Jackie: Thanks For listening to Diversity Beyond the Checkbox. My guest today is Denice Torres entrepreneur, corporate executive, podcaster, mentor, speaker. Denice, thank you so much for being with us today.
Denice: Oh, Jackie, I'm so excited. you know, after we had our first conversation had that, this woman's so cool. And I'm really happy to be on here. And it's, it's really great to see what you’re doing.
Jackie: Oh, thank you, Denice. I felt the same way after our first conversation. And I'm so excited about jumping in and having a longer discussion and, and finding out a little bit more about you and your experience.
So Denice, I always like to start by asking our guests to tell us about themselves. you know, your family, your background, your identity, what would you like to share?
Denice: Well, I’ll give you a quick snapshot. So I grew up in Gary Indiana, which is a steel town. My dad worked in the steel mills. I kind of grew up with a fire under my ass for sure, of like wanting to get out of Gary. So I was actually a janitor in the steel mill while I was in high school. And that definitely shaped me in so many ways. And I kind of went on from that job to be a janitor in a hospital. So I've had all this experience being a janitor. So my motivation, I didn't exactly know what was out there in the world.
I just knew what I didn't want. And so that kind of started my big adventure, that very much was motivated by fear. I just have to find something else. And, but the cool thing of growing up and, you know, 13 years of Catholic school, and I was blessed with some things that have helped me on this journey.
And one is a sense of humor of being able to find, you know, and no matter what's going on, being able to find some humor in it or a way to find some joy on the journey. I started off, thinking that I had to be a success to be able to take care of myself. And I wasn't sure how the hell that was going to happen.
Jackie: Oh, that's awesome. And Denice, you've held some really big and impressive roles, right? Within fortune 500 companies. But as you said, no one starts there, right. You find out kind of what you don't want to do. So tell us a little more about that journey, if you would, and how you got started, you know, past the janitor roles and, and certainly, you know, as we think about the things that we want to do, one of the first steps is right, figuring out what we don't want, and starting to put those personal guardrails. And that could be professionally, it can be personally. So I love that, but tell us a little about that journey. How did you go from janitor, right, to leading large companies?
Denice: That's the thing, when we look at someone's resume, we see this I'm like, whoa, they went from here to here and it looks like this straight line. And it's usually not that way. And it certainly wasn't for me. One of the best things that could have happened to me early in my life was I didn't make the basketball team in college and oh, I loved basketball.
I loved it. It was my identity and I'm like five foot three. So I played in a small college in Indiana my first year. And then I moved to a bigger school and I didn't make the team. But when I was in school, I was studying, I thought, I want me to be a coach. I'm going to be, you know, something like in the sports arena. When I didn't make the team, I thought, well, I don't want to do this anymore and I went into psychology. And then I discovered that there was a lot to discover about me. So it was one of the best gifts of me, kind of just, you know, trying to wrap my head around who am I.
So from there, I thought, you know what, I'm going to go to law school. I wasn't sure what to do with psychology, but I decided I'm going to go to law school. I graduated, I didn't particularly care for law school, but, and then I went on to practice what I say the longest year of my life. And that was the time that I had to come with grips that wow, I put all this time into this, you know, the pursuit of being a lawyer and I didn't like it and I don't think it liked me.
And, then to say now what? So I took a 50% pay cut and I went and said, you know what, I'm going to go work for United Way, because I think I'm supposed to do something to give back. And then I've thought that's not it either. And then I took a different job and then I discovered it wasn't, because I was in pursuit of this thing of making a difference.
And I realized in my late twenties that it wasn't a job that was going to necessarily help me accomplish what I wanted to accomplish in terms of meaning, but it was my mindset and I had this epiphany. That it wasn't the building, the habitat for humanity or doing, you know, this or doing that, even though those are all great things, but it was my mindset of do good every day, do good every day.
And so once I kind of came upon this, then I felt somewhat freed up to look at things that I was just naturally interested in like healthcare. And so from there I ended up working, I went back and got my MBA because sometimes you have to get additional skills to, you know, to go about and get what you want. Got my MBA and I went to work for a large pharmaceutical company.
Jackie: you know, one of the things Denice that I just want to point out is, you know, and I have a daughter in college, a lot of times these college-age people think they need to have it all figured out, right. And then there's, there's the stress of, you know, in your early twenties, you need to be making decisions for the rest of your life.
