Sonya Hopson is “The Lady with The Pink Hard Hat”, but she’s so much more than that. She’s an African American woman working primarily in the construction industry, and she’s overcome so many challenges – bias, mistakes, imposter syndrome, racism, and her own personal struggles – to build HIRE Strategies into one of the preeminent job recruitment firms in North Carolina.
Donald Thompson: This is Donald Thompson and welcome again to the latest episode of the Donald Thomson Podcast and right now I have as a guest of ours Sonya Hopson, and she is the founder and CEO of Hire Strategies. And Sonya, welcome to the show.
Sonya Hopson: Thank you, thank you for having me.
Donald Thompson: Oh, you’re very welcome. And one of the things that we like to do, Sonya, as we really get to know our guests, and so that everybody’s listening is as friends.
Take a little bit and just talk about you, your background, your family, any of the things you’d like to share about you so that we can all get to know each other a little bit better.
Sonya Hopson: Sonya Hopson, it’s my name. I’m originally from Fayetteville, North Carolina. I spent quite a bit of my career in Maryland.
I was actually there maybe a 10 to 15 years before I moved back to North Carolina, have three daughters that I absolutely adore. I would consider them my motivation, my inspiration and the reason why I do a lot of the things that I do, is because of them. What else can I tell you?
Donald Thompson: Tell me about that. What ages are the young ladies, I know you’ve got a college graduate, I saw. So brag a little bit, brag a little bit.
Sonya Hopson: My youngest daughter, her name is Berlin and she’s actually just turned 14. My middle daughter is Briana. She’s actually 22 and just graduated from NC state, so I’m very excited about that.
It’s definitely been a difficult journey for her, so she is thrilled, that she’s able to be able to, to complete her, her program. My oldest daughter, her name is Shayla, and she is 24, and she is actually been working with me along by my side with Hire Strategies since the beginning. So I’m thrilled to be able to say that she started at the very beginning first as my assistant then as my receptionist and kind of worked her way up into accounting. So, she’s been along for the entire ride.
Donald Thompson: Oh, that is fantastic. That is what a, what a powerful story. And it’s in its own right being able to work with your kids and see them grow and thrive as professionals, and that’s like, that’s really awesome, right?
In terms of what you do. In terms of Hire Strategies, tell us a little bit about the business and as you start this conversation. How did you get it started? Like where’s the why and how you jump started Hire Strategies?
Sonya Hopson: Okay. Higher Strategies was formed in 2013. It’s a crazy story in terms of, I didn’t set out to be an entrepreneur that was not my goal. I became an entrepreneur out of necessity at the time that Hire Strategies was formed. I was in the middle of a divorce. I became a single parent. I had three children that I had to provide for and my only objective was how am I going to make this work? How am I going to be able to financially provide for these children?
I was working in construction. I was working for a firm in Raleigh. I was making decent salary, but I knew that it wouldn’t be enough to take care of three children. So at the same time that I was working for a staffing firm in Raleigh, I was also going back to school cause I assumed that I could not get the type of salary that I needed on a bachelor’s degree that maybe I needed a master’s degree.
So I’m going to school now full time. I’m working full time. I am going through a divorce. I have three children and my oldest daughter took the divorce pretty hard. So she was having some challenges and she struggled with depression and at the time I didn’t really have a flexible schedule. I was doing the sales.
I was doing the recruiting. I was working 60, 70 hours a week. I was working on weekends. There just wasn’t an opportunity for me to take breaks. And, that being said, I had to make a choice. I had a choice. Do I keep this job that’s paying the bills or do I do what’s best for my daughter. So I ended up leaving, on a hope and a prayer, and the goal was not necessarily for me to start a fabulous company.
I just wanted to make enough to be able to cover my essential needs. So that’s how Hire Strategies was formed. It was pretty much out of necessity as a single parent. What can I do that would offer me some flexibility? How can I provide for my oldest daughter, for what she needed from a nurturing perspective and what’s going to help pay the bills?
So I didn’t expect it to flourish and until what it is now today, of course, at that moment but I’m very proud of how it’s flourished, but that was not my original intention.
