Jen Cunningham shares how one of her biggest risks became a chance to be heard for the first time in her career. A naturally curious person, Jen seeks to understand those around her to identify unconscious biases and be able to empathize and embrace others’ perspectives. She also loves to constantly be learning which just so happens to dovetail well into her role in education services at Blue Yonder!
What would you want someone to know about you?
I love to laugh. I enjoy humor. If I can just be enjoying and laughing all the time, it would make my life complete.
What’s your role at Blue Yonder?
I am the director of education services at Blue Yonder. I oversee content and training development for customer education. It’s a very challenging role and I enjoy challenges. I get the opportunity to meet a lot of people, learn a lot about our products, teach people something new about product or supply chain, or even something about themselves!
I am a naturally curious person and love having the opportunity to learn something new every day. Today for example, my last meeting was talking about the Azure architecture. We got really deep into discussing cloud architecture and I learned something I never thought I would learn! That’s the beauty of my position. Today, it may be learning about cloud, tomorrow, it may be discussing Salesforce and the digital experience and the following day, it may be about diversity.
What do you like most about your role?
The diversity of what I do every single day. It’s always different!
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I would love to be a forest ranger. I had the opportunity to go to the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico with my son who is an eagle scout. We met two forest rangers who talked a lot about conservation. I just thought that would be such a great opportunity to look after the forest, learn how to conserve and teach others about the little things you can do to conserve. I would love to be outside all the time. It is the complete opposite of what I do now.
Have you had an experience in your life where you felt different from those around you? How did you react?
Yes. When others realize I have a doctoral degree, they look at me differently. They often don’t even want to talk to me. It is as if they discriminate or look at me differently when they learn that I have a higher education. There is this stigma out there that people are afraid or feel they can’t talk to you, that you aren’t genuine or approachable. It’s sad and I feel sad because they don’t see me. My education is something I accomplished but it doesn’t make me, me.
Have you ever realized you had an unconscious bias? What did you do about it?
Yes. What I’ve realized is half the battle is learning you have them and understanding how to correct your own behavior. I have taken more trainings and educated myself so I can make sure I address it and reflect and move forward. Because moving forward is a big part of it. You can’t control others’ behavior, but I can control my own.
What has been one of the most challenging experiences in your life?
When I was going through my dissertation, I spent a year on my pre-proposal. It turned into a devastating but most challenging experience of my life. I spent a year researching and writing my proposal until finally it was approved by my mentor. When I went to the dean of the school, she denied my proposal and said there is no way I could complete my research, that I had to start over again. I asked if I could modify or edit the research project. She said no, there is no way you can do this proposal at all. They had to change my mentor and I had to start over completely.
It was crushing! You get to a point where you are exhausted and ready for it to be over, and that is where I was. That’s also where you show true grit. I took a month off, mentally prepared, and took the challenge to start again for the next year. The next time I got approved and had a great mentor through the process. While it was a terrible experience to begin with, it also turned into a great learning experience. It showed me that no matter the challenge, I could push through, no matter how long it takes.
What advice or resources have really helped you on your career and life journey?
I really like looking at motivational speakers and books. I read a lot of Randy Pausch and watched him throughout writing my dissertation. He has a lot of really great quotes that I even use today for my sons. He talks about how brick walls are for those that don’t want it enough. “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.” – Randy Pausch
Simon Sinek is another one. I watch him daily on LinkedIn. He had a show in New York and we drove up to see him. I always remember my why, keeping that at the front of my mind.
I’d also say that it’s important to listen to those you disagree with, because you need to understand their argument as well. You have to understand others’ perspectives as it gives you a well-rounded perspective of everyone around you.
Why do you DIVE IN?
I want to learn about others’ experiences. I have my own but really want to learn and understand others. And I can’t remove my biases or understand or empathize if I don’t. You have to listen and understand their experiences.
What is the best risk you’ve taken and why?
When I started here, there were some things happening that weren’t great. I actually emailed Girish Rishi (Blue Yonder’s CEO) and was fully expecting to be fired for doing so! My manager at the time was horrified.
Surprisingly enough, Girish emailed me back. I was more in awe that I wasn’t fired and that he emailed me back! For me that was a huge risk, especially as I was new, and because we had an issue to address, but he addressed my concern. That had never happened in my 20 years of working! Some may not say it’s a risk – but it is a risk when you are head of household and putting your career in your own hands especially when you just started at a new company. I felt heard and needed support. It was the first time ever in my career I felt heard. That was huge. It was the best risk because it kept me here. I know that there are channels to be heard.
What is the best and worst decision you’ve ever made?
The best decision was moving to Arizona from Pennsylvania. And the worst decision was moving back to Pennsylvania!
We decided to be closer to family but we got back to Pennsylvania and decided we didn’t like it there that much! It was cold, grey all the time, we missed the sun. So we moved back – all within a four-year span. Moving back was the best decision.
What is your proudest achievement?
My doctoral degree for sure!
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I am a crafter! I sew and crochet and scrapbook. I also love to paddleboard.
I have also done some Ragnar and Spartan races. I just did one in Seattle that was one of the toughest they have! This year I hiked 63 miles over 10 days at Philmont Scout Ranch with my son.
What’s a surprising or fun fact about you?
I have been married for 21 years, got married at 19. I also just recently lost 45 pounds following a program called Calibrate that really brings it all together – nutrition, sleep, emotional health.