EPISODE 025
Reframe F.A.I.L.
Michele Heyward, CEO of Positive Hire, is an engineer turned entrepreneur taking on the challenge to help companies recruit & retain BIPOC women engineers, scientists and technical professionals for management roles.

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Host - Monique Mills:   

Hi, everyone, welcome to the Unpolished MBA podcast. In this episode, Michele Heyward talks about her journey from being employed as a civil engineer to helping other women engineers and scientists climb the corporate ladder. You see, she provides them with the support she wishes she had in her career. While we've come a long way as professionals, women still have an uphill battle. And when you add in intersectionality--being a woman and being a person of color, it can become so challenging that you lose your way. So listen in, as Michele shares a bit about her journey, and how entrepreneurship has enabled her to make an impact in the lives of other women.

                     

[00:54]       So Michele, I want to start off this interview asking you, are you an entrepreneur or an employee?


Guest - Michele Heyward:   

[01:00]  I’m an entrepreneur.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[01:01]    Okay, so do you have an MBA or no MBA?


Guest - Michele Heyward:   

[01:05]   No MBA.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[01:06]  Okay. So if you don't mind going through your background, and what kind of led you to being an entrepreneur today?


Guest - Michele Heyward:   

[01:14]   Sure. I have a civil engineering degree undergrad, and then my Master's degree is actually in Industrial Management, which is really more industrial engineering than it is civil engineering or MBA, but it gave me the opportunity to really focus on quality management, operations, HR management. And I really liked that focus over just a straight MBA program. From there, I ended up after grad school doing technical sales. Hated it! Then I went over to construction. I just needed an out. But I ended up on the construction site for 12 years - loved it, killed it, for the most part. Some struggles in there, of course, like anybody's career, but I got to build a power grid.

How many people can literally say, “Hey, you have electricity at your house? Yeah, I did that”?


Host - Monique Mills:   

[02:12]   Right.


Guest - Michele Heyward:   

[02:14]   But if your power goes out, don't blame me, that's your local utility company. I just made sure it got built. I don't do operations. But being a black woman, especially in engineering, it can be very lonely and isolating. And I wasn't the only one who had these same feelings. And going through undergrad and going through National Society of Black Engineers, I could always see other women who look like me. But when it came to corporate spaces, the belief was, “There's just not a lot of you,” as opposed to “It's a culture issue and not a pipeline issue.” Meaning, if you create workplaces where we feel we belong, where we are valued, we will stay, and the numbers will grow. And that's what led me to entrepreneurship and starting my company Positive Hire.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[03:03]   So that's what Positive Hire does? Can you explain a little bit about what you guys do?


Guest - Michele Heyward:   

[03:08]   Sure. We're an early stage tech startup. And really, we do three core functions. One is helping employers with diversity, equity, and inclusion through traditional services. The next part is with the DNI training, it's really focused on retention. Because if you make your culture where people feel they belong, they are more likely to stay. Then on top of that, we do recruiting. And on that recruiting, we can do for traditional recruiting, you can use our job board where you can find a talent that you say you can't find. And literally, we use some of the same tools other recruiters do, but we go to places a lot of employers don't value like historically black colleges and universities. And we provide the third part, which is something a lot of employers don't provide, which is professional development. And in doing that, we're able to build community with women employers say they can't find, to really help them bridge their technical expertise with the leadership skills, negotiation skills, conflict resolution skills that an employer is not providing, but just telling them, “Oh, just keep working hard, you'll get a promotion” when it's really not that. They really need additional skills to help marry the two so that they are a more effective leader within an organization.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[04:28]  So you said that you’re an early stage tech startup, is there a tech component to what you guys do?


Guest - Michele Heyward:   

[04:33]   Sure. So what we do on the back end is really take the experiences of our women to help them predict what is the best fit employer for them. Right now, you can go to Glassdoor and you can read feedback about an employer. But the problem is when you have less than 4% of engineers are black, Latina and indigenous women, who out of that 100 feedback was that one woman? And then you don't know if she was married like you, had two kids like you. And so it’s so many differentiators in that that really helps us determine when an employer is a good fit for you, depending on so many different factors as a woman.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[05:15]  That's very smart. So yeah, you definitely provide value on the women’s side through the use of that technology. That's really cool. I have to go back to where you said you hated sales. So you now know that entrepreneurship is, once you have a product, everything else is marketing and sales. So what's different about having to do sales now, like close deals now versus in the past? Have you come to enjoy sales or accept it?


Guest - Michele Heyward:   

[05:48]   I would say what's really different now [is] before, I was just sitting inside, and it was somebody else's product. I literally was selling uninterruptible power supplies. And people today still don't know what that is. This is back in ‘04. So now I'm selling them on a service, on a technology that I'm passionate about, that I’m creating and I'm building. And even on the other side of that, I have a whole community that's passionate and that are champions for what I'm building and so it's a completely different feeling every day. It's hard for me to go to sleep at night because I want to keep working, but I know I have to get up to do sales calls and go out and do prospecting and find leads for the company. But it's really a different feeling because not only is it something I'm passionate about, but I own it through from the beginning to the end, from the successes to the failures, they all belong to me.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[06:48]     And you're okay with that. That's right.