Donald Thompson: No, that’s a powerful story in terms of that dive into entrepreneurship, out of family necessity. Yeah. Right. In that responsibility, to do what’s best for your family, both financially and for that mental wellbeing, that health. Going through a divorce myself and having kids and that challenge during that process. That’s real stuff and having to balance, those things along with that pay the bills.
It takes a lot of follow through and push.
Sonya Hopson: Yes, I agree with you. And I’ll tell you even something, a little bit more about that particular situation. At the time I was working in staffing and as a salesperson you would make commission. So I was making pretty good commission checks because my revenue was pretty substantial at that time.
But I promised my children that I would purchase a home for them. Because when I went through my divorce actually lost my home, because it was in my ex husband’s name and he left and he kind of refused to pay the mortgage and there were some challenges with that. So long story short, we ended up having to move out of our home.
It was my children’s family home, and so I promised them, I said, give mommy a couple of years and I promise you will be able to move back into a home. So when it came time to make a decision, do I stay at this job or do I leave? I actually took the money that I had saved for a home and that’s how I started Hire Strategies, so I had to make that decision.
Donald Thompson: That is awesome. One of the things that when people look at where someone is today.
Sonya Hopson: Yeah.
Donald Thompson: There’s always a backstory. Nobody gets to success just this way. There’s always that windy and curvy road. Talk to us a little bit about when you’re working through and building a company, give a little bit more detail on what Hire Strategies is and how you were able to take your skills in the current construction industry and create that company. What does Hire Strategies do? What companies do you serve?
Sonya Hopson: We serve, well to back up a little bit. How I even got into construction staffing is I used to do only manufacturing, staffing, and then when we had that turn in the economy in 2008 I got into construction by accident.
I accepted a position because out of need, I needed this position, but it was solely construction. So when I first took that position, I said, okay, well I don’t know anything about construction. And my supervisor at the time, he said, you know what? Don’t worry about it. I got you. You just go out and sell the opportunities and when you bring it back, I will recruit it for you and I’ll get you the manpower you need.
You just go out there and be the face. I said, okay. I’m used to that I can do that. So I went out and I sold my first deal and it was for a middle school here in Raleigh, so I was all excited. I met with the superintendent. I told him that I was going to do this wonderful job for him and it was time sensitive because it was a school.
They had to get the school completed by the summer so the children could come back to school. Long story short, my supervisor did not staff the job so well, and my very first phone call was from the superintendent and he called me and he was so upset and he said, Sonya, you know what? I believed in you.
I trusted you. This is not what I need for this job. These guys don’t know what they’re doing. They are not skilled. And some other choice words that he used. I’m putting it very nicely that he basically told me I ruined his life. I ruined his project and he was not happy. So I said, you know what? Give me give me 15 minutes, hung up the phone.
I drove over to the job site and I said, Hey, talk to me about what’s going on. So he told me that guys we’re not skilled. They didn’t know what they were doing. The job was a mess. He only had two months. What was I going to do? I said, okay. I say, give me 24 hours. So I went home and I got on YouTube and I Googled, what’s a pipe fitter?
What’s a pipe welder? What’s a HVAC mechanic? What do all these guys do? So I studied, I studied for 24 hours. I went to the job site the next day. I fired everybody there. Pretty much the entire crew. I went in on a weekend, I re recruited the entire team and it was 50 people that had to be there.
So I re recruited this, this team for him, went back and said, okay, this is what I’ve done to fix it. I’m going to be at the job site until you feel comfortable that these guys are what you need. And I would show up to the job site every morning and I would check, did they report on time? Is that the skill that you need?
Is there something that you’re missing? And through that experience, I learned construction. Because I absolutely knew nothing but that particular experience, not only did it teach me construction, it taught me how to build trust, how to build a true partnership, how to do what you say you’re going to do and I built a friendship that was completely unexpected with this particular superintendent, and we’re still friends to this day. And he’s the one who gave me the pink hard hat, and we can kind of talk more about that, but that’s where it came from at the end of that job. It ended on time. It was successful.
We celebrated at the end. He was very pleased and they actually came back the following year for part two of that project, and he called me and we used majority of the same guys over again for that very same project and we still have a relationship to this day. So that is what the premise of how Hire Strategies was formed, is I want to provide a better level of service.