And that's not the case, right. And so one of the things that I love to talk about is what's been the journey. And very few times do I ever get like a straight path, there's always these winding roads and doing some things that you liked for a while and, and, you know, life shifts or just realizations about yourself.
And it's so important to remember that it's a journey. And I love that you said joy on the journey. We have to have that, you know, just to, to make it through this life in, in a way that's fun and brings us some happiness. So I love that, but I wanted to make sure that we pointed that out because, you know, I love that, you know, it's almost like kind of a Goldilocks effect, right.
Where you're like, I did this. Don't love that. Don't love that. And then you just found your r path over time. And that's, that's so amazing. Denice, thank you for sharing that.
Denice: And Jackie, what I found was that pain, you know, oftentimes when we feel pain, we think we've got to get rid of the pain.
And the reality is that pain, the angst that we feel, that being unsettled is actually one of the, you know, wonderful motivators in life. And then if we listen to, I feel pain, right? I feel an angst about what I'm doing now, or I feel uncomfortable, I felt unsettled, that listening to that versus trying to push it away is something that I found in, in my life that ended up helping me actually get to places of much greater success in my definition of success and happiness. So listening to the pain.
Jackie: Hmm. That's such good advice. Denice, I want to take a little bit of time and dig into your job at the hospital. I want you to tell us the story of the colored pants and how that relates to inclusion.
Denice: Absolutely. So I'm working at this hospital and. The first summer, I picked up trash in the hospital and actually in the, the operating rooms. The second summer I was in the laundry. And so whatever department you were in, you wore a different color pants. And so the trash part and the doing dishes, red pants, the laundry part, green pants. And when you'd walk down the hall, or if you were in the cafeteria, the red pants, green pants, they were kind of, you know, relegated to different places.
And I found that oftentimes people didn't make eye contact with me and I started to feel, plus I'm in college, I'm young and there's doctors and there's all these people, you know, the nurses going around other healthcare professionals. And I, I definitely fest less than, and at the same time, I thought, well, hey, you know, I'm, I'm going to school.
So I had these conflicting feelings, so I wanted to yell out, I'm not red pants, you know, I’m not green pants, right, I'm going to school. And as I got older, I thought who gives a shit what color pants? And, and also at the same time, I thought to let someone else define me on the basis of what they thought of me on the outside.
The other thing Jackie, that it did for me was as I became a leader, I was so intent on seeing people and where people didn't make eye contact with me, right. I thought I'm making eye contact with everyone. I want people that worked in my organization. I wanted them to be seen and what a privilege it was as a leader to help people know that they matter.
But that really had a, a, a significant, those damn pants, you know, had a significant impact on me, even when I was walking home, you know, cause I'd walk home, you know, walk home in those red pants or green pants, I felt some shame in those pants.
Jackie: That was such an impactful story when I heard it because oftentimes people that aren't marginalized don't understand what that feels like. So putting it in terms of pants, right. We all wear pants and understanding how people react to you based on those pants that people put people in categories and, and boxes based on what they see, right. Even if it's the color of your pants.
Jackie: And they treat you based on what that thing is, right, which is pants. And having that experience and just even hearing the story is so important because it helps us to remember that people do that. And then we're working to, to, you know, make sure that people are thinking beyond that and are fighting against that bias right, and, you know, it's just, you know, it's just another example of bias that, that people have that we, we all have, right, but something as simple as pants, right? The color of your pants, can cause people to treat you differently.
Denice: Yes. And during that time, there was a woman that I worked with and she was probably in her sixties and here I am, you know, maybe 24 years old.
And she told everyone in the department that I was gay. I wasn't even sure I was gay. And I walked in one day and another woman who was always really nice to me, a younger woman, she said to me, oh, you know, Doris told everyone that you're gay. Well, this is back in, you know, many years ago.
And so I thought what the, I couldn't believe it. And my boss came back because I said, why, you know, I said to this woman, like, I don't understand, like, why is this your business? So the boss came and. I said, what's going on over here. And so everyone looked at me and I had to say, well, Doris said I'm gay.
Right, and I had never said those words out of my mouth. And so being in the workplace then to your point, and being so impacted by how other people perceived me, or treated me that really had nothing to do with how I was you know, who I was intentionally trying to be. And, you know, so going back, if you know, we're a people of color, you know, women were these prejudices that people have, the unconscious bias and sometimes very conscious bias.
The pain of that I have felt that pain and in feeling that pain, I will tell you, it has been like energy for me instead of, you know, energy, like, you know, negative. It has been positive energy and game on, game on. And did I feel that way right away? No, but did I grow into that as a superpower? Hell yes.
