BABE #119: MIYA KUSUMOTO, VP + IT Project Sr. Analyst @ Citi
While we may have all realized by now that “having it all” is a myth perpetuated by glossy magazines and 90s rom-coms, today's babe comes pretty dang close. In addition to working her 9-5 in the tech sector at Citi, she’s involved with some of our favorite organizations in Jax (shoutout to TEDxJAX and Edible NE Florida) while somehow keeping up with her own personal food blog. If you're anything like us, Miya's ambition and involvement just might inspire you to do every little thing your heart desires - and do it all well. Thanks for chatting with us, Miya! You're a bonafide Babe.
Babe you admire and why?
Is it cliché to say my mom? She’s an incredible woman whom I am inspired by daily. She moved across the country in her twenties from Atlanta to San Francisco and was able to support herself. I am forever inspired not only by her ability to connect with those around her, but also her ability to find the goodness in seemingly all situations. She is hilarious and optimistic, resilient and open-minded.
How do you spend your free time?
There is a part of me that will regret saying this, but I have always considered myself a “serial hobbyist.” I am in the process of learning the guitar, photography, calligraphy, graphic design and a couple of new programming languages right now. At the most granular level, it comes down to enjoying the process of learning something new and working towards a specific goal. I am by no means a master in any of these things but there is a satisfying je ne sais quoi about trying and practicing something new.
Favorite app, website or blog?
My favorite app has quickly become 1 Second Everyday.
Go-to coffee order?
I’m boring! Plain black coffee preferably from a local coffee spot.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
In New Mexico, local hatch green chiles are put on everything—breakfast, lunch and dinner. I think my last meal would need to be a breakfast burrito from the Frontier Restaurant in Albuquerque. It’s stuffed with bacon, egg, cheese, potatoes and green chiles. I’m salivating just thinking about it.
If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?
Off the grid and completely unplugged, hiking somewhere in Canada (or Switzerland, or Iceland, or South America...)
Boxed mac and cheese. I hate that I love it!
Tell us about your hustle:
I work at Citi on the Employee Engagement and Change Management team in the Global Consumer Technology organization. Basically, that’s a fancy way of saying I write organizational announcements, articles and blog posts; plan speaker series and information sessions; and develop and execute on communication strategy plans for different leaders in the technology group. I love learning as much as I can about diverse technologies and the strategy behind running a successful business, so this role has been a great opportunity for that. On the side, I am a volunteer on the TEDxJacksonville team as a social media manager, creating content for Instagram, writing our post-event and community blog posts and scheduling content for our social media calendars. I also contribute to Edible magazine and website and manage my own food blog and Instagram.
What does your typical workday look like?
After pressing snooze on my alarm clock one too many times (yes, I did read the study claiming snooze button culprits are much more tired,) I finally peel myself out of bed to make my first cup of coffee. By the time I get to work it's between 7:30 and 8:00, so I have plenty of time to take advantage of my morning productivity sweet spot and consume my second cup of Joe. Then, my day is a lot of emails, meetings and work on any ongoing projects or deliverables. At the end of the work day, if I don’t have to scoot off to a TEDx or Junior League team meeting, I will go down to the on-campus fitness center to take a barre or Zumba class to unwind. When that’s done, it’s finally time to head home. Yay! I normally have done some minor food prep over the weekend so that all I have to do is throw some things together for a quick meal. My evenings are filled with creating content for TEDx or my blog, catching up on some reading or TV shows and then attempting to go to sleep at a decent hour.
What was the application/interview process like for each of the roles you’re in now?
I began at Citi as an intern before moving into a leadership development program. My application and interview process was unusual compared to a lot of jobs out there now. I attended the University of Florida and met recruiters from Citi at an on-campus career showcase, and participated in both an in-persona and phone interview before being offered an internship. My full-time offer came about because the internship was essentially a long interview. The TEDx leadership team is comprised of about 25 individuals with new roles coming available as the team evolves. A friend of mine mentioned an opening on the communications team, I completed the online volunteer application and interviewed, and was offered a role on the team.
How do you manage all of your side hustles and switch gears between the tech world and the food industry?
It’s been a learning experience, for sure. I have had to work on my self-discipline, because a lot of times I just want to come home from work, watch TV on the couch and then go to bed early. I still indulge in those evenings every once in a while, but finding my weekly rhythm is something I’ve had to work for. I haven’t always been organized, and I still don’t even know if I would consider myself as such. My one saving grace is that I am a dedicated list-maker and I love to check the boxes. I have sticky notes plastered everywhere, from my planner to my home office Scrum board that help to keep me on track with personal projects and due dates.
Have you always had a love for food and writing? Where do you think those passions comes from, and when did you decide they would pair well together for you?
My parents have always been amazing home cooks. My dad was actually the chef at a restaurant in his younger days, so early on I was surrounded by good food and family meals. I didn’t always love the food, and I was actually an incredibly picky eater, but mealtime was always a time to come together and catch up. It wasn't until college that I began to enjoy eating and trying new foods. Fast-forward to today, and I managed to create a blog with the sole purpose of making eating a socially acceptable hobby. Writing is a bit of a different story. I’ve always enjoyed more analytic and math-based courses and projects, but writing came pretty easily. In elementary school I was writing stories about magical doughnuts and whimsical candy lands, so I guess maybe food writing has always been a thing for me?