I want to be able to do what we say we’re going to do. And if we say we’re going to provide you with top talent, that’s what we want to do and just act with integrity. And I didn’t always have the option to make those choices when I’m working for someone else’s organization cause I have to play by their rules and I have to abide by whatever their value system is and I couldn’t really put my personal opinion or my personal thoughts on how we should do things as an organization. So that’s why I’m proud of who we are as Hire Strategies because I do have those choices.
Donald Thompson: That’s a powerful story, right? Because we, right, you’re in the construction business, you’re in the the talent acquisition advisory business, and you have some, some layers to what you do.
I’m in the marketing business, but at the same spirit is when you get that phone call and that customer is not happy. What are you gonna do about it?
Sonya Hopson: What are you going to do, yes.
Donald Thompson: And because we all build our businesses with that aspirational hope that we’re always going to get it right, but we fall down were human.
It doesn’t go quite right all the time, but typically what I’ve found that customers want is, are you going to own responsibility and fix it? And not have this debate about who’s fault, the spec wasn’t right. This, that and the other. Are you going to fix it and you birthed your company and your momentum because you fixed it, and that is, that is really great.
Let’s stay into the pink hard hat. That’s how it was given to you. What is that now taken on as an aura? What does that pink hard hat mean to you? Right? There’s not many African American female ladies in the construction business.
Sonya Hopson: For sure.
Donald Thompson: Talk to us about that hard hat. Talk to us about being a trailblazer.
Sonya Hopson: Yeah, and that actually came about because whenever I would go to the job site, I’m used to being a sales person. I’m used to dressing professionally. I’m used to having a certain type of image. So I would go to a job site, even though it’s a construction job site, I might have on heels, I probably have a dress black, maybe even a suit jacket. I’m thinking that’s how I’m supposed to present myself and my superintendent would pull me to the side and say Sonya, you can’t, you can’t come to the job site in open toe shoes. You can’t come to the job site without a hard hat. You just can’t do that and I would listen and not come back to the job site this time I may have on jeans and the blazer, but still no hard hat.
And he said, Sonya, I told you a hundred times. You can’t, you can’t come to the job site, you just can’t. I said it’s going to mess my hair up and if I put this hard hat on and I have another appointment after my hair is going to be smushed, it’s not going to work. And so he finally, we had a meeting in the corporate office and he said, well, the team wants to meet with you.
I said okay, so I meet him in Winston Salem, that was the corporate office. And I walked into the conference room, and there’s this beautiful pink, hard hat on the table. And they said, look, we thought if we’d got you this pink hard hat, you would actually wear it, will you please wear this hard hat. And I said, okay, I will wear this hard head every time I report back, I will wear it everywhere. All you have to do is, all you had to do to get me to wear it is, get me a pink hard hat.
Donald Thompson: That is, that is awesome. As I listened to the story, I think about that moment, right, and how much they thought of you.
Sonya Hopson: Yeah.
Donald Thompson: To get you something that fit your style and your brand, but also was safe for their brand and their environment and how to mix those two together.
One of the things when you’re building a business, you’re learning.
Sonya Hopson: Yeah.
Donald Thompson: What are some of the things that you’ve learned along the way as you’ve built a business that was small, but now you’ve got a multimillion dollar company that you’re working with? Tell us some of the progression, some of the learnings, the things you’ve learned along the way.
Sonya Hopson: Oh my goodness. I’ve learned so many things. I think the first lesson was that I could not do it alone. That’s probably the, the very, very first life lesson that I learned. I was so used to being in positions where my reputation was on the line. So I had to give the very best of me and I didn’t trust a lot of people around me to support me with things that I was doing cause I wanted to make sure that if I told the client that something was going to be done, it was going to be done correctly. So I was used to playing both sides of the coin, being the sales person and the recruiter and the payroll person. If you had a payroll question, that’s me. If you need something, delivered to the job site. That’s me. So I was playing all roles, so it’s very difficult for me to share those responsibilities and trust that other people could be as effective as myself and care enough to want to be engaged and involved. So that’s probably lesson number one is to really look at building a team, a team that could support the core values and support the company and have the same goals as myself, Let’s see, the second, there’s several lessons that I’ve learned throughout the years, just being okay with making mistakes. I’d say that’s another one. I was very hard on myself. I’m still very hard on myself. I don’t like to make mistakes, but I understand that, you know, mistakes are going to be made.
