“My team knew my technical aptitude and that I could solve problems and work with customers, but they didn’t know the real me.”

For Customer Success Account Manager and Blacks at Microsoft Chief of Staff Iona Wilson, finally showing up as her true authentic self, helped her see her full potential — and created a safe space for other Black women. 

My road to bringing my full self to work started around seven years ago. Before joining Microsoft, I had an internship where a mentor advised me to grow a tough skin. She told me that when someone offends me, I had three choices: to go in a corner and cry; fight back; or just let it roll off your back. She recommended I choose the latter, and for years, that’s exactly how I conducted myself in the workplace. As a result, I wore a mask every day from that point on.

By the time I landed at Microsoft 22 years ago, I was a full-on chameleon. I’d say, for my first 10 years here, unbeknownst to my team, I hid my true self. My team knew my technical aptitude and that I could solve problems and work with customers, but they didn’t know the real me.

Then one day, something clicked for me. I think it was fatigue. I was tired of doing my job and doing the job of hiding behind this tough skin. It was then that I started to finally trust my team to embrace me as my authentic self. I felt like I owed them that. In all honesty, I began to see quickly that when people were able to see the whole me, my career started to advance faster.

While we’re not a monolith by any means, I think that too often Black women still struggle in corporate spaces with how much of ourselves we can safely bring to work. For one, we feel that we have a short time to be as good at our jobs as colleagues who have been on the job for years, and that we have a very small window for any mistakes. There’s a feeling that we have to show up and get it right immediately and to do it with a smile on our face.

These days, with the mask off, I feel more relatable, and I connect more to my team and our customers. I’m happy I took my own advice and believed that there is no other me so I might as well show up as myself — my full self.

At Microsoft, we’ve really adopted a culture of wanting to help others. For me, it’s important to use my experiences to open up opportunities for Black women. I’ve been working with a small group at Microsoft to mentor other Black women and provide the support necessary to help them flourish. We meet regularly to chat and remind each other that you don’t have to conquer the entire world in five months. It’s a safe space and one that I’m very honored to cultivate.

Inclusion to me is about making space for everyone to have a voice. It’s one thing to be in the room and another to make space for people from all backgrounds. That involves active listening and participation with another person’s perspective and finding ways to incorporate that perspective into your overall mission.

Discover more stories like Iona’s here.