Why I Followed My Personal Calling, Even When It Led Away From A Great Job

I realized over 10 years ago that I have a calling that cannot be ignored — a calling to create opportunities for the next generation of leaders in under-represented communities. After years as a corporate communications executive, I saw an opportunity for my employer to be a more socially responsible company, generate positive news stories, and support public policy goals by creating partnerships with leaders of under-represented communities. After all, these growing communities are the users, customers and supporters of the companies that serve them. But the notion of working closely with them was unfamiliar to leadership primarily because they are not represented in decision-making roles.

As an executive at a Fortune 500 company, I created a new role focused on developing a network of relationships and partnerships with under-represented 
communities. The idea was supported and after several years, there were tangible outcomes for the public policy, human resources, and diversity teams and noted benefit to company value. There was also significant progress in the community as a result of our collective work together. At last, I was able to fulfill my personal calling while contributing to the good of the company. This calling eventually led me to Facebook.

The “Director of Community Engagement” position didn’t exist when I met the leader of public policy at Facebook almost six years ago. I convinced him to create this role, pointing out that Facebook needed to have a Community Engagement strategy and a network of strategic relationships with diverse communities and their leaders. Thankfully, he agreed and we embarked on the journey together.

Initially, community leaders were surprised that Facebook was interested in working together with them so early on in the company’s life. But they quickly learned that Mark and Sheryl’s commitment was sincere and we solidified an open dialogue and collaborative relationships with many leaders and organizations.

I spent five years creating a solid network of relationships and partnerships with leaders of various diverse communities and served as the company liaison. This network resulted in close relationships with the country’s most reputable under-represented leaders from the African American, Asian American, Disabled, Hispanic, LGBT, and minority small business communities throughout the United States. We created opportunities together and continually educated key leaders about important Facebook business and policy issues. The outcomes were measurable and rewarding for everyone.

And once again, I was affirmed by the value and power of establishing strategic and diverse community-centered partnerships.

After building a solid foundation of Community Engagement at Facebook, I was inspired to follow my calling again by expanding my reach as an independent consultant. I wanted to multiply my success at Facebook through working with others in the technology sector and different industries. Reactions to my decision to leave Facebook, after five years as a senior Latina in the company, ranged from dropped jaws to looks of confusion. But when I met with Sheryl Sandberg to thank her, she supportively focused on the contributions I made to the company and the exciting opportunities in my future given my experience. Sheryl encouraged me to share my story to inspire other women.

Telling my elderly parents was tough, as their generation did not believe in leaving “a good job.” Taking risks in Hispanic culture isn’t typically encouraged. Taking risks was only for the privileged. I believe this cautious approach to life is based on centuries of working hard and being grateful for having a job and food on the table.

My heart broke when my mom said, “Oh, I wish you weren’t leaving Facebook, they have been so good to you.” Ultimately, my parents were fully affirming, knowing that I am a natural-born risk-taker.

Telling the network of diverse leaders that I was leaving was the most difficult part of my transition. I felt like I was abandoning them. So many thoughts raced through my head in those conversations. Was I letting down the under-represented community? Was I letting down the next generation of Latinas? Was I letting down Mark and Sheryl? A sense of guilt loomed over my decision, though there was always something exciting about what opportunities awaited me.

Now, on the other side of it all, I couldn’t be happier with taking this leap. I find solace knowing that my intention as an independent consultant is to take the success at Facebook and my previous experiences to others interested in developing a broader strategy for success. I also feel as passionate about conversations around corporate and community engagement. Let’s talk about about how to effectively work together and make it happen!

Susan Gonzales Consultant, former Facebook executive. Expertise in public policy strategy development with diverse communities.
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