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Black leader panel inspires with honesty, humor

Be authentic. Help others rise. And realize that mistakes can be blessings.

Those are gems of wisdom imparted by three Phillips 66 Black female executives during a candid panel discussion held recently at Houston headquarters.

Denise Singleton of the Board of Directors; Vanessa Allen Sutherland, Executive Vice President, Legal and Government Affairs; and Brenda Brinson, General Manager of Talent Management, participated in the event, which was sponsored by the Black Employee Network.

BEN steering committee chair Krystal Braden, who is Team Lead, Specialties and Export Accounts, with Lubricants, served as moderator.

The panelists shared stories, laughs and sound advice.

Sutherland encouraged employees to be honest about what they want, stay motivated, try new things and learn from failures. “The public embarrassments are the ones that teach you the most,” she said.

She also shared her father’s advice on the importance of always adding value to a company: “Be the faucet, not the drain.” 

Singleton said she was reserved early in her career and wasn’t comfortable showing her authentic self. This led to coworkers being “kind of afraid” of her, especially as a 6-foot-1-inch-tall woman. She eventually realized it was best to show her true nature — a funny, caring person who loves to hug people.

The executives also talked about “superwoman syndrome” and the pressure to be perfect.

“Superwoman is a fictional character. It is not real. And you are,” Singleton said.

In terms of legacy, they spoke of lifting others, including sponsoring college scholarships, mentoring the next generation of leaders and creating a wide network that will allow them to reach “kingmaker and queenmaker status” where they can place others in high-level positions.

“I really just want to leave it better,” Brinson said. “Everything that I’ve been able to do is because somebody left it better for me, and I just want to do my part.”

The panelists also discussed the company’s efforts around inclusion and diversity as well as professional development.

Phillips 66 in 2019 started the EMERGE Leader Experience, an internal conference hosted by BEN that targets budding leaders for professional development and gives them an opportunity to engage with managers across the company. Nearly a quarter of EMERGE participants have earned a promotion.

Brinson said that the company in 2023 will launch a career development plan process for all employees that will focus on equality and equity. The plan will allow employees to ask for certain types of development opportunities, including mentorships.

Braden said the Black executive panel felt like a discussion among friends and that employees left feeling empowered to present their skillsets as unique and exceptional. “These conversations will help usher in strong leaders and build a stronger Phillips 66,” she said.