5 Lessons from My Interview with Mia Mends

Mia Mends

I’ve always found it inspiring to hear success stories from leaders and the challenges they’ve had to overcome to get to where they are.

That’s why I was excited to interview Mia Mends, Global Chief DEI Officer with Sodexo. But what makes this interview particularly special is that I’ve known Mia for over thirty years and during that time I’ve observed and admired the way she has navigated her incredibly successful career.

Yet there was so much I didn’t know about the challenges she’s overcome, how she manages her own fears and uncertainties and her philosophy on being a leader and building teams.

In this webinar, we dive into Mia’s background, “how she got to where she is”, tips she would give to those who are looking to build their own careers, and much more.

(You can watch the full interview here)

Here are my top five takeaways from my conversation with Mia Mends, Global Chief DEI Officer with Sodexo:


1. Let imposter syndrome compel you to do your best.

Some of the most successful executives, athletes, and performers struggle with imposter syndrome – that feeling of not being good enough or worrying that others will “find you out.”

Even after an extremely successful career, Mia still manages her own “imposter syndrome noise”. “Even in business school, I called my parents two days in and I said, “They made a mistake. I don’t belong here. I’m the dumbest one,” she says.

But instead of denying and ignoring those feelings, Mia meets the fear head-on and she believes it has actually helped her career. Mia shares: “It has compelled and obliged me to always work harder than everybody else, because I’m so sure that I’m not good enough. And so I over-prepare. I read everything. I study everything.”

“[Imposter syndrome] is always there, but what I’ve learned is to just walk through it. Walk through the fear and let it drive you. That’s one of the secrets, if you will, to my success. I always do the hard work,” she says.

The imposter syndrome also lessens over time, Mia explains; “I remind myself that after 23 years into my career, I didn’t just get here by chance.” She has the same advice for others. “Have a little faith in yourself.” 


2. Be authentic to who you are in your career.

From Oprah to Magic Johnson, Mia has rubbed elbows with some of the world’s most famous figures. I asked Mia about any common threads she’s observed that make these leaders who they are. 

Mia was quick to respond. “Easy…authenticity. What you see is exactly what you get,” she says. “In particular, when you think about Oprah and how she has built her business and brand, there has to be a certain level of alignment with who you are, what you believe, and what you consistently project.” 

According to Mia, you can only give the world the gifts that come most naturally to you. And so it’s about tapping into who you are. 

“Invest in self-discovery. You can not show yourself if you don’t know yourself,” Mia shares. “I have learned to be very clear about why I’m doing what I do. Answering questions like “Why am I investing my time? And does what I’m doing align with my values?” 

“Find your “why” and know who you are,” she summarizes.


3. Understand DEI in the workplace to support the careers of others. 

As Global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer for Sodexo, Mia is an expert and proponent for DEI – diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

Mia breaks down the concept. “Diversity is about who’s in the room. We are operating in a diverse world. That’s a fact. It’s what you do with that fact that creates this notion of inclusion and equity,” she says. 

Similarly, inclusion is about creating workspaces that promote a sense of belonging. It’s answering the questions; do employees feel good when they show up to the workplace? Does their life feel validated? 

According to Mia, “Equity is about ensuring that the right voices are at the table. And are you recognizing and rewarding those voices to get to equality?”

Equity is also about acknowledging that there are traditionally underserved, underrepresented populations, and to achieve equality, you have to overinvest in these groups (e.g. women, people of color, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ). 

That’s the technical DEI explanation. But, essentially, says Mia, this work is about human connection and empathy. Ask yourself:

  • Am I taking a moment to understand the lived experience of my colleague and the pain that they might have lived through and that they bring that to the workplace? 
  • Am I honoring and giving space for those experiences? 
  • And then am I uplifting by being an ally? 

Finally, when you see things that do not feel right or aren’t in congruence with your values, are you using your voice and your platform to speak out? 

“This work is about humanity, and it’s about empathy and compassion and care,” Mia says.


4. Demonstrate technical competency and soft skills in an interview. 

Over her career, Mia has interviewed and hired many candidates. She has particular qualifications and intangible values that she looks for.

“Technical competence is the bare minimum. It’s table stakes,” Mia shares.

She looks for humility, vulnerability, and integrity. “Other skills you can teach, but I want people in my workplace who are not afraid to ask for help and who are not afraid to fail, and who are committed to helping others,” she says. Leadership characteristics are also important.

According to Mia, “One of my favorite questions to ask, because it reveals a lot about people, is “Talk to me about your gaps. What are you not good at?” I think the way people answer this tells you a whole lot about who they are.”


5. Be your own advocate for pay equity as a female employee. 

Even in 2021, gender pay gaps still exist and much progress still needs to be made.

Mia emphasizes the need for HR leaders to proactively ensure that there is pay equity, but she also believes women should feel confident in who they are when they make the ask…and be willing to walk away if their value is not being met.

Salary negotiations might be difficult, but they’re worth it. “That’s what I learned in this last job,” Mia shares. “I wanted the job, but I was also okay if I didn’t get it. In that moment, I became the shrewdest negotiator. And, lo and behold, I got everything I asked for.”

“So I learned a lot about just the power of asking: asking on your behalf and being your own advocate,” she adds.


Connect with Mia…

For more networking advice and insights into Mia’s career, check out the webinar and my full interview with Mia Mends here. You can also connect with Mia on LinkedIn here.

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