Things Became Clearer When I… Challenged the ‘No’
Stephanie LeBlanc-Godfrey ’06
Global Head of Inclusion for Women of Color, Google, New York, New York
“I'll never forget that moment — at the beginning of my senior year at Stevens, I was walking down Washington Street when I got a call from Lehman Brothers congratulating me on a full-time role that I would start upon graduation. I was shocked and stunned and just so incredibly happy that I would be starting my career as an infrastructure engineer, using skills I’d been building since my mom got me my first Gateway 2000 computer at age 10.
But being in the industry proved to be isolating — I didn't have people there who looked like me or had similar lived experiences. I didn't know what mentors or sponsors were, at the time. So, I also remember the day I walked out of Lehman Brothers, crying because I didn’t want to leave, but not having access to the resources that would allow me to stay.
A few years later, I was working as a data scientist at Google. I loved what I was doing, but after a while, I felt like I was at a crossroads. I realized I wanted to do something more meaningful. I thought back to my first job experience — being in tech is similar to finance in that the number of women from Black and brown communities is far below par. I thought that if I could have a hand in making a difference in even one person's life by making them feel like they have a support system, that they could thrive in a space that they too had dreamed about since childhood.
So I did the work, I volunteered at every Diversity, Equity and Inclusion event that I could and fostered relationships with the team at Google. I got to show off my program management skills, my people skills, and the way I can connect content with an audience. These strengths were especially on display when I worked on launching the first global summit for Black women Googlers in 2018.
After that, I felt like I should be a shoo-in for a role on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion team. I applied for a number of roles, but I was always the bridesmaid, never the bride. I had tried everything that a coach or mentor would tell you to do to try and get a job. When I didn’t get yet another position I applied for, I started thinking that it was time for me to dust off my resume and look elsewhere.
When I told a friend and fellow Googler what happened and that I was thinking about leaving, she texted me and said, You’ve got to push back — you have to challenge the ‘No.’ Feeling like I had nothing to lose, I took her advice and sent an email to the hiring manager, laying out my qualifications and respectfully challenging her decision not to hire me for the role. She replied almost immediately, and following an additional conversation, I was hired!
When I told a friend and fellow Googler what happened and that I was thinking about leaving, she texted me and said, You’ve got to push back — you have to challenge the ‘No.’
My new role was part of a pilot program focused on retaining high-attrition-risk Googlers. I acted as a coach, advocate, mentor and sponsor all at the same time, to support Googlers who were seriously considering leaving. I supported them to reach their desired outcome, whether that was to find a new role within the company or to walk out with dignity — both are really okay!
After about a year and a half of this work, the company decided to expand the program globally. I raised my hand for the opportunity to move with my family to London for six months to lead the expansion in the UK. But then I got a call from Google’s Chief Diversity Officer, Melonie Parker, who said, ‘You’re not going to London.’ Melonie noticed my skills and had been advocating for me behind the scenes — the true definition of a sponsor. Instead, she offered me a new role — Global Head of Inclusion for Women of Color — the first of its kind at Google.
It wasn’t by happenstance that she chose me. I’m reading a book right now that has two quotes that really resonate with me — ‘Being memorable equals getting picked,’ and ‘You can’t select what you can’t recall.’ I didn’t realize it at the time, but in everything I was doing, I was making myself memorable. I was developing relationships and collaborating really well so that others were talking about the work I was doing even when I wasn’t in the room.
Now, I create opportunities for Black women, Latino women, Asian women and Indigenous women at Google to come together and connect within their communities. We started with large summit events for each community and kept up the momentum generated by those events with consistent programming.
For many of these women, they may be the only person of color on their team. By creating opportunities that don’t naturally exist for them to come together, it creates a safe space at work where they can connect with others who have similar lived experiences, have conversations and build a support system that allows them to thrive.” — As told to Erin Lewis