achieved success. I still call home all the time to be grounded and I’m never far away from my faith. Christ is at the center of my life.

Additionally, lessons are repeated until they are learned: I learned this lesson in college. I repeat it to myself when I find myself disappointed in something I’ve done or when I can’t understand why something keeps happening. I am encouraged because I know the solution lies within me and that conquering any challenge means that I’m growing.

Have you ever taken the blame for someone else’s mistake?
This just happened to me. It was not one person’s mistake, but it was implied that something I did affected an outcome that I firmly believe was set in motion by someone else. I didn’t fight the point. What do I have to gain by locking horns?

I do believe in your career you will lose some, win some and some days, you’ll not want to try at all. I’m at most peace when I know I’ve done all I can to ensure the success of me and my team. With that mindset, the blame game doesn’t matter, it’s a divisive tactic. That being said, I’m no wallflower and as I mentioned in my early career lesson learned, I’ll be tactful if needed on being falsely accused.

I was told a long while ago there’s a difference being who is “in charge” and who is “accountable.” I always aim to be accountable for myself and I challenge my team to do the same.

Have you taught others not to make certain mistakes that you’ve made?
I coach and guide as best I can, I do believe it is my responsibility. I impart anything I’ve learned and am an open book. I readily give my opinion if it is sought after. I do firmly believe some people must learn their lessons best by going through things on their own. When I was younger I learned this way, experientially I’ll call it! AKA a hard head makes a soft behind. Now that I’m older, I want to save myself the trouble and I welcome feedback.

What is your biggest career accomplishment?
I pray that I’ve not seen my biggest career accomplishment yet. I’m still in this journey, but so far I’m very proud tor recently being named to a global role – leading a sector for one of the biggest communications agencies in the world and making partner at 32. When you look up financial and professional services, leaders don’t look like me. Millennial, Black and a woman – and it makes me proud to know that the world is changing, that I am making an impact and that my parents’ hard work and mine really paid off. I came of age during the Great Recession working deep in the trenches of financial services and reputation building for big brands and executives. I still get excited each day about what I do, and I see that as an accomplishment.

Culled from Essence.com

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