When we are seen How to come into your power--and empower others along the way

Denise Young, 1955-

Book - 2024

"From one of the first and few women of color to reach the c-suite in Silicon Valley, Apple's former chief of HR, co-creator of the Apple Store culture, and first VP of inclusion and diversity, comes a heartfelt story of growing up Black and female in a world with little regard for either and a practical road map for embodying the best in yourself and emboldening others along the way. For her work as a co-creator of the Apple Store cultural experience, Denise Young has been deemed by leadership experts as one of the most emotionally intelligent leaders of her era. In this stirring narrative, part-memoir, part blueprint for action, she shares her vision of what it means to be truly seen at our places of work. As a "first and o...nly" woman of color in boardrooms and leading roles across the Bay Area's booming tech industry, Denise was a trailblazer in a business that was never built for her. The first black and female senior executive under both Steve Jobs and Tim Cook, Denise was often in "the room where it happened." But within a white male-centric professional culture, she still had to work harder, smarter, and differently to get heard. She speaks candidly to that experience in these pages, offering lessons to those coming up behind her. In When We Are Seen, Denise shares insights on using your own story, empathy, intuition, and more to unlock the potential in yourself and others. Her story serves as both solace and strategy for anyone who has ever felt left out, unseen, ostracized; anyone who has been an only or a first. This is a book for anyone interested in upending perpetual cycles of exclusion, and in reclaiming our individual agency in the ongoing quest to thrive and belong. Denise argues that bringing your truest self to work-from wearing your beloved locs to sharing your artistic passion-and, in turn, holistically seeing the attributes others have to offer is not a passive experience; it is a specific skill we can and should build. And the result is a deeper understanding of what it means to be inclusive, and powerfully human on the job"--

