Ingrid couldn’t stay afloat in a swimming pool, but the eighth grader wanted to learn to swim, and wanted to be able to participate in swimming activities with her friends.
She signed up for second-period swimming class—with the teacher’s blessing—even though it was not a beginner’s class, even though it meant spending the rest of the school day with dripping hair.
Her presence in the class meant that she occupied a swimming lane normally occupied by more accomplished swimmers, and it caused some grumbling among some of the experienced swimmers.
Months went by, with Ingrid in the shallow end of the pool trying to float. The fall semester trickled by and she still couldn’t swim, still couldn’t float.
In April it happened.
“I floated,” recalled Ingrid Saunders Jones, keynote speaker during the Sept. 24, 2009, Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Networking Luncheon in Washington, D.C. “Everyone rejoiced. You would have thought that I had climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro.”
From there she learned to swim, and by the time Ingrid graduated from high school four years later, she was co-captain of her swim team.
“My teacher gave me a lane, a lane that helped me fulfill my aspiration, a lane that others initially thought I shouldn’t have. … A lane that I wasn’t particularly comfortable in for a long time.
“And that, my friends, is what I think networking is all about: receiving lane access from other people and helping others find a lane,” said Jones, who is the Coca-Cola Co.’s senior vice president of global community connection and chairperson for the Coca-Cola Foundation.
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) sponsored the networking luncheon for the CBC Foundation’s 38th Annual Legislative Conference. The CBC Foundation, which is composed of African-American members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, produced the four-day conference, which concluded Sept. 26, 2009.
Pamela J. Green, SPHR, SHRM’s chief U.S. membership officer, served as moderator for the luncheon. SHRM President and CEO Laurence G. O’Neil, SHRM Board member Steven A. Jarrett, SHRM Chief Global Member Engagement Officer China Miner Gorman and members of SHRM’s government affairs staff also attended the luncheon.
Networking and HR have always been intertwined, Green said, pointing out that both are about finding the people who support, understand, empathize, guide, encourage and collaborate and are honest with you.
“Networking and HR are about building the relationships that are the core of your success,” she said. “This year’s event could not have come at a more critical moment for our country,” Green added, noting that HR professionals often are in the forefront of issues most important to the country.
“With our economy struggling and high unemployment rates, networking is so important, not only [because it] help[s] us advance in our current career, but also to help those of us who are transitioning to new opportunities,” she noted. “What better time for us to be communicating our strengths, and what better time for all of us to be networking.”
“The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation is an influential group that represents an important constituency,” said SHRM President and CEO Laurence O’Neil. “SHRM and the CBC Foundation share a common goal to ensure that the U.S. has a workforce prepared to compete in the 21st Century. Our sponsorship of the CBC Foundation networking lunch is one stop along the path toward making that goal a reality.”
During her keynote speech, Jones wove a tale of her career path, a path that has been filled with what might appear to be happy coincidences but that Jones credits not only to hard work but also to the helping hands of others she encountered along her way—people who opened lanes for her.
Her career has included serving three years as executive assistant to Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, serving two years as legislative analyst for the president of the Atlanta City Council, serving as a former executive director of the Detroit-Wayne County Child Care Coordinating Council and teaching in the public schools of Detroit and Atlanta.
“During each step along my career path, I’ve viewed it as an opportunity to watch and learn from others, to continue to push the edges of my own comfort zone," Jones said.
Her experiences, she believes, reflect a quote she shared from civil rights activist and former Atlanta mayor, congressman and U.N. ambassador Andrew J. Young Jr.
“My life has unfolded around me in ways that fill me with awe and wonder,” she quoted Young as saying. “Most of the successful men and women I have known can point to moments of destiny in their lives. … These simple decisions led to the multiple coincidences in one’s life. … In each instance there was a person who made a difference.”
Jones urged attendees to brand themselves for success, and in doing so to reflect on what their brand represents—their work ethic, fairness, trustworthiness, dependability and pleasantness.
“Your brand stands for something in the minds of your friends and the people you meet. Ask yourself, what about you makes you different. What is it about you that makes people want to help you,” she said.
“Take the time to find the right people to give you your lane, and be sure when you can help somebody in their lane that you do it. It will come back to you.”
Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News.