Widen Your Worldview: Understanding Differences for Gain

December 12, 2018

Shameka Brown Barbosa

Shameka Brown Barbosa is a creative director/writer by trade and a woman in the midst of a reinvention. After an unrequited, 17-year love affair with advertising, she’s now working smarter and on her own terms. Although it was unbelievably nerve-wracking at the offset, she has found a way to work remotely, fuel her passions, be present for her family, and dream bigger for herself. Highlights in 2016 have included co-leading the 3% guest blogger effort (thanks for reading, by the way,) contributing to the ADCOLOR Social Media Collective, picking her kids up from school at 3pm, and turning her love of travel into a legit business. When she can find the time, she also really enjoys spontaneous naps. Peruse her storytelling skills at shamekabb.com and connect with her on Twitter.

SPEAKERS: Elana Gorbatyuk, Chief Strategy Officer & Partner, Sid Lee - Naz Arandi, Creative Director, Airbnb

While Elana Gorbatyuk and Naz Arandi had only met two weeks prior as they prepared for this session, it was easy to see that the moment on the 3% stage was kismet. They both shared pictures from their childhood through the session, giving added context to where they’re from, how it has shaped their creative approaches, and why their multicultural backgrounds have made their leadership styles similar. 
Arandi is a “creative mother of unicorns” whose work is ahead of her time. She grew up in Iran with a family whose professions ran the gamut from Generals to Poets. Even at an early age, she was drawn to storytelling. She studied architecture at college in Iran and has since worked on three continents at companies like Ogilvy, Netflix and now, Airbnb.
Gorbatyuk is a thoughtful, caring “all-around, badass woman” who steers strategy for human rights, women-led businesses, and a board of education. She grew up in Soviet Russia where the ability to speak her mind was stunted. All of the houses were wiretapped, so the only place her family could speak freely was in the forest. At a young age, her family left Russia illegally, spending time in Italy, Austria, and eventually settling to Canada. She went on to work around the world as well.
But, despite their cultural differences, they immediately discovered three themes within their personal journeys that impact how they approach their teams and creativity:

1. Engage in Curiosity & Break the Rules
Arandi grew up in a society that wanted her to believe certain dogma and not ask any questions. But, she was raised in family of thinkers and feminists. This created an interesting dichotomy for her. Her father continually encouraged her to be an independent thinker and challenge the status quo. In fact, her innate curiosity still manifests itself at work and in life through her interest in learning about people, their behaviors, and how to tell their stories. Gorbatyuk added that the future must always be approached with curiosity, otherwise you’re just stuck in the past.
2. Lead with Tenacity & Resilience
Growing up in a place where critical-thinking was stunted, Gorbatyuk said you have to be tenacious and lead with purpose. In the workplace, you can take those values, uncover a brand’s belief system, and create against it every day. You can also choose to remove certain words from your vocabulary to move from merely surviving to creatively thriving. For instance, “no” or “impossible” can become “how can we” and “what if we did this?” Removing the fear of being wrong about the future allows you to create space for creativity to thrive. Fortunately for them both, they work for companies that believe you only fail if you never try.
3. Welcome Empathy and Belonging
Gorbatyuk acknowledged that we are living in an empathy deficit. But at Airbnb, Arandi can build teams that exist at the intersection of age, race, background and so much more. As a leader, she cultivates that talent, making sure they understand there’s a way to succeed and stand out. Admittedly, none of this is easy. It’s always challenging to have diverse candidates at every stage of hiring or to extract bias from every business process on a day-to-day basis. It’s hard to encourage your team to start groups that advocate around issues they believe in. But at Airbnb it’s about people. And if we want the stories to be authentic, everyone needs to be invited to the table.
Similarly, Sid Lee is considered a “place misfits fit” where diverse hiring is just the beginning. They have incorporated “Cultural Brokering” into the way they do business. Gorbatyuk said pods are often created, which mix people who have multi-cultural vs mono-cultural experiences, experts vs generalists, etc. When such a diverse group is tasked with problem-solving, they create solutions from multi-cultural perspectives. She added that when you come from a place where you’re not wanted, the feeling of belonging is very visceral and is visible from your body language. So, pay attention.


They wrapped up their poignant conversation in a series of key takeaways:

  • Don’t be afraid to take chances. Status quo is always riskier than change.
  • Stay curious about the future because we are the future at stake.
  • Have the tenacity to put conviction in your brand and voice.
  • Care deeply about others, it won’t be easy but is always worth it.
  • Design the workplace as you would your home.

In closing, they emphasized that if your workplace doesn’t feel like home, you’re not doing it right. To that end, we should all strive to “keep it kind and keep it clean.” Lastly, they shared a very interesting piece of data: If women participate in the workplace at the same rate as men, 26% of the incremental global GDP could be achieved by 2026. It’s up to us to keep creating new lanes of opportunity. After all, we are the future.

In getting to know each other ahead of their session, they allowed their genuine curiosity to take the lead. They were open to getting to know someone new and were rewarded by discovering more similarities than differences. If and when we understand that differences can unite us, we all stand to gain the same.