It’s more so how do I recover and what is the lesson. I’m very big on learning, what is the lesson? Okay, now that I’ve made this mistake, what is it here to teach me? And I just have to pay attention and listen.
Donald Thompson: No, that is really powerful. One of the things that, you know, having a high standard for what you want to accomplish is important, and that’s good. But the mistakes are all part of our journey.
Sonya Hopson: Yes.
Donald Thompson: As I was learning leadership from my perspective, you know, I had one kind of speed, right? I had that athletic football coach mentality and that 100 mile an hour drive. Everybody in the businesses I was running couldn’t relate to that.
And so I had to develop a different level of communication for different folks and their personality. I slowed down enough to say that, wait a minute, my job is to communicate in a way that the employee hears it, not in a way that I like to communicate.
Sonya Hopson: And that’s tough, right?
Donald Thompson: It’s tough. That’s a work in progress.
Sonya Hopson: That’s a work in progress for me.
Donald Thompson: That is a work in progress, but it has paid huge dividends because now as my style has broadened, I can have a bigger pool of folks that can work well with me in the goals that we have. So it was something that was a lot of hard lessons in going forward. But you know, like yourself that trust that you had to develop that other people could do it with the same care has now allowed you to blossom.
That’s really, really important. Where do you see your business going forward? What are some of the things and pivots that you’re looking at as you continue to grow?
Sonya Hopson: We’re looking at what other services could we offer? Right now we focus quite a bit on construction, and accounting and finance more recently, within the last couple of years through the acquisition of Five Stars.
So we have a lot of energy and efforts placed in trying to build that market also. Well we’re wanting to see what other markets could we serve? What other industries could we serve? And then how could we expand into additional markets? Actually, prior to the Covid-19, we were actually looking at an office space in Charlotte, and there was a plan to be in Charlotte by third quarter of this year.
So now we’re looking, okay, what are our plans for 2021 did we move that, move to Charlotte till then? So we’re very much still in this strategic process of trying to figure out how do we expand and get outside of just Raleigh.
Donald Thompson: No, that makes sense. One of the things I wanted to ask you is we’re all dealing with kind of the ups and downs that are associated with this pandemic.
Yes. How, how has that affected the construction business, the business that you’re in, in the growing the talent, matching the talent with the clients and different things. But then more in general, just the construction business. What are you seeing? What are you learning these days?
Sonya Hopson: Oh, I’m definitely seeing that it is affecting the industry. Normally by this time, this time is our busiest season. We would pick up substantially in the number of talent that we would have on assignments, but it’s been more so health steady, which is good. I’m thankful for that. We’ve seen some decline, but it’s been slight, but we really haven’t seen any upward trends as of yet.
I do expect that to change once there’s more stability and we have a better understanding of how our clients projects are going to move forward, but there definitely has been a hit to the industry. Even though it is an essential business and a lot of our talent work throughout the entire pandemic.
They changed how they worked, but they worked. We’ve definitely still seen a decline in that in the business overall.
Donald Thompson: Got it. I want to back up and you said something I want to expand on a little bit. When you were talking about expansion of your business, construction is kind of the core, but then you expanded to accounting, I think. Is that what you said?
Sonya Hopson: Accounting and administrative positions.
Donald Thompson: All right, so how does that go together in the strategy? Right. There’s gotta be a story there. So tell me.
Sonya Hopson: There’s a story there, and it actually ties into one of the lessons that I learned is, hey, I can’t totally depend on myself, which I did for a long time, but I decided I needed to reach out to some other business owners, some other partners, some other women in the industry.
Anyone that could give me some advice or some suggestions on things that I can do to improve. So I through another connection of mine, I was introduced to Cindy Heath, who was the owner of Five Star Staffing and I emailed her and I reached out to her and I said, hey, you know, is there any way we can develop some kinship so that we can start meeting each other, possibly having some discussions about your business, my business, we’re not in competing business. Maybe we can support and encourage each other. So it actually started out that way more so as a friendship than maybe a mentor relationship, and then became the opportunity for us to actually purchase Five Star Staffing, which I thought was awesome.
