It’s not every day that leaders from Twitter and PBS are on Michigan State’s campus. However, last week, the Broad College welcomed alumnae Dalana Brand, VP of people experience and head of inclusion and diversity at Twitter, and Andrea Downing, president of PBS Distribution at Public Broadcasting Services, back to their alma mater.
Through the college’s biannual Advancing Women in Business event and its inaugural Broad Teach-In: Be Bold. Be Broad. event, these prominent alumnae had critical conversations with current students, faculty and staff around topics such as women in business and diversity, equity and inclusion.
Supporting women in business
Brand and Downing each come from big Spartan families. For Downing (B.A. Operations and Logistics Management ’90), many family members attended MSU before her, inspiring her to study along the banks of the Red Cedar. Brand (B.A. Finance ’95, MBA Finance and Human Resources ’01) grew up in Lansing and always called campus “home” as her father was a professor in the Broad College for many years.
As featured panelists at the Advancing Women in Business event on Oct. 14, Brand and Downing engaged in a discussion about their background and career journeys with Cheri DeClercq, assistant dean of MBA programs.
Downing shared her trajectory from starting in supply chain management to taking on early leadership experiences and working her way up at PBS, all while being a single mom. She stressed the importance of working hard and doing quality work every step of the way.
“If you’re in a room, act like you belong there, because you do,” she said. “Every minute of every day, we’re making a choice.”
Brand talked about how she has found her voice and passion, which all started when she was up for a rotational finance job at Ford early in her career. She said, “I was asked, ‘What does a woman want to work in the automotive industry for?’ and I knew at that moment I was meant to find purpose in my work and make sure no other woman would experience what I did on that day.”
Brand said the spark was fully lit when she pursued her MBA in Finance and Human Resources, then took on roles in HR for EA and now Twitter. “I realized that I cared deeply about the experience that people have in the workplace,” she said.
Both alumnae answered questions about how to achieve work-life balance, what it takes to professionally say no and more.
Brand encouraged women to understand that they don’t have to do it all and be Wonder Woman. “Prioritize you and your self-care, because if you don’t take care of yourself, then you won’t have the energy to do it all. Take your cape off and give yourself some grace,” she said.
As for what future women leaders should focus on, Brand and Downing both emphasized the importance of inclusion and collaboration.
“The skill of being inclusive as a person and a leader — being able to influence across the spectrum of the organization is critically important because you need to get work done, and work happens with and through others,” Brand said.
Downing echoed this and added, “We have to network, collaborate and build relationships even when you’re not aligned [with your colleagues]. You have to know how to bring these perspectives together in a way that will move forward.”
DEI front and center
Brand stayed on campus another day and served as a keynote speaker at the college’s inaugural Broad Teach-In: Be Bold. Be Broad. event on Oct. 15. The event welcomed a mix of first- and second-year Full-Time MBA students, undergraduate students, faculty and staff to discuss DEI challenges and opportunities.
In her role at Twitter, Brand works to center inclusion, equity and belonging, with a focus on accountability to avoid actions and decisions simply being performative.
“These values have to permeate the culture and exist in every conversation that we have,” she said. “We have been discussing DEI for many years, too many years…. Awareness is important, but it’s not enough.
“Collective action is key; one person or company can’t fix this,” she continued. “We have to make sure we’re all showing up and doing our part, and that will have a multiplier effect to make [DEI values] resonate in deeper ways than they have in the past.”
Brand also made the case for the Broad College’s unique position and opportunity to become a leader in the DEI space, specifically when it comes to supply chain management.
“The No. 1 job right now is DEI officer, and the No. 2 job is around supplier inclusion. Companies want to make sure their suppliers are held to the same set of values that they hold internally,” she said.
With MSU’s status as the No. 1 supply chain management school, Brand pointed out how the Broad College has an opportunity to be the institution that trains the best inclusive supply chain professionals.
“I challenge Broad to look end to end at all policies and processes to take things to the next level,” she said. “I really believe this college is positioned to be really bold and great in the DEI space.”
In addition to Brand’s inspiring talk, the event featured small-group discussions and a keynote presentation from William Horton-Anderson, Full-Time MBA assistant director of academic and student affairs, on LGBTQ+ representation and inclusion. He encouraged the attendees to embrace new perspectives, especially in the workplace.
“When you’re uncomfortable, something beautiful can come from it,” he said. “Be open to change; be open to someone challenging the way you think and behave.”
Overall, the event served as a starting point for more conversations that matter and a reminder that more work is needed to bring DEI front and center.
“It starts with leadership — you may not get everyone’s hearts and minds supporting this work, but you want accountability,” Brand said. “Look for points of tension and pressure to keep accelerating this work until we reach a point where people are doing this work on their own. Do the work, show up and take action.”