Guest - Michele Heyward:   

[06:51]   Exactly. Always okay with that. I literally have to reframe failure to meaning-- I actually did a virtual summit on this, it’s the foundation to advance, improve, and lead. And when you look at fail I should say, I reframed fail, and really what it is, if you look at it, those components and you're learning from it, it’s not the end, it's truly the beginning of a new learning experience.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[07:25]   Absolutely. And having that type of framework as a reminder as you go through this journey as an entrepreneur is critical because it's definitely very easy to kind of get some days where you're like, “Wait a minute, is this what I want to continue doing or not? Because it gets tough, right?


Guest - Michele Heyward:   

[07:43]   Exactly. I just say on the hardest days, literally, “God is good” because the hardest days that I’m really like, “You know what? Let me look at this job description for myself, I think I can do this,” I will literally get a message or a LinkedIn or an Instagram DM or an email saying, “Thank you,” from a woman, whether it was mindset shift, feeling empowered, finding a new job, getting a promotion. And it happens, it does not fail. I hit that point like once a year, like, “I'm going to quit.” Someone's like, “Once a year? How did you get through the other 364 days?” For whatever reason, it’s been once a year I usually get to that point, and I get a message without fail, and that's what keeps me going. It’s like, “Okay, it's really working.” Because sometimes you're doing the work and you don't see the successes. And a lot of times, you don't stop to really say, “Oh, wait, I did get two inbound calls.”


Host - Monique Mills:   

[08:44]   Yes!


Guest - Michele Heyward:   

[08:45]   Because you’re mad about the 40 outbound sales calls and emails and your cadence not working. But you got an inbound, so something is working, right? So you focus on the 40 that didn't come that you think are dead, as opposed to the two that came in. And so just really reframing that has to change as well as a founder.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[09:04]   Yeah, just the motivation to keep going is something that I think a lot of people don't realize entrepreneurship involves. They always say, “Oh, you make it look easy and effortless.” And you got folks on Clubhouse now and they're talking about, “All you got to do is X, Y and Z.” And then you have LLC Twitter, I guess, as they call it, and they're telling people to set up LLCs regardless. But honestly, I do think there is a future in everyone actually operating as their own business in some way. Of course, corporations are going to always need worker bees, but I even think the way that looks is going to change in the future. And I can't quite predict exactly what that will look like but I have some inkling and it starts with people like you who you have this skill set, you have this product, you have this… basically customer base already that an employer would love to have access to and have you run the show, the DNI show. So it makes sense for them to hire someone like you, but basically as your LLC versus you as an employee.


Guest - Michele Heyward:   

[10:19]   Exactly. We do offer that as a service. Well, service as a service like we will be your DEI team internal to your organization, or whatever time period because there is a need. And they literally have an HR ops person who is like, “I'm just trying to get people onboarded and payroll done and an employee handbook up and running,” they don't have the bandwidth to really do it. And so we come in and help them get set up and structured. And that really helps a lot of organizations, especially their first year trying to build out a DEI program.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[10:55]   And Positive Hire from what I've seen online, and you can correct me if I'm wrong, you've been able to build a community of people that you keep engaged through events. You just mentioned one, through events, webinars, just other activities. Most recruiting done at companies or HR departments, they may have a job description that goes up, and then if people don't get the job, they tell them to go away. They don't continue to nurture and develop a community of people who could potentially be employees, but you do. So you're like an employee database, potential employee database all the time. So it makes you very, very valuable in what you do. So as a fellow woman in STEM, I appreciate the work that you do.


Guest - Michele Heyward:   

[11:42]   Thank you.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[11:43]     Hang in there.


Guest - Michele Heyward:   

[11:44]   I'm trying. You don't know what the market is going to think of what you're creating, especially early on. And I would say I was probably about one year from what the idea of Positive Hire was when I had my first call with a Fortune 500. They haven't become a customer yet. And the VP of talent acquisitions was like, “You do everything.” And he literally just broke down like, “You train them, so you prepare them, you get them recruited and hired, and you help the organization.” He understood the vision of what I was building out. And it really was interesting because it's the first time I had a white man look at my brochure and really understand the totality of what I was building was not just recruitment, but it was literally the employee lifecycle. It was from the recruitment to the retention, the career advancement. And then I don't do the retirement part but that piece in the middle is really what's harder for a lot of employers, which is that retention, and that career growth. And that's really what we focus on and I think that's a really huge missing piece in a lot of organizations.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[13:02]   Wow. Well, thank you for what you do, and I appreciate you sharing a little bit about your backstory and how you can help others on the Unpolished MBA podcast. Thank you for joining us.


Guest - Michele Heyward:   

[13:13]   Thank you. It's been great.


(music)


Host - Monique Mills:   

[13:18]          Well, that's it. So what did you think? Michele is a fellow engineer, and we've even had similar experiences in the energy industry on construction sites. As you can probably tell from the tone of this interview, I for one am grateful for Michele's impact on the world, and her ability to make it her business to keep women in STEM fields. While science, technology, engineering and math is not for everyone, there are many talented people where it is their calling. And my hope is that this podcast shared one resource to help you hold on to your STEM dreams.


Thank you for listening to the Unpolished MBA podcast. To hear more episodes or to request to become a guest, please visit unpolishedmba.com.

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