There was definitely strong brand recognition for their company, and I saw it as a great opportunity for us to diversify our talent pool and also diversify our client side of the business. So it was a win win for both of us. So I thought that was a great opportunity for us to expand.
Donald Thompson: Oh man, that is phenomenal and smart because anytime you can take similar skills but apply them in a different market, right. You can grow smartly. So kudos to that because acquiring the business is a big deal no matter what the numbers are and the the risk to take that plunge and to grow. When you think about leadership and development and growth, or you and your team, what are some of the things that you do as a leader to stay sharp? What are some of the things that you read, some of the people that you admire?
Sonya Hopson: Oh my goodness. There’s so many. I’ve been on my own journey, I’d say spiritual journey for the last year and a half, two years, and I’ve been really trying to expand my own knowledge and work on my personal development.
So I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading. I’m very inspired by Simon Sinek.
Donald Thompson: Okay.
Sonya Hopson: I’m very inspired by him. I think that my leadership style is very similar to his. I want to inspire people around me. It’s not so much about the revenue aspect. Of course, that’s important. It’s important that the business is profitable, but is what I do to impact those around me that means more to me than anything else. So I’m constantly trying to figure out for me, how can I be a better leader? How can I be more effective? How can I inspire my team? How can I coach? How can I mentor and develop? Because if I really work on me, then I will be able to develop skills that will directly relate to how I manage my team.
I’m extremely inspired by Simon Sinek. I read, definitely inspired by Brene Brown, John Maxwell, Zig Ziglar.
Donald Thompson: Yeah. One of the, I want to make a comment on Brene Brown, like I’ve heard a lot of professional, very successful ladies that I work with and they’re like, you gotta read this by Brene Brown.
And I was like, okay, why? And then she was like, there’s talk about vulnerability. And I was like, no, I don’t want to talk about, no, I don’t want to talk about my most authentic self and vulnerability. So no thank you. And so I’m on my third Brene Brown book. Right.
Sonya Hopson: Great job, you’ve got me beat, I’ve only read two.
Donald Thompson: One of the things that I found that I really enjoy is that she talks about vulnerability being a foundation for strength.
Sonya Hopson: Yes.
Donald Thompson: Right. My typecast, right, was, it was more of a book club moment and it was more of a kumbaya moment. And really it’s about breaking down self, so you can build from the strengths that you have. Build from the challenges that you have, but it is about build.? And it allowed me to really get into what she was saying.
And the second thing that I really liked was the research. She researches everything that she’s describing, so she gives her opinion, but then she says, it’s backed up by this, by this study. This is why it is. And I’m like, yes, ma’am. Like by the third one, I’m just, okay, I got it. And you know, one of the things that’s interesting is that, and we’ll talk a little bit about diversity and biases.
I did have a little bias, not from the powerful ladies that were recommended it and saying that I would enjoy it. But it didn’t seem to hit me in the way that I consumed information, right? So I pushed it back a little bit, and it was after the third person that I kind of opened my mind to something new and I got a lot out of it.
And so one of the things that I’d like to ask you is, as a woman in business, as a female leader, what are some of the things that you would want your male counterparts, people that you’re selling to working with to know, so that we can understand different perspectives better because we all have biases?
What would you put into our brain about working with growing female leaders being more supportive that maybe we wouldn’t naturally know or understand?
Sonya Hopson: I would say take away the judgment, take away the judgment and put it aside because you never know a person’s situation. You don’t know their background, you don’t know what’s happened previously.
You don’t know anything about this person other than what they’re presenting to you at that given moment. So I would say take away the judgment because it allows you to really see the person differently. If you do that and just have more empathy, have more empathy, empathy for those around you, even if maybe they don’t represent themselves in the most favorable way in your first interaction. Don’t judge that because you don’t necessarily know what happened before that person came to sit in front of you to have a conversation.
