Valeisha Butterfield Jones is no stranger to bossing up through career transitions. Sis has resume receipts that put the proof in the pudding of more than two decades of leadership. Let's see: She's been the global head of inclusion for Google, served as the national youth vote director for the Obama for America campaign, worked for the U.S. Department of Commerce, and served as the executive director at Rush Communications (think, Def Jam, Baby Phat, Phat Farm, and Hip-Hop Summit Action Network).
She was also the national director of diversity and inclusion for the Alzheimer's Association and was an innovator at HBO before that. Oh, and let's not forget she co-founded the Women in Entertainment Empowerment Network (WEEN), a nonprofit coalition that ensures adequate representation of women of color in entertainment roles that has impacted the lives of more than 80,000 young women across the globe.
Yes, Butterfield Jones has been booked, blessed, and busy.
Now, she's become a pioneer, serving as the first-ever chief diversity officer at the Recording Academy. (And she'll soon take on the role of co-president this August.) The organization is the driving force behind the Grammy awards and initiatives like MusiCares, which gave more than $20 million to aid creatives impacted by the pandemic.
"We have an opportunity right now to be the change that we want to see. That's one key goal," Butterfield Jones said in an exclusive interview with xoNecole. "The second goal is equitable outcomes for everyone. I'm always thinking about who doesn't have a seat at the table. Whose voice is not being represented and how do we lift as we climb and bring those voices and perspectives into the room? The last part is if you can see it, you can believe it. I think it's important to have Black women in roles like this, so I don't for a second take this responsibility for granted."
"I think it's important to have Black women in roles like this, so I don't for a second take this responsibility for granted."
xoNecole caught up with Butterfield Jones, knee-deep into getting in the thick of ensuring inclusivity and diversity in her new role, to talk about how she's been able to navigate the now-normal of working, connecting, and thriving during a pandemic and how today's young women can reach the career success they seek despite the current challenges.
xoNecole: You have successfully worked in a variety of industries, from tech to entertainment, to politics. What has been the common thread in your journey?
Valeisha Butterfield Jones: I've always said that I want to make sure that I leave no gift behind when I leave this earth. Impact and purpose are two of my core values and the drivers for me to make those decisions. It's been this nice 360-moment for me to return back to entertainment, but it's always been just part of my core and my passion.
It's been difficult for many women to make career moves, especially during a pandemic when graduates weren't even able to have normal undergrad experiences. How can we really go for what we want while overcoming the challenges?
I don't know a single person that hasn't felt like a fish out of water or that imposter syndrome. I know that, for sure I feel it whenever I make a big change. You're not alone. We all go through that in some shape or form, but do it anyway. So often fear can be the greatest motivator if you just use it to your advantage. I've now learned that whenever I feel the butterflies or I have the temptation to shrink in the room when I take on a new role, I've got to just really lean into that and use it as the fuel. I'm actually afraid, now, of the day that I start a new role and I have no butterflies. It just shows that you're alive and that you're human and you care. And don't lose the humanity of who you are in all these new positions and transitions.
"So often fear can be the greatest motivator if you just use it to your advantage. I've now learned that whenever I feel the butterflies or I have the temptation to shrink in the room when I take on a new role, I've got to just really lean into that and use it as the fuel."
Also, you've still got to set healthy boundaries and do it up front. We always have a tendency, especially as women, to want to do a great job, to over-perform, to over-deliver, however, don't do it at your own expense—the expense of your mental health. I've learned now to have mentors and the importance of sponsors—people who are going to say your name when you're not in the room. I've learned the importance of knowing when to just shut the computer off, put the phone down and be present in my real life outside of work.
You have an amazing group of power women friends and colleagues in your corner, and we all know that these sorts of connections help us all sustain ourselves in building careers. How have you been able to keep in touch and continue to connect?
I'm really blessed to have the most beautiful and amazing sister circle of just women who go hard. I'll also say that [having] a good friend means being a good friend and by that I mean so much as you receive you have to give. So for the pandemic, it's been hard, because we haven't been able to physically see each other, but whenever there's a job opp, we send it to each other in our group chat. We share therapist recommendations. We share in-home, Covid-friendly massage recommendations or even just offer a listening ear when we need it. It's nice to have friends who don't feel pressure but we lean on each other when we need it most.
Whenever someone needs to meet someone, we facilitate the introduction if we have the ability to. It just means taking that extra step as a friend to make sure whatever your sister needs, if you're able to, you provide it. Also, it's giving one another space and grace.
This has been great! Now, what's your advice for young women to work toward long and sustainable careers, particularly in entertainment?
First, you must have a bias for action. A lot of people talk a good game and can give a beautiful story around the work they've done, but it's not until you're able to really go into an organization and demonstrate that bias for action. It makes you stand out and become undeniable to the fabric of the company. It sounds simple, but it's not. It means waking up― every day―with that hustle, that mentality, and that go-getter approach to the work―every single day.
The second is innovation. The entertainment industry is constantly evolving and tech has shown us that we have to stay current, and stay fresh in our skills. All the time I'm participating in new workshops and taking new trainings and just trying to make sure I'm leveling up at every stage of my career still. We want to make sure our skills still match up to what our industry still needs.
"A lot of people talk a good game and can give a beautiful story around the work they've done, but it's not until you're able to really go into an organization and demonstrate that bias for action. It makes you stand out and become undeniable to the fabric of the company. It sounds simple, but it's not. It means waking up―every day―with that hustle, that mentality, and that go-getter approach to the work―every single day."
The last one―which is probably the most important one―is self-care and taking care of your mental health, your physical health, and your heart in this very competitive male-dominated industry. So often we operate as robots―getting it done― and then we look up one day and realize that our health has declined as a result. Taking care of your heart and your mental and physical health, taking breaks, using your vacation days, and just getting centered [is important]. Get a therapist. I really believe we all have to treat our health with more intention, especially during this pandemic and even coming out of it.
For more of Valeisha, follow her on Instagram.
Featured image by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images