One of the greatest things about Momentum is the powerful alumnae network. Periodically we interview these amazing women about their experience in our program.
Brittney graduated from the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a degree in Communications Management/Business Management in 2010.
Brittney began her career as a program and compliance specialist for the Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity and later joined Virginia College as a Student Career Development Coach. She joined Birmingham Business Alliance in 2015 as a Program Manager, Workforce Development. And in 2019, Brittney began at Protective Life as a Corporate Recruiter and transitioned into her role as a Diversity & Inclusion specialist in January of 2021.
As a Diversity & Inclusion Specialist at Protective Life, Brittney Smith partners with HR & business leaders to develop and implement D&I strategy and programming designed to promote inclusion and increase diverse representation across the organization. She also leads Protective Life’s D&I outreach efforts, including establishing recruitment partnerships with colleges, universities, and professional organizations and leading Protective Life’s Summer Internship Program team.
Brittney is a board member of the Jefferson County Public Education Foundation Board of Directors, as well as a member of the Rotaract Club of Birmingham. She is a former board member of Better Basics Inc. as well as an inaugural member of Momentum’s first Upward cohort.
What did you gain from your Momentum experience?
Relationships. I had the opportunity to meet so many incredible women who are making an impact in Birmingham. Some of them even went on to become friends, which is something I count as my greatest gain. Another thing that contributed to my Momentum experience was the specific professional season I was in. There’s a point in every career where you have achieved quite a bit, but there’s still much more to go in terms of navigating the journey and taking ownership of your career, and Momentum helped me take more control over my career journey.
What is one piece of leadership advice you have been given that has helped you in your career?
Early on in my career, someone shared with me a piece of advice that still applies no matter what stage of your career you’re in, and that’s the need to trust that your God-given ability will always make room for you. If you give your best in whatever position you’re in, do right by people, and be authentic, the right opportunity will always come to you. When I think about people that have given me advice I think it’s especially important, that when the door of opportunity is opened you’re ready to walk through it, and also leave the door open for other people to follow.
If you knew then what you know now, what would you tell your 18-year-old self?
The first thing I would say to my younger self is that success is a journey, and never compare that journey to others. The other thing I would add would be to learn at every stage and step of your career. No matter how difficult the job or the season may be, there is always something to learn.
What challenges do you think the next generation of women leaders faces?
The first thing that came to mind would be balance. In the new normal of work, more and more companies are allowing people to work remotely, though that’s a huge plus, it increases the difficulty of drawing an important line between work and home. Both men and women have different home priorities, but it is especially true for women.
The second thing that came to mind is connectivity. Relationships are incredibly important and it’s much harder to fully connect in a gratifying way in a virtual world. Women need to find ways to be intentional and overcome that obstacle to build and maintain relationships as we move away from traditional work experiences.
What do you think organizations need to do differently for more women to rise into executive roles?
Mckinsey & Co. produced a report in partnership with the Lean In organization back in 2019. According to the report, for every 100 men hired or promoted into a first-time manager role, only 72 women are hired into that same position. These numbers are even lower for women of color. That’s a gap. When I think about potential solutions, I immediately think of sponsorship. Companies have the opportunity to consider putting more thought into building out a framework for sponsorship specifically for women and underrepresented minorities. Most people are willing to mentor, and I think that mentoring is an incredible opportunity, but women need sponsors, advocates, people willing to invite us to the table and have our voices heard to truly experience growth.
What three words do you think should characterize every leader?
The first one is integrity. Good leaders should do what they say they’re going to do. People should be able to trust their words. A good leader will do the right thing, even when no one is looking. The second word that comes to mind is vision. I think the ability to cast a vision as well as bring others into that vision and help them see how they fit into the vision is a sign of a good leader. The last thing I associate with a good leader is empathy. Good leaders can connect with people and share the feelings of others.
How do you manage your career, home, and community life?
This is something I am in the process of restructuring how I balance all of those. One of the things I have been doing is making sure I know my priorities. For me, my priority is my family. I always want to be the person that thinks of my family and uses them as the drive for my success, not the other way around. One of the things that helps me balance my priorities, which I learned through one of the Momentum courses is taking a survey of all of my activities and responsibilities and ranking them based on what I can control. It’s also important to take the time during the day to accomplish the things that I need to accomplish so that it doesn’t carry over into my personal life.
What advice do you have for aspiring leaders?
My advice would be, talent is a start but it’s not enough. Sometimes we focus so much on the base talent of intellect or creativity and that’s great. What’s equally as important is development. Invest in your development. Develop your environment, and that includes your network, your skillset, and your character.