Oct 31, 2012 • By

Discovering the leader within

Each year, General Mills hosts an Asian Leadership Conference where members of two employee networks across the U.S. – Asian Heritage Network (AHN) and South Asian American Employee Network – have a chance to participate in workshops, listen to speakers, and network with peers and company executives in Minneapolis.

This year’s Leadership Conference kicked off with a keynote speech from a former Proctor & Gamble executive, followed by a panel Q&A with Asian leaders from local companies such as Medtronic and Target. It ended with a workshop led by a performance consulting firm.

The following day, the Sales function spent the morning volunteering with HopeKids Minnesota, a local organization that works with children facing a life-threatening illness.

What Am I Getting Out Of This?

Pulling yourself away from your desk and duties and inbox for two consecutive days is difficult, so these types of events are always challenged with a level of expectations.

After each event, we tend to turn to one another and quickly pass judgment and say, “That was interesting, that was boring, etc …” But if we can take a step back, we realize these conferences are not just about the content, but also about the context.

The Context

Working for General Mills provides unbridled access to personal development resources, with training on many things.

I can’t, however, always experience these in a room surrounded by people who share my culture. That is what makes these diversity events meaningful – the context, rather than the content.

It’s like sightseeing on a cruise, we don’t all see the same thing, but we we’re all on the same boat.

For example, during the Q&A panel this year, Ashok, a manager at Target, was asked how being Asian has impacted his career. He replied that having a name that’s difficult to pronounce has been a huge positive for him.

This got a roar of laughter from the crowd as everyone recounted a time their name was butchered.

He went on to explain that as Asians living in Minnesota, we often have unique stories that capture the interest of our coworkers, whether it’s the origin of your name, or the oddities of your cuisine.

I thought that was such a great point given how common it is at work to simply try and relate to your peers. Wouldn’t a conversation be just as interesting if they weren’t familiar with something I said, but were curious enough to learn and vice versa? Would I have come to this conclusion in a different setting?

Also, the context of the audience reflects the complexity of Asian leadership at General Mills. It was obvious that the majority of the network members are fairly young in both age and years in the company. Conferences like these try to get after such issues, and the consistent focus reminds us it’s one that deserves not just the company’s focus, but our individual focus as well.

We ask questions like, what am I doing to be seen as a leader? What’s the company doing to encourage Asian leadership?

When we’re firing off emails, jumping from meeting to meeting, and returning phone calls these aren’t questions we ever have time to reflect upon. But a conference allows us to do just that. And, we do it together.

Worth It

So for me, yes, attending this year’s conference was certainly worth it. The content reminded me of and reinforced the tools we have for personal development.

But, more importantly, the context allowed me to experience these tools in a much more meaningful way, a way that makes me proud of our company’s commitment to diversity.