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New York : Crown [2024]
Main Author
Denise Young, 1955- (author)
First edition
Physical Description
xxi, 261 pages ; 22 cm
Includes bibliographical references.
  • Introduction: On Being Seen
  • 1. I See You
  • 2. The Earliest of Seers
  • 3. The Places Where Seeing Lives
  • 4. No Black Boss in Sight
  • 5. The Voices Make the Choir
  • 6. I Am Not Your Numbers
  • 7. Your Presence Is Requested But May Be Ignored
  • 8. Translators, Interpreters, and Explainers
  • 9. Please Allow Me to Express Myself
  • 10. Empathy, Misunderstood
  • 11. Blind, Biased, and Missing the Point
  • 12. Taxation Without Representation
  • 13. Sing Your Own Song
  • 14. Not a Passion Project
  • 15. Tolls, Toiling, and Tired
  • 16. A Muted Horn Is Still Heard
  • 17. When We See
  • 18. Meeting Ourselves Where We Are
  • Notes
  • Acknowledgments
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Young debuts with a stirring account of her 21-year career in human resources at Apple, during which she became the company's first Black female senior executive. She recounts the loneliness she felt in the C-suite surrounded by "people who could not fathom my childhood rooted in a Jim Crow South," and laments the foot-dragging she faced from white colleagues when she headed the company's DEI program. Opining on how workplaces can better support employees, Young emphasizes the importance of flexibility and recalls how a team unfairly denied the request of their coworker, who was a single mom, to postpone a morning meeting so she would have time to drop off her children at school. Business leaders must take an active role in addressing inequities, Young contends, lauding Steve Jobs for spontaneously creating a position at Apple for Spelman College's engineering dean to recruit Black engineers for the company after the dean, on a tour of the corporate campus, struck up a conversation with the CEO. Unlike many other DEI volumes, this book defends inclusivity as an end in itself, rather than a means to higher retention or profits. While Young's harshest critiques of Apple sometimes shy away from specifics, what comes through is her resilience. This stands out in the crowded field of business memoirs. (May)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A look at our crucial need for affirmation. In this insightful book debut, Young, Apple's former chief of human resources and first vice president of inclusion and diversity, makes a compelling argument for bringing empathy and humanity into the workplace. As co-creator of the Apple Store's cultural experiences, Young saw the project as "a people-first proposition" where customers would "want to stay, hang out, and just learn stuff. It was not a transaction" but rather "a total experience that expanded their lives." The author recalls times when she felt truly seen as a child--such as when her dance teachers cast her in a lead role in Cinderella; at Grambling College, where she felt challenged and supported; and as an employee, often the first and only Black female in an executive position, when she was recognized for talents that included deftly translating and interpreting contributions from those who felt marginalized or not heard. Throughout her career in tech startups and at Apple, Young has become deeply convinced of the importance of recognizing, acknowledging, and seeing people as individuals with diverse histories, backstories, and cultures. "The beauty of having more dimensions of humanity represented in more settings," she writes, "is that we are likely to see each other, recognize cultural cues, and be able to act on them, pausing to bring in more clarity and perspective, leaving fewer people behind and psychologically emotionally unaccounted for." When she was offered the position of diversity officer at Apple, friends and colleagues warned her against accepting a job in which she would be expected "to enact change where an invisible, systemic, and ingrained set of beliefs" is impossible to overcome. Although the job proved frustrating, she believes, still, "we can choose to create our own ecosystems of inclusivity, connection, and progress." Thoughtful reflections on race, gender, and human connection. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Chapter 1 I See You Who lives, who dies, who tells your story? --Lin Manuel-Miranda, Hamilton In December 2014, Fortune magazine published a feature about me titled "Apple's New Voice." When the article came out, I had been at the company for eighteen years--what felt like a professional lifetime--thirteen of them in leadership and senior executive roles. I led a global team that had by then placed over 425 Apple Stores across the world and had infused them with the talent and a culture that gave the world a new way of interacting with technology. I had achieved significant business credibility for my work, and in multiple countries, so how was I a "new voice"? I had been at it for nearly two decades--so why was I being recognized now? Indeed, I had ascended to a coveted corporate level and as such had become another "first," another historic "only." So, although my ascension to be the first Black woman in the C-level executive at Apple was new, my impact had been long standing after years of achievements. As I was touted a "new voice", I wondered if anyone had taken note of the prior years, countries, and thousands I'd impacted? Who then, deems us seen or notable? Are we seen only by some, and what are the criteria? Are we heard only when others give credibility to our voices? I had questions. My issue was not with the competent reporter who wrote the piece, but rather with the media's overall shallow interest in learning of someone's broader context, and therefore contributing to the very essence of erasure. The story's "Apple's new voice" slant felt narrow to me, given what I had already done, yet many people praised the recognition, and, in sort of a mystical way, the story both saw me yet overlooked me. Had someone in the process of publishing the article taken a thoughtful pause around what was being said about this "first" story, the entire piece might have served a different and more powerful result: the rare account of a Black woman ascending to the top at a renowned tech giant, her real accomplishments, her real challenges, her next steps. If the Fortune team had simply asked me the question the way Chappelle did, "How's that going?" I might have asked them to write about the positive impact of my work on thousands of employees, and the many firsts they'd in turn achieved, and how seeing people has a powerful business and human outcome. It might have been of interest to know about the role a Black woman had played in creating a cultural blueprint that would change the consumer technology experience forever. The experiences of women, and women of color, and especially Black women, taking a particular seat for the first time (often a seat she should have assumed long before) might have been insightful for white, male executives perpetually grappling with taking a "risk" to promote a woman. Had I been asked, or had I been allowed to use my actual voice, I could have shared insights that might have proven life affirming for others who looked like me. But the point of the story was my "firstness," as a Black woman in the C-suite of the world's most admired tech company, and yes, this was newsworthy, but hardly my highest impact work. It was a corporate byline, not my byline. It was what others felt my story should be, the most favorable story for them, despite what I believed, or even what my represented community saw. Had someone only asked, I would have shared the hard work that had gone into building a culture that served both people and product to astonishing results. Had that story been heard by more organizations, more leaders might have taken note. Instead, I was the eighteen-year veteran presented, inexplicably, as a "new voice." The result was a missed opportunity, for us and for them. Growing up, I spent a lot of time around adults and I learned how to listen. I watched them intently and was rarely bored by them. I listened to their stories and their experiences. I especially enjoyed listening in social settings whenever there was alcohol served, as that meant two things. One, everyone spoke more freely, possibly more honestly and definitely with more humor. And two, I could manage sneaking a sip of my dad's coveted bourbon and never miss a beat of listening. The adults surrounding me were fascinating in what was said and unsaid. With body language, tone, and inflection, there were always master tellers of stories, stories (alongside a love of humor and the artful sipping of bourbon) that have stayed with me for a lifetime. All this observed information certainly informed my professional journey. And although I likely could have made a great jury consultant, having strong observation and listening skills in a business where people were my business was absolutely a strength. Along the way, colleagues--mostly men--challenged me to be less like me, and more like them: Don't observe, participate! Speak up! Speak out! Sometimes I succumbed to the peer pressure, chiming in where, in my mind, there was no need to, debating for the sake of debate. To me, these behaviors wasted time, but they were the behaviors of the included. And if I wanted to be heard, seen, included, I sometimes had to mirror them. My parents were raised under the adage that children should barely be seen and definitely not heard. This was very likely a cultural remnant of protection. Allowing children to speak very little lessened the chances of saying too much to those who meant harm to our community, a legacy my grandparents and theirs would have carried forward from post enslavement. In Black families of my era, children did not much participate in adult conversations, and frequently were made to leave a room. Within this cultural norm, children didn't hold opinions; children's thoughts didn't concern adults, and they certainly were not solicited. But my family allowed me to transcend this parenting adage, gently encouraging me to have a point of view. They did not shield me from adult talk, and if I was in the room, I wasn't viewed quite the way other children were. I was Leon and Margaret's smart little girl whom it was okay to speak frankly around. If other children were there, we were all sent off to play. But on my own, I was seen, often even included. Listening in on adult conversations meant I learned of the day-to-day injustices abundant in life for a Black person in America only a few years beyond the securing of our civil rights. In a military town, I heard tales of the indignities endured in a military desegregated only a few years prior to schools and institutions. This way of life was all still new. And there were traumatic personal struggles from meager household incomes to philandering husbands, the consistently frustrating experiences of living while Black, promises never fulfilled, and loss, unfathomable losses. I listened to the suspicious complaining from wives of philandering husbands, the never-ending struggles of making ends meet, the consistent experiences of living while Black, the promises never fulfilled, and the losses, the unfathomable losses. Many of the Black members of our Colorado Springs community had migrated determinedly from rural South hometowns, many coming directly from Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, or Oklahoma, very much like the migration stories Isabel Wilkerson told us of in The Warmth of Other Suns. Some we knew had inherited generational legacies of resources, like the Sapp and Bourgois families. Some proudly upheld a rich family heritage of achievement, like the beautiful Phoenix sisters, or the Morgan twins, Joseph and Justice, and Sy Smith, with their Colorado Hall of Fame sports legacies as amateur and semi-professional level baseball players. There were the scores of military families who left the South, with a branch of the military, who came through Colorado on a tour of duty and decided it was a place to stay and try to build new lives . . . lives they hoped would be less touched by a newly desegregated South. All of them contributed to the fabric of the "foot-of-the-Rockies" community that no one had expected to find us thriving in. Excerpted from When We Are Seen: How to Come into Your Power--And Empower Others along the Way by Denise Young All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.