Donald Thompson: No, that is powerful. One of the things that, I try to think about again, for me, it’s a work in progress, is that people don’t make mistakes on purpose.
People don’t come to work saying, I’m going to mess up today. There’s usually something that’s going on. If you’ve got a talented person who you hired, you check references, you went through the interview process and something’s not going quite right. I kind of look at the work and then look at the work through that person’s point of view and try to make sure that we are seeing a brighter picture.
Because sometimes what I found out when I asked that question, if somebody had a rough day at work, something happened to an animal that they love a dog, a pet, a child that they love and they’re caring for a relationship issue that we all go through.
Sonya Hopson: Yes.
Donald Thompson: And whether they give me a lot of detail or not, what I try to explain is if you tell me there’s something I’m not aware of that’s got you a little off.
But if I give a moment’s gonna what’s gonna work itself out in a day or two? But I just need a moment. Just that acknowledgement or that awareness really makes it easier for everybody to kind of work cause otherwise all you can judge is what you see.
Sonya Hopson: Exactly.
Donald Thompson: Right.
Sonya Hopson: In that moment.
Donald Thompson: In that moment.
And so the Brene Brown is, is powerful. So I, I took a little, a little segue there. The other thing that you said that I’d like you to expand upon is that commitment in that personal development.
Sonya Hopson: Yeah.
Donald Thompson: What are some of the specific things that you’d like to share that kind of where you were before, what you’ve worked on to really improve now and going forward?
Sonya Hopson: Okay. So now it’s my opportunity to be vulnerable. I have realized that there are several things that I’m still uncomfortable with and even though some may say I’ve reached a certain level of success and they see that Hire Strategies itself being a success, I don’t necessarily always feel that way.
And especially when I’m going into a room around other business owners or people who are just accomplished or more than accomplished than myself. I feel a little bit of that imposter syndrome almost as if I don’t belong, even though I may have all the accolades to prove it, I still feel like I don’t belong, so I want it to dig deeper into that, and I wanted to know why. So I went on a journey to try to figure it out and that’s kinda where I’m at and it’s been excellent for me. Not only has it improved me as a leader, I’ve seen improvements as a mom, and that’s more inspirational to me because once I see myself changing and I see myself making a couple tweaks, I look at my daughters and I see them making a couple of tweaks themselves, and I see them leveling up a little bit.
And it makes me proud because they always say, as a parent, you can’t just say, you know, do what I say. They watch. They watch and they mimic even when they think you’re, even when you think they’re not, they’re not looking. So it’s important to me that I represent myself in the best way so I can show up emotionally healthy for my girls.
And that’s very, very important to me. So that’s why I’ve been putting so much work into myself.
Donald Thompson: Oh man, that is awesome and our audience will get a lot out of it because one of the things that when you show up professionally at work, you’re showing up personally also. That facade of it’s business, not personal.
It’s just not true. Right? Our professional representation is stronger if our personal self is more whole, right? And so you got to deal with all of those different layers, us as human beings, to get the most productivity at work. And like you said, being a better mom and feeling more, more present at home.
I hired a young lady for our company, and one of the things that she said during the interview, I said, well, why do you want this job? Right? And she gave the kind of business reasons why, and Walk West is growing and you know, I’ve studied you as a leader and all those things that, that are good and that’s okay and I was kind of listening and a pause in the conversation and she said, you know, I want to take on this new challenge because I want my daughter to see me do something difficult and achieve it. Yeah. I want my daughter to see it and I gotta tell you now. We ended up hiring her. It was good. I’m glad that she was also talented and everything.
You know what I mean? Because I was like.
Sonya Hopson: We gotta hire her.
Donald Thompson: We gotta hire her, right? Like that’s like the best answer of all time, you know? And so it’s, it’s important when we’re looking at people, whether it is they’re doing the rise or they need to improve, is what’s motivating them? Right? And how do, how do we use that motivation for a positive?
Sonya Hopson: Yeah.
Donald Thompson: Right? And in this instance, it was to make her daughter proud and in other instances, I’ve got folks that we’re the first to graduate from college and their first job is that second layer of inspiration for their entire family. Right? And so many things as a business owner and an entrepreneur that we get to be a part of is I get to in many instances, and you’re the same way, champion people’s growth.