Jackie: I love that. That is amazing. Denice, let's talk about your time with Johnson & Johnson and growing into your superpower. Just talk to us a little first about your responsibilities there and some of the things that you learned in that role.
Denice: Oh, sure. So, you know, I've spent, you know, 30 years in healthcare and primarily in, you know, pharmaceutical the pharmaceutical healthcare industries, I've worked in, you know the pharmaceutical division of Johnson and Johnson and medical device and also, consumer health.
And before that, I worked for a Lilly, another pharmaceutical company, what I learned during that time, was taking this foray into kind of management and, and we all have that imposter syndrome or many of us do like, oh, and I can’t do this. And I learned by a lot of hard work and then success that yes, I could. And as I, you know, embrace the fact that, hey, you know what, I'm doing a really good job here and inside, I had two of these voices. One voice was that, man, you know what? I could really kick ass here. I should be, you know, a manager. I should be director vice president, president, you know, as time went on.
And then that other side, something would not go right. And I would blow it up into some, you know, huge thing. And I'd say to myself, oh, I hope I'm not fired next week. Right. You know? And so I'd have these two, two things living somewhat, not simultaneously, but maybe within a couple of weeks of each other, for sure depending on what was going on. I realized there was somewhat of this pattern to this, but I had, I started to amass enough success and I started to amass definitely skills and a philosophy for how I was going to manage. So I went from being an individual contributor to a manager, to running businesses, to being president of, you know, multi-billion-dollar companies and, you know, all along the way people would say, did you ever think that, you know, you could do that?
And you know, my sister actually asked me that and I said, you know, yes. I, you know what? I didn't think, no, I didn't know what any of the things we're actually going to be like, but did I envision myself being that way? I did. Did I envisioned myself being, you know, a board member on, you know, multiple, you know, public boards, you know what I did, I did.
And are there times where I thought, well, I'm not going to make it, or this is going to happen, of course, of course. Right, but it's moving through that, moving through because you're going to fall down. You know, I can say I have fallen down many, many times, and there are times when, when we talk about resilience, you know, Jackie often resilience is held up as the shiny, you know, a glamorous, you know, type of power.
I have found resilience to be like Pigpen in Charlie Brown. It's messy, right? It's Haagen Dazs on the couch or whatever, you know, candy of choice. It's a lot, you know, tears. It's talking to people, people talking us through things, and resilience is not something that just happens, hey, yesterday was a really shitty day and today I feel better.
No, it can take days, weeks, and so, you know what, it's that process of getting back up. Getting back up. I had a mantra that I will not be denied the opportunity to be my best self. And that was for me too, that I won't, I won't do it to myself.
Jackie: I love that. Denice, let's talk a little bit about imposter syndrome and how you move through it, as you said, because you know, as many podcasts as I've done, this is a theme with underrepresented women, right. And myself included, right. There are times just frankly and vulnerably that I look at the agenda of speakers, right, and I'm like, why do they want to talk to me? Right. And I've said that, and I've said it out loud and how do we move through it, talk about that.
Denice: You know, Jackie, I think the first thing is to realize this is natural. This is a human nature thing, and if we look up the psychology of the imposter syndrome and who does it impact, you'd see it, you know what it impacts most of us.
And why is that? Well, you know, it's interesting because we will compare ourself to not one person, but a collection of people. And if we say, okay, we're going to put these 10 people together, of course they're going to have all these different skills, right. You say oh, I don't have that skill. Well, the reality is that we have skills and abilities that, you know, other people may or may not have to the level that we do, but what we're doing is comparing ourself. Oh, this person has this and this person has this and this person has this.
And we're looking at the best in all of these individuals versus, you know, just looking at, hey, I have this and this is pretty good, but we tend to undervalue what we do have, and then expect perfection in multiple areas. For instance, in business people go, oh gosh, you know what? I'm not very good at, you know, financial information or I'm not that good at speaking in public or I'm not good.
Well, think about the 10 things we're not good at. And we'll overlook, you know, the 15 things that we're great at. So it's a natural thing we had to get through it just to say, this is natural. Pain is a sign of growth, let's go. But not, you know what not to say, it's not there. It feels that way, but I'm going to keep going anyway. I'm going to keep going anyway.
Jackie: That's so right. And I love that we do, it's the comparison, and we're always comparing the best of someone else and not thinking about what they might be okay at, great at, but that's what we look at in ourselves, that is it, Denice. Thank you for that.
