Anakima Lasser is Rightpoint’s SVP of Design and Strategy, responsible for leading the national design and strategy practice. As part of our #WomensHistoryMonth series highlighting women in leadership at Rightpoint, we asked Anamika for her insights on strategy, finding your own voice and challenges for women of color in the tech industry. This is part 4 in the series; read our interviews with other women in leadership at Rightpoint throughout this week.
Strategy isn’t always a linear path. What advice do you have for people who want to move into a specific career path?
If you look around the team, how people got to these roles varies; it is not a linear path in any case. That’s intentional. One of our senior strategists came from account and project management and we have people who came from user experience or print. I came from research, user experience and writing. My first job was as Creative Director, but where I exceled and what I liked was finding the messiest problem within each project and solving it. And that was consistent from role to role, no matter the team. I was able to articulate what I liked solving. It doesn’t help if a person says “I want to do UX.” What is important is if the person says, “This is what motivates me.”
To get to a specific career path, ask yourself what is your specific interest? Is it designing? Is it listening and looking at behavioral patterns? Is it finding the voice of the customer? I would encourage people to have clarity on what they want and be advocates for themselves.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for women of color in the tech industry?
Whether it’s in the design agency space or the product space or the technology space, there is a profile or a persona of what someone who owns and leads strategy and design looks like. That stereotypical profile has been sketched out in somebody’s head before anyone walks into a room. People in a meeting will think, “That person looks like a CEO, so I’m going to focus my attention and my questions to that person.” Or, “that person looks like support, I’m going to focus my questions to that person.” That’s the initial challenge for women of color, or for anyone that doesn’t fit a stereotype: moving past people’s expectation of what is trustworthy, what “fits.”
The solution is embodying your role in a way that is authentically and uniquely you, and in a way that carries weight in a room. Do not conform to the stereotype about the persona. You will have to overcome the fact that people didn’t expect you. You will have to create authority and people to listen to you. It’s about saying, “I’m owning this.”
When were you able to begin owning your authentic role?
It was when started to feel like I knew what I was doing. You do need to have confidence to accompany your skills, and experience helps build that.
As an example, in a prior agency, there was a client meeting I was leading, and I was newly pregnant. No one knew I was pregnant or nauseous. I was sitting at the front of a boardroom table presenting an idea for product positioning, and realized I was going to be sick had to leave the room. When I came back I said, “I’m pregnant and got a little nauseous, but I’m okay now,” and kept going. I was open and wasn’t going to hide it. That is authentic to who I am, and I was so confident in the content that I knew I could handle the situation. And I was comfortable being awkward. It’s about both being comfortable in your own skin and knowing your content. Having confidence and skills. Even when those types of moments happen again and again, as they will for each of us!
Any additional career advice?
There’s something magical about not trying so hard to make things fit. Don’t try to fit your environment. Create the environment that you fit in. If something isn’t feeling right, find the people who can help lift you up and who can be your voice. How can the environment fit you and what you need? If you can figure that out, it will provide relief, because you’ll know what you need.