I want to go back to one thing that you described that is more prevalent then people would even realize, and it’s the term you used imposter syndrome.
And in my journey as a business person, and I’m on a lot of different boards, I do executive coaching and different things. And so it’s a term that people may use different words, but describes a similar point of view. And so what I want to share with our audience that you know, when you don’t feel like maybe you’re good enough, even though the accolades are there and you don’t feel like you measure up and you still feel a little uncomfortable, my advice is a blank sheet of paper and just start writing down the people that you’ve helped. Start writing down the number of times that you’ve made payroll. Start writing down the number of employees that have jobs because you decided to be in business. Start writing down the number of clients that you’ve helped and what you’ll find is that sheet of paper will be a small representation of how much you’re under estimating self.
And you can put that sheet of paper on your office window and then whenever you get that little, that little person that’s saying that you’re not enough. You look at that paper and it’s like, you know what? You might be right. I’m not enough. But I was enough for these people. I was enough for these folks that helped me.
I was enough for these jobs that I’m putting into this economy, and one of the things that it does, is it reinforces that balance of helpfulness. And when I’m talking to clients or new people, I just tell them, just let me know if I can be helpful and pick up the phone and call and my view of you and working with you, and obviously you’re a client, not obviously, but you’re a client of Walk West and Sharon McCloud who works with you on PR and different things, talks a lot about you in a good way.
Like it’s so good. She’s like, Sonya is amazing. Guess who I get to talk to this week and I got to write a press release on this, which she did. And it’s so fun to have clients that we’re fans of and clients just pay us money and we’ll take money. Does that make sense? But it’s also cool to have clients that we’re fans of, and Sharon is a big fan and so am I what you’re doing and what you’ve done and most importantly of what you’ll do in the future. And the people that you’ll will inspire and I mean that in a very sincere way. So one of the things that I wanted to ask you is, talk to me about, from your perspective in the business world, give me some of your thoughts on diversity and inclusion and how that can be impacted in a positive way from the position that you’re in.
Sonya Hopson: Well I’ll talk about it from two different perspectives cause like you mentioned or indicated, it’s definitely a challenge or could be a challenge for someone like myself to be in a male dominated industry and I am a black female and I just want individuals to know that you can’t let things that are a challenge to you stop you or make you afraid of getting to a certain level of success? Because that could have been the case for me quite honestly, because when I got into construction, I had a client tell me, directly to my face that he didn’t think he wanted to work with me because I was a woman and I was black. And I could have easily taken offense cause it was somewhat offensive comment
Donald Thompson: That’s offensive.
Sonya Hopson: That could’ve stopped the conversation. But for me, I wanted to dig deeper. So him making that comment brought up more conversation cause I wanted to understand why you feel that way. So instead of storming out of the office and saying, I can’t believe this, I don’t even want to talk to you. I sat down and I said, help me understand that.
Why did you not want to talk to me because I’m a woman and because I’m black? And he said, well to be honest with you, I haven’t worked with any other black women, especially not in construction. And he said, a lot of the guys who come in here to talk with us about providing some temporary staffing or talent to our team, they’re men. So that’s what I’m used to. So we had some conversations, some honest conversation around that. I said, well, I’ll tell you what, why don’t you tell me what your needs are? I will assist you and then you can gauge whether you want to work with me any further. Either you think that I can be a support to your company or not.
So he said, okay, that’s fine. Why don’t you bring me in this amount of people in this next project and we’ll see how it goes. Well, I ended up staffing this entire project. Staffed his entire project. We did a very good job for them. We’re still friends today. He still does business with us, but that was an opportunity for him to change his perspective and an opportunity for me not to be afraid, just because I didn’t come in the form that this gentleman expected me to come in.
And then like I said, you take out the judgment piece and let’s have some conversation around this because maybe I can help you change your perspective of how you see things, and maybe you won’t make that comment again.
Donald Thompson: I mean, I want to unpack that a little bit. You did a couple of things that are powerful.
One that’s very offensive. Number one, not, not kind of like that’s like straight up racist or at least he is honest, right?
Sonya Hopson: He was honest right?