So, Denice you know, you've been able to just climb through the professional ranks. What advice would you give for professionals that are looking to go on that climb, you know, up the corporate ladder that high?
Denice: Sure. I think the first is to embrace the ambition that you have and because you know what, sometimes we're ashamed of that ambition and why should say the first step is to define what is success.
What is success for you and what success for you may be different than what my definition of success was, you know, for me, I was very intent on, did I want to take on bigger roles? Yes. Did I want to make money? Yes. You know what, because I wanted the flexibility and the freedom that, you know, making a good income and being able to save and what that brought.
So I think the, the, you know, the first thing when I, whenever I would try to, if I, you know, went through a tough time and I'd be like, okay, this is good enough, what I'm doing, you know, I should just embrace it. It's good enough. Well, six months later, you know, it was like this ambition was in a bag and it was like trying to punch through.
And so I realized like, hey, I can't stuff, there are times when we have to put things aside because it's a life thing, right? There's health issues. There's whatever, family, and sometimes we have to say, okay, for now, this is what is the most important thing for me. Maybe we just had a child, right, or, you know what, whatever the situation, it could be a really good situation, or it could be a painful situation, someone in the family sick.
But putting that aside, I know that the idea of stuffing ambition, that didn't work for me. And so again, when having times of doing that, so I am embraced, you know, embrace this, that this thought that what success was for me. And I wrote this down early in my career that, you know, the idea of making a difference.
And the other thing was that I would not hold myself back. That, you know, I would treat myself and others with respect and dignity. And then the idea of, you know, taking on bigger roles, making more money, being like really self-sufficient. Those things were important, and then I found step by step that I could do these things. What I also realized was that often what'll happen is we'll say I'm not playing the game and I'm not playing the game. And then you say, well, what's, what's the game. Well, you know, you have to network and you have to do this.
And I think, okay, and this is what I learned to. Guess what, it’s the game of life, because I don't care if you're at the PTA, you work at a grocery store, you work at a whatever, fill in the blank. It's human dynamics. So we either decide to get in the game of life, not treat it so negatively. And then we realized, well, what is this game?
It's a game of connection. And so moving up, a couple of things is ask for what you want. And two, you got to get connected with other people because you could be the smartest, the most, you know, hard working. Will that be enough? No, unless you discover something. Yeah, but that won't be enough. You know what ends up definitely being a, you know, a critical element of career success.
At least the way that I defined it was the ability to connect with others in order to get the type of opportunities I wanted. And I found too, Jackie, that helping others, when we can help others is also a big part of it. If we're always asking, well, what about me? What about me? But if we're thinking I'm going to give right, I'm going to give whenever I can, someone needs my help, I'm going to try to help them.
You know, not to the point of exhaustion. But I found that, you know, being a giver, sometimes you get burned in the short term, but I found that to be a really good philosophy, as well as asking for what I want.
Jackie: Absolutely great advice there. And then. You know, on the other side of that coin, you describe yourself your personal leadership style as leading with love. How can we do that as leaders and talk about what that means? How do we find that?
Denice: I'm like so passionate about this and we think, oh, it's just being soft. No. What is love? Love is about trust, right? Love is about expectations. So if we think about that, and so oftentimes in this definition of caring for people and wanting what's good for people, we forget, part of the equation is actually accountability.
So leaning with love also means I'm going to hold others accountable and they should hold me accountable too, right. Hold me accountable for values, hold me accountable for promises. And as part of, my leadership philosophy is keep your promises, right? Keep your promises, and that sometimes we're going to fall down.
Sometimes we're going to fall short, but then that falls into another one is be honest, right, be transparent. But also, leading with love is to me, when people come to work, they want meaning, right. They want to know that what they are doing matters, that somebody cares, genuinely cares. And so my philosophy has been to try to be the leader that demonstrates those things.
Today, what we're seeing as we talk about the great challenge that we're having of people leaving their jobs, the great resignation, right? And so you said, well, why is this happening? Is it, is it money only? And if you look at the research, it's not, it's feeling respected. Its feeling like somebody cares, you know, that and understands me, sees the color pants that I have on.
And, you know, for the good, because to me, you know, diversity is about, great, we got all different color pants, shirts, hair, whatever. But we sometimes use the word that we're going to accept it. And I call bullshit on that. The, you know, acceptance is bullshit. And instead what we have to say as I will seek out all those magnificent arrays of colors, right?