What is your relationship to the community here, and how has it helped shape your professional life?
I grew up at the beach in Jacksonville, and moved to Riverside after college. I’ve loved living in Jacksonville because I think it is a city positioned for growth and success in many different aspects. Our arts, culture and food scene seems to be maturing, which is incredibly exciting. As a community, we’ve been at the precipice of this cultural shift in our region and what’s so appealing about it is that anyone who wants to be a player in driving this change can be. Since moving back, I have been so impressed by the number of individuals who hold full-time jobs, are involved in the community, volunteer their time and still make an effort to attend all of the wonderful events that have started to take place in Jacksonville.
How would you say your gender and/or ethnicity have affected your professional experience?
More often than not, women have this innate tendency to make sure everyone is OK or to attempt to always please others. I’ve always struggled to overcome that feeling. When I was in school, I found myself in many situations where I should have been the one to present, create or deliver on a project, but let someone else take the reins because I was worried about being too bossy or controlling. As I have moved into my early career, I don’t think the desire to please others has negatively affected my performance—it actually makes me work harder and do better. It’s important to balance the needs of others with your own personal needs, but in a working capacity, I take great pride in understanding exactly what my manager wants and being able to deliver it.
What is the gender ratio like in your industry? Do you see it evolving?
In school it was always painfully obvious that there were only a couple women in my classes. As I moved into the workforce though, it always seemed like there were a lot more women present in management roles across different lines of business within the company. As expected, technology groups lag behind with the number of women who hold senior leadership positions. I think it is evolving, slowly and steadily, as senior leadership teams within the industry stress the importance of diversity in their teams and organizations.
What is your biggest strength in your current role?
I like to think I am relatively versatile and open-minded. I am always willing to take on a variety of projects and to find ways to leverage my current skills into my work in new ways.
Are you involved with any other community organizations or side projects?
Other than TEDxJacksonville and Edible, I am involved with Junior League of Jacksonville and I try to volunteer with Sulzbacher Center and Daniel Kids as much as I can.
What advice would you give to a babe trying to break into tech?
There are a lot of different women in STEM initiatives that provide wonderful opportunities to women who want to pursue careers in technology. I would absolutely say to take advantage of these, and to network with other women who can help connect you to opportunities and resources that may be hard to find otherwise. Additionally, stay tenacious and curious, continue to learn new technologies, and find ways to make yourself valuable to a team or an organization.
What motivates and inspires you?
Honestly, all of the hustlin’ babes that I know. I am consistently amazed by the incredible women whom I am lucky to call friends, family and mentors. It’s both motivating and encouraging to spend time with people who value success, intelligence and generosity. I find it particularly inspiring when I find a woman so unapologetically herself—unafraid of new challenges, of speaking out, of speaking up. Women who are brave, bold, graceful, and talented.
What does success look like to you?
At its core, success to me is being able to do something I never thought I was capable of. On a small scale like taking a really great photograph of a pecan pie, or on a much larger scale like presenting accomplishments to executives when I have an inherent fear of public speaking, success is a lifelong and eternally evolving feeling of self-satisfaction and pride in one’s work.
How do you find a work-life balance?
At an International Women’s Day conference at my organization, a senior leader in the technology space said she didn’t believe in work-life balance, she believed in work-life integration. After hearing that, I have come to think of it the same way. Of course it’s important to disconnect from work, obligations and related stress to decompress and maintain mental health, but the idea of work and life competing for your attention makes a perfect balance feel unattainable. I have come to think of my work and life existing together where it’s okay that the line between the two is more fluid than defined. Plus, isn’t a successful and meaningful life inclusive of hard work?
What helps you wind down? How do you manage stress?
I cherish my alone time at home with a good book or calligraphy practice. It keeps me grounded and helps me decompress after a long day without thinking too much into the day’s events or the next day’s deliverables.
What are some notable experiences you’ve had on the job?
This is more intense-embarrassing than funny-embarrassing, but during the first week of my first job, fresh out of grad school, my manager wanted me to meet with his manager to discuss a project I was assigned. Going into that meeting I was nervous and flustered, and started talking my way into a breathless abyss. When I finally came up for a breather, he stopped me and said: “Miya, I just want to give you some advice. One thing that it took me longer than it should have to learn was to go into a meeting and point-blank state the purpose. I have no idea what you are asking me for right now.” That moment was mortifying, but was also incredibly enlightening. From that point on, I aimed to be clear, concise and purposeful from the moment I send out a meeting invitation.
How can Babes Who Hustle help you succeed?
One of my most important resources are the smart, talented ladies in my life who share advice and wisdom beyond their years. These women provide a support system and countless friendships that help in my personal and professional growth and success. Surrounding myself with babes who have a different background and set of experiences than me offers an invaluable opportunity to expand my worldview and approach situations with a lens of greater understanding. This greater understanding leads to meaningful interactions with others and to smarter, more thoughtful decisions.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Advice that I give myself all the time: Don’t be afraid. Challenge yourself to do things you are not sure you can do, and when you are successful, you will feel like Superwoman. It’s an addicting feeling.
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