Kimberly Davis, CPA, Chief Financial Officer, Versant Health
This blog post is part of Versant Health’s series of profiles of Black leaders in our organization. We believe in uplifting the diverse voices of our community, and we are taking space to honor their experiences.
Over the course of my career, I’ve learned to appreciate being comfortable with being uncomfortable. This wasn’t always the case. “Public” and “speaker” were two words I once didn’t associate with myself. Yet, I now often find myself speaking in front of hundreds of people! What sparked this personal transformation for me was the book “The Year of Yes” by Shonda Rhimes. She wrote, “Stand up in front of people. Let them see you. Speak. Be heard. Go ahead and have the dry mouth. Let your heartbeat so, so fast. Watch everything move in slow motion. So what?”
In 2013, at a time when I was feeling stuck in my career, I embraced my own “year of yes,” accepting every speaking engagement and audience-facing opportunity that came my way, without hesitation. It was intimidating and I was terrified, but I believed that stepping outside of my comfort was necessary for me to jumpstart my stalled career.
My “year of yes” proved to be a defining period not just in my career, but in my life—teaching me valuable lessons about how to overcome my own limiting beliefs while staying true to my purpose and values as an emerging Black female C-Suite executive. Here’s what I’ve learned.
1. Stay True to Yourself and Be Grounded in Who You Are
When fear of rejection or failure consumes you, recognize that these negative feelings usually come from our concern about someone else’s perception of you – something you have absolutely no control over, yet we tend to spend a lot of time trying to do just that. For instance, instead of feeling the need to compromise yourself to fit into a certain company’s culture, maybe consider the company just may not be a great fit for you. And that’s okay. This approach means you are not internalizing rejection and giving in to feeling unworthy. Rather, you are saying “no” to this environment to say “yes” to yourself.
Step back and ask yourself if you are valued. Can you bring your authentic self to work? Can you find ways to remain authentic and true to yourself in the workplace – whether this involves your personal style, your management approach, your networking style, or something else? It has been fulfilling to find a workplace at Versant Health that enables me to show up fully and unapologetically as myself—which, in turn, allows me to do my best work.
To help you feel grounded, build up your network to include other successful people—those having experienced similar struggles and challenges. Surround yourself with others who relate to what you’re going through—in my case, I have a sounding board of fellow Black leaders and women trailblazers—who provide compassion and support and help me to believe in my potential.
2. Find a Mentor
I believe adamantly in the power of mentorship and give credit to my mentors for where I am today.
Mentors—both male and female—have been instrumental in my life. Jean Holder, the first female CFO that I ever knew and worked for, provided me with not just opportunities, but also guidance to grow and step outside my comfort zone. Another mentor and sponsor, Jonathan Bicknell, former CFO at Versant, would proactively provide opportunities for me to gain visibility as a leader.
These mentors positioned me to take on my current leadership position when the opportunity arose. I’m now a Black female CFO with a long history of experience in private equity—an industry that historically is not diverse from neither a gender nor race perspective. Consider, for instance, that among asset management firms’ C-suite ranks, there’s only 19% female representation and fewer than one-tenth minority representation.
Despite this, I feel well-prepared to conquer anything that comes my way. One of my most memorable career highlights since joining Versant in 2018 was supporting our acquisition by MetLife. This included transforming the accounting function, making sure that we were ready for a deal of this magnitude from a financial reporting and financial controls standpoint. As a result of the mentorship given to me and the stemming opportunities—in addition to the ones I took on in my quest for “yes,” —I entered my new role as CFO feeling confident, respected, appreciated, and valued.
3. Give Back to Others
Growing up, my grandfather set the example for the importance of giving back to others and helping to guide people to align with their higher purpose.
My absolute favorite way to give back is through mentorship because mentors have played such a big role in my life. In fact, it is one of my greatest joys. As a member of the Johns Hopkins Dean’s Alumni Advisory Board, I mentor MBA students to help them seamlessly navigate the transition from academia to the “real world” where emerging leaders especially must learn to stay grounded, so they are not easily distracted from their purpose. I have found that the lessons that I’ve learned over my career are highly valuable to others and I feel an obligation to tell my story in hopes that others will benefit from it.
The experiences I’ve gained from serving on non-profit boards—like learning how to work with others cross-functionally for a common goal—transfer to all parts of my life, helping to give me the confidence to be even less afraid to say “yes” to opportunities outside of my comfort zone.
Saying “yes” to yourself means you are expanding, instead of shrinking. You are taking risks that promote self-growth instead of making excuses or blaming others for why you are not achieving your goals. And you are continuously challenging yourself to redefine what your comfort zone looks like.
It is my hope that you will also experience how it feels to bring new people into your life who lift you up and support you along the way and that you are able to welcome opportunities that give you a chance to thrive. May redefining your comfort zone be about wondering how what once intimidated you is now something you can’t imagine life without.
When I reflect on what my higher purpose is, I know for sure it’s breaking glass ceilings in my career and bringing the next generation of Black women leaders along with me.
What’s yours? The next time you feel uncomfortable, take a moment to breathe and ask yourself the ever-important question: So, what?