How, whatever that means personality and you know, our background or, you know, whatever that heck it is. Because that to me is what makes teams successful when we get the secret that bringing people together, different ideas, ways of looking at things and we embrace conflict, but not, not conflict in a bad way, but hey, different challenges. I see that differently to me, that's where power comes from.
Jackie: Denice, one of the most impactful moments of your life was around your dad's retirement. Can you tell us that story?
Denice: Yeah, absolutely. So I'm, you know, in my twenties and my dad had retired, like a forced retirement in his fifties, I think it was like 53 and the steel mill had kind of gone south.
And I was thinking I was sitting on the couch and I'm talking to my dad and I wanted to know, what did he learned over the last several years? And I said to my dad, hey do you remember like the last day of, you know, working at the steel mill? And he said, yeah. And I said, did you turn around and look at that big arch, you know, dad that big arch, when you walk out of this you know, it's like a big city.
And he said, yeah, I said, did you say anything to yourself? And my dad, few words, he says, yeah. And I said, well, what did you say? And he said, I said to myself, what the hell was that all about? That's its dad? That's it? Cause I'm thinking, hey, there's going to be some great, you know, insight here, I'll tell you it did have the opposite.
Uh, it had the intended effect or the whole fact that I had, because I thought, I don't want to say that when my time comes, I want to be able to say that I did all these things, right. And so, I went into my room and I wrote down like these six things that I wanted to be able to say some of them, which I shared with you.
And that definitely, it scared me. What my dad said to me, scared me, cause I thought this is what life is going to be. And so oftentimes I would, you know, as I had the privilege of leading teams, I'd say people would try to separate work from the rest of their life. No you can't because you know, this week is going to turn into a month, is going to turn into, you know, a quarter is going to turn into a year or five years and they'll turn out to be your life.
And so don't put what we think of life on the back burner, because it's happening right now. And we may never get the chance to have that other part of life that we think is going to, you know, avail us of the opportunity to, to do everything we want. And I'd say, no, you know what?
Today's the day, right? Today's the day to do something glorious to, you know, to do whatever it is, but to experience, to experience joy, to find elements of joy. I think to look through the lens of, to the extent that we can, it's not possible every day or sometimes a week, but try to look through the lens of gratitude.
And, you know, Jackie, I think I shared with you, you know, something that had the most profound impact on me was when I was pregnant with our daughter. My wife and I been together almost 25 years now. And when I was pregnant and this, you know, thinking about COVID, I think about this all the time, I was sitting next to a guy who was really sick, and he was coughing, you know, and I was like, hey, maybe you should go home.
Within like 24, 36 hours, I get sick. And then our daughter got sick, right? So she's, I'm 30 weeks pregnant. Well, no one thought she was going to live as emergency C-section. She had all these issues and all this stuff and, and I just wanted to be her mommy. I just wanted to be that girl's mommy. And I was praying, you know, let me be this girl’s mom, whatever. And miraculously, after being sick for quite some time, she started to get better, but she, you know, today she's 21. She has cerebral palsy. She's, non-verbal, you know, she attends a school for kids with cerebral palsy and, you know, we're still watching blue’s clues and you know, Dora and things like that.
She's taught me so much about gratitude that as much as I want it to be her mom, that, you know, I still have that feeling today. Like I get to be Sierra's mom, right.
And she taught me about waking up with laughter. And she's taught me about using what you have, right. Use what you have, and so probably one of my biggest pet peeves is when, you know, so many people complained about this or that. And I think shed, you can walk, man, you can talk, you've got all this stuff, like, come on, come on. And you know, so use what we have and, to the extent that we can is to, you know, have gratitude for the small things, like Sierra laughs at the silliest things, we laugh, you know, she'll put some in their communication device, a word, or, you know, something that just touches us like, so profoundly. And so she has given me so many, many gifts beyond being a parent.
Jackie: Denice, thank you for sharing that, and you know, it's, you're so right about the gratitude piece, you know, so often we're so quick to just run through our days then, and as you said, you know, days turned into weeks, turned into months, turn into years, and we need that reminder sometimes to slow down.
And just be thankful for the things that we have in our lives and the things that we're able to do. And I think that's, that's so important. And thanks for sharing that about Sierra, I love hearing about her and what she's doing and what she's up to, so
Denice: I can't help myself, Jackie, and you know, it was like,
Jackie: I know parent to parent, I totally, it. You know, and I can see, you know, for, for those that are listening, this smile on Denice's face right now is just beautiful.