Donald Thompson: Gotta give him that but you didn’t take the typical reaction. You took the challenge and then rose above it. Yeah. Like what about like, what’s that about? That’s a counter reaction in a positive way that is bold and awesome.
Sonya Hopson: I’ll tell you maybe it’s because I’m used to it. Maybe it’s because I had, just become used to being in that situation. I’ll say it from this aspect, outside of being in construction, just being in a sales environment, it is a male dominated industry.
So I am used to having to show up. And prove myself. And perfect example, I remember going on interviews and I would sit out in the waiting room and there would be four or five of us. I’m the only woman, only black woman, and the other people are men. And we’re all there and we’re interviewing for the same position, a business development role.
And I would watch, interview after interview of the, the guys go in, I would hear outside laughing out here, all kind of fun conversation. They would go in with one piece of paper, their resume, they would come out 15 minutes later, they would shake hands and the person that would interview at here at see a smile on their face from inner ear.
I’m going to call you next week, tell you about, you know, when you could start, they go out of the interview, everything work well. So maybe I’m the last person to go in. I’m getting prepared. And I go in and I sit down and I’m in there for one full hour, not 30 minutes. I have more than my resume. I have to now have a portfolio to show, hey, I’ve done this project.
I’ve sold this much. Matter of fact, here are my references that you can call but I always had to prove my abilities because they didn’t necessarily think that I had what it takes to, to have the experience for the role. So I’m always, I was just used to having to do better than, I couldn’t do just enough.
I got to be better than, and that kind of trained me throughout the years that this is what you gotta do if you want to be in this industry, if this is your passion, this is something you love. You got to understand this is what you’re going to deal with. Now, what are you gonna do?
Donald Thompson: Oh my gosh, that is, that is the leadership toughness that has helped push you through.
And I remember my dad telling me early on, as a young child, he said, you can do anything you want in this country. You’re going to have to be twice as good to get it. And that’s just the way it is.
Sonya Hopson: That’s just the way it is.
Donald Thompson: Right? And he said, so you can come back to me and tell me about life is fair or unfair.
He said, look, let me go ahead and let’s nip this conversation in the bud, you can be anything that you want to be. But it will be twice as hard to get the same result. That’s just what it’s gotta be. And you deliver against that in our allowing it so that it is better. Right? For those that come after you and changing perceptions because you took that, that that racism bullet, you allow it to pierce your self esteem.
You took on the challenge, won that customer’s business and kept them as a client. And that is really, really powerful. And I think that when we think about diversity and inclusion, sometimes people can tend to think about the D&I pep rally, right? You’re going to training and ra ra and we’re going to try to relate better. The example that you used is how you can live diversity and inclusion by being that example, changing hearts and minds by the way that you work in the way that you pushed it through. So I commend you for that. No. Anything else you want to talk about on that topic? That’s a great, that’s a great story. That says a lot.
Sonya Hopson: Okay. No, I think that’s about it. I think the best way that you can combat racism, sexism, any stereotype that you may come against, is to prove yourself, is to let you, let yourself show through whatever this other person is giving you because you cannot control someone else’s thoughts or actions or dialogue, but you can control how you react.
You can do that all day, every day. So it was very important to me. That’s what’s been able to get the organization where it is, because I may go into the office as being perceived as, okay, here’s this black woman coming into our office, but by the time they leave, I’m their partner. Here is someone that’s going to help us move our organization forward.
And if you really want what’s best for your company, you’re not gonna care what, what color it comes in, what package it comes in. It’s just can this person support me and help me to move my business forward. And if the answer is yes, we can do business, we can be partners.
Donald Thompson: I like to pride myself on, when something as well said, just wrap that thing on. That is a, that is a perfect way to, to end our conversation and I think it’s going to help a lot of folks. And there’s a lot of people that are working through that emotional struggle of how do they show up at work, their full self, and how do they show up when people don’t understand and get me? And part of what you’re saying is let your performance speak
Sonya Hopson: Let your performance speak.
Donald Thompson: And that is really, really powerful. Sonya, thank you so much.
Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Music for this episode provided by Jensen Reed from his song, “You Can’t Stop Me”.