Denice: I got proud mom syndrome for sure.
Jackie: That's right. I love it. I love it. So Denice, let's talk about the mentoring place. I'd love to understand how you go from, you know, corporate executive to move into the mentoring place, that journey.
Denice: Sure. So for me, I had this experience where one of my first sponsors was a man. His name was Alan Clark and he was 60 when I met him, and I was in my early thirties and I saw him. He like gave everything to the company and, but he also, he was head of the, the North America business at Lilly. And he took me under his wing and it was the first time that I really had a, you know, a mentor like that.
And he promoted me a number of times and he gave me the gift of self-confidence, because he would ask me stuff. What do you think? What do you think? And sometimes I would like, hold back and he'd say, oh, you know what, tell me what you really think. And he was funny and intimidating at the same time, but so for five years I had the, like the pleasure of you know, just the beyond pleasure, just a gift, of having him mentor me. And he helped me so much with my career and he cared about me personally, but as he, so he retired at 65, I think it was 67 and he died. And I, and that was the last lesson, unintended was, don't give it all away. So I always thought, listen, when I turned like 55, I'm going to transition, not that. I hate this word, retirement, because that sounds so final. And I'm like, no, it's just another chapter. Do what you're going to do. Because the idea of lifelong work, I'm a huge proponent, huge proponent of lifelong work.
So when I was around that age, I was like, okay, I'm going to do something else. I knew that I wanted to be an a on boards. And I knew, you know, there were other things that I wanted to do. One of them was, I'd always worked a lot with women and, you know, with other underrepresented groups and, you know, done a number of mentoring things. But one day about six months after I left Johnson and Johnson, I posted something on LinkedIn and Hey, listen, I've been very grateful. I'm going to mentor some women.
And I don't, I said, you know, I'll take two or three women, like 250 responded. And they wrote me their notes, these long like heartfelt notes. And I was like, well, I can't pick two or three people. So I just started to do these like monthly calls or twice a month calls. I don't remember. And so we talk and all this stuff. So the next year it was like 500 people and, you know, it got up to, you know, well over a thousand. So then I started to, you know, do this programming and I learned, you know, how to do zoom, you know, a number of years ago before it was, you know, that popular and had all these cameras and all that.
Then I said, well, you know what, I'm going to start this mentoring, a mentoring system where I'm going to connect women with other senior women, you know, when they would get a free mentoring for, for three months. And so that's how the mentoring place, it was born. And now I'm shifting next year into getting CEOs and other senior leaders to like master mentor groups of women, like small groups of women, so that the women, and also you know, I'm very, really wanting to help you know, other people of color, other you know, underrepresented and so kind of creating these communities, but having senior leaders educate and inform about the whole Friday thing, certainly leadership.
But if we think about people in business, they may not know like, hey, you know, the idea of, you know, how does financing occur in startup businesses? How does this occur? We, we don't know. And so that, that whole element of education yes. And, and, and so that, that's what this is all about. And I'm kind of, you know, shaping this and getting other people involved. And so, yeah, it's, it's an it's a labor of love, a journey of love for sure.
Jackie: Absolutely. What a great organization and it’s so important. Let's talk a little about mentoring in general. Why is that so important, especially for underrepresented professionals?
Denice: You know what, that's the, the billion-dollar question and that makes or breaks careers and I want to first Jackie, talk about the difference between mentoring and sponsoring. Mentorship happens, you know, it happens so frequently. Sometimes we not, may not even put a label on it. It's when we go to someone or they help us, they give us advice based on their experience or, you know, thoughts or that they know us. It could be everything, and I think a lot of times mentorship can even happen on YouTube, right.
I, the lock on my door you know, broken, I couldn't get someone to fix it. So I'm on like YouTube and here's someone teaching you how to replace the lock on your door. And so you could think that that's kind of mentorship I'm not personally talking to that person, but they're giving me know how, but it happens, you know, so often we seek out someone that may be a long-term thing that, you know, we talk about our board of directors and it mostly may be a very short-term thing. And so it's a very, to me is a loose term and it can apply to many, many different things. And it's how we learn sometimes how we get support.
Sponsorship is the, you know, the, the, the supercharged version of that, where sponsor, a sponsor actually makes things happen. There are the ones that they identify opportunities for us. They're the ones in, you know, the sponsor in a meeting when we're not there says, you know what? I think Jackie would be a great, great fit for that role. Like, let's make that happen. Hey team, have you met Jackie because you should get to know her, right. And let's think about her for this, this and this. That person says, you know, Jackie, I think this be a great program for you. And when you know, or a great role for you and after this role, I think you'll be ready for X let's work on that. So when I think about the sponsor as opening the door, they're pulling us through that door and, you know, they there's that saying, hey, when you've made it to the top, make sure to send the elevator down.
And I always thought that's ridiculous. Like you make it to the top. You better come down and get someone and bring them with you. Don't just send the elevator down. I go and think about that as a sponsor is someone that says, let's go. This sponsor’s someone and, you know, today I'm very blessed that I have the Opportunity to identify other women and other individuals for boards.
And I actually keep charge of how many people have, have I been able to help secure a board role. Means a lot to me, means an awful lot. And of course it means a lot to the people that it impacts, it means a lot to me when someone does that for me. And so imagine, imagine if, if all women, if all people of color of all, you know, LGBT Q individuals, if we just helped each other, let alone, you know, developing those relationships, you know, with other people that may be in those big positions of power, we have to do these things. And that's where people are uncomfortable. How, what do I, what am I going to say? What, how do I talk to this person? I have nothing in common.
Jackie: You know, that's so important Denice to, to recognize because just understanding the difference between a mentor and a sponsor and what that means, not only on the receiving end of that, but on the giving end of that, which is something that you talked about earlier.
I appreciate that that's such good information and, you know, as an individual, especially as an underrepresented professional, know the difference, right? Know that you need a sponsor in your workplace for you to be able to move up and be considered for roles, because that's one of the things that combats the, the bias of executives, when they're thinking about their small circle, who's going to step in that's within that circle and say, hey, let me pull this person in for your consideration. That is so important, so important.
Denice: It is absolutely critical, and what that does require of us, Jackie, is that we have to have belief and confidence in our it's like our humanness that, because when I was younger, I thought, what am I going to talk to these people about? Right, I'd schedule this lunch or whatever, and then the night before I'd be like, oh my God, you know, I don't want to go. I don't want to go, right cause it'd be awkward. And you know, and really, as someone that is a leader, they should make it so comfortable for other people that set up these, but that doesn't always happen, right.
And so I would, I would come in with my folder and, you know, like all dressed up and everything feeling so awkward and I felt like, I probably wasn't that interesting. And it took me many years to realize, hey, why don't you just be a real person? Right, and I started talking about everything from, hey, did you see that on TV last night? Or what'd you think about this? Or just asking things that I genuinely was interested in that that actually made me more interesting.
The second thing that sometimes we forget about. Is going back to that gratitude piece and that, you know, we're sitting down with someone and think like, even if they're, when they're more senior, like what could we do for them? It might be information. It might be, hey, you know, I had an idea and, you know, doing that, but also being grateful when people, you know, give us the gift of time or they help us and never forget. So there are people, every Thanksgiving, I have those lists of people that have helped me and I still write them notes, even though it was long time ago and their heartfelt because guess what?
They changed the course of my life. They gave me big jobs, which meant other things for my family. And so, you know, I could give you the, the list of names and think, man, right. I am just so I'm still so grateful, so grateful that they gave me the opportunity.
Jackie: Wow, that is so fantastic, Denice, and confidence in our humanness. I think that is so important for us to remember because ultimately, as you said earlier, people want to connect with people, right. And, and just having confidence in your humanness will help, you know, just help us to remember that we have something to contribute. We have something to say, and I love that.
Denice: You know, Jackie, there's this really neat video for your listeners. If they look it up and. It's a, a woman who is a professor at Harvard. Her name is Francis. I don't know if it's fray or fry. It's F, R E I. And she did a Ted Talk about the trust triangle. And she just said that there's three things that build trust.
And one is empathy. The second is being authentic and the third is being logical. And what I realized in my situation was that you know, I'm someone I would say, you know, fairly naturally has empathy. Being authentic was that thing that early on, I'm trying to be all polished. I'm trying to be this I'm trying to be, but I would never really give too much up.
Right. Cause I'm going to say, hey, what'd you do over the weekend? And I didn't want to say, listen, you know, I was with my girlfriend or we did this or we did, I just didn't want to say that, right. So when I started to just embrace, this is who I am and you know, I'm going to just rejoice in who I am
and did that help me? Yes, because I was so much more afraid of what people would think of me then what was reality. And the third part she talks about, which is being a logical communicator. And that's a whole other subject, but it is so worth you know, if people are interested in this in this area to go check it out.
Jackie: Absolutely Denice. Thanks for sharing that. So you are also a podcaster. I want to talk about your podcast, Flip the Tortilla.
Denice: Yes. Yes. So the way that this the name, cause people go where'd the name come from? I was, again, you know, I was talking to my dad and this was probably 10 years ago and I was just bitching about something at work and my dad's listening and finally said to me, Girl, you know what you need to do.
And I said, what? He goes, you need to Flip the Tortilla. And I thought, oh my God, that is so funny. I thought about all the years we ate tortillas and how we made them was to put a tortilla on the open flame. And my grandmother, you know, made them by hand so they would get really puffy. And then when it was ready, you'd flip it over and then put butter on it or whatever.
But if you don't flip the tortilla in time, the damn thing will burn up pretty quickly, right? No tortilla for you. So my dad was saying, take charge. And so I thought, man, that's such a good thing because the elements to it are, you know, own your situation, create change, right, and don't just sit there and complain about it, cause you'll lose whatever. The opportunity, the moments, the, whatever it is, and so I, that I'm going to file that away. And some day I'm going to do a book or something with Flip the Tortilla, and I call it for the underdog at heart. And it's because the, I actually love the power of the underdog.
I love it, when we say, you know, someone can't or they won't, or they don't have the skills. I remember I had a nun when I was, I think I was a sophomore in high school and I was always joking around and, she said to me, Denice, this is in front of the whole class, the only way that you're going to college is if your father builds you one, well, my dad was not going to build a college, right.
Boy, I think about that idea of how she saw me, right, and everybody laughed and I thought, we'll see sister, literally. And so I've had that, that, so many times that voice in my head and like, we'll see, you don't think I can, but yeah, we'll see. And I, so that the, the power of the underdog is something that I think if we embrace can really like supercharge us versus hold us back.
Jackie: Well, Denice, tell us how people can stay in touch with you. How can they find your podcasts? Let's stop all the colors.
Denice: I would love that; I I'm so wired by connecting with others. So, you know, please reach out on LinkedIn. You can find me Denice Torres. Denice, with a C. D E N I C E T O R R E S.
And please check out the podcast, Flip the Tortillas on all the major platforms. And lastly, if you're interested in mentoring, you can go to thementoringplace.com and again, would love to connect with your listeners.
Jackie: Wonderful. And Denice, the last question that I'll ask you today is one that I love to ask. Tell us something about you that not a lot of people know.
Denice: Oh, oh gosh. I'm such an open book. Okay something that a lot of people don't know when I was younger. I was really into just like physical adventure. So I've run the Chicago marathon twice and I did two, it's kind of like a mountaineering adventure and a so it's outward bound.
So I did this mountaineering thing and it was in the Sierra mountains and I learned so much about myself and that's how our daughter got her name was Sierra. And I did a dog sledding one for, it was eight days, no tent, just a tarp. And it was below zero. And I learned from that, it is how we can survive things because oh, people were crying and it was dark, right?
Because it was in the middle of winter. It was in the McKusick mountains in Maine. I learned so many things from that trip, but the bottom line on that one is like how we can survive things and it not be pretty. Cause it wasn't pretty right. It wasn't pretty, there was crying and it was physically hard and it was all this.
But I look back and say, you know what? I did it, wasn't pretty that I cry, hell yes I did, right. Because I was, it was so cold and, and we, you know, when you were dog sledding, it was a dog sledding trip. And when you were dogsledding, it was so much fun, but when you're not on that dog sled and you're, you know, trying to keep warm, it was challenging.
So I think that's something that a lot of people don't know about me.
Jackie: Oh, Denice, thank you so much. I have had so much fun and learned so much and having this conversation with you, you're such an inspiring leader and individual, and I really enjoyed thank you for coming on the podcast and talking with us today.
Denice: Jackie, you make it so easy. It really was fun talking with you. And I, again, just I applaud you for all the work that you're doing and you, you are a wonderful interviewer. It's a, you make I'm sure everyone feel relaxed and, you're, you're amazing.
Jackie: Thank you, Denice.
A career path is not often a straight line, and Denice Torres’ career is no exception. After years of working as a janitor, she knew that she wanted to start her big career adventure. She studied psychology, attended law school, and worked for United Way before she realized a job might not be the key to her goal: making a difference. Hear about the rest of her journey and what she’s learned from it in this episode.
Listen to this episode on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.