The New C-Suite Gives Good Advice: Elise Smith on Building a Tech-Proof Skill Set

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Elise Smith Talks Building a Tech-Proof Skill SetTyler Joe

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Our New C-Suite members (AKA the class of movers and shakers that we ID each year in partnership with digitalundivided) are all about representing what the workplace and its executives can—and should—look like. And when it comes to people who are literally laying the groundwork for healthier, happier offices, Elise Smith, the co-founder and CEO of Praxis Labs, is a pretty shining example. Her company uses virtual reality technology to help businesses share diversity, equity, and inclusion-focused practice scenarios and lessons within their organizations.

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Considering that Elise spends her days teaching other workplaces (Google, Amazon, and Uber, to name just a few) how they can do better, it's no surprise that she's got great insights on running a strong office and staying sane while doing it. In today's edition of our career column, The New C-Suite Gives Good Advice, Elise shares her thoughts on maintaining a good work-life balance, squashing self-doubt, and expanding your "human" skill set.

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?

My morning routine begins with a moment of reflection. I love the “5-minute gratitude” journal. I find this practice not only sets a positive tone for the day ahead but also serves as a beautiful way to acknowledge, appreciate, and be present. In addition to the things I’m grateful for, it prompts me to think about my intentions for the day ahead. I highly recommend it!

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The next step in the routine is a much-needed cup (or two!) of coffee. I love following politics so I typically have The Daily or The Runup on while the coffee is brewing.

Are you maintaining a healthy work-life balance these days? And if yes, how?

It’s definitely a work in progress! Recently I’ve been making a conscious effort to remember that I’m more than my title, job, and company that I represent.

As a recent transplant to LA, I’ve been enjoying the nice weather and recharging with outdoor activities like walking, playing tennis, and going on hikes. That being said, I do enjoy a good Netflix binge.

How do you deal with self-doubt? When you’re not feeling sure of yourself, how do you snap out of it?

I’m grateful to have a support system that reminds me of who I am and what I can accomplish. One unlock for me is my incredible executive coach. She’s a trusted confidante who I can openly share fears, self-doubt, and feelings of imposter syndrome. Our sessions offer an opportunity to release these emotions, take a deep breath (or two), and return with renewed focus to tackle whatever lies ahead.

I’m grateful for my co-founder, Heather. We share our fears and insecurities with each other. Sometimes just saying it out loud removes some of the power from those insecurities.

I also rely on a community of friends and other founders who understand the highs and lows of the entrepreneurial rollercoaster. It can be validating to hear from others who have been through similar challenges and can share their own stories of how they overcame those obstacles. Special shout out to my fiancé who is my fiercest advocate! I feel lucky to have such a great community around me.

What advice would you give to young women of color who want to found their own business?

To all the incredible young women of color aspiring to carve their path in the business world, my advice is simple: believe in yourself and have conviction in what you’re building.

Know that your dreams are valid and your voice matters. Remember, your unique perspective and experiences are the exact assets that set you apart. The journey may be challenging, but your determination will be the greatest advantage you have on the path to building something truly impactful. I can’t wait to see what you create!

Workplace culture has gone through a ton of change in the last few years, what with the pandemic, the corporate reckoning on racial inequality, the great resignation, quiet quitting, and more. What’s another change you’d like to see in workplace culture?

Now this is something I spend a ton of time thinking about. Something I’m eager to see is for DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion] to be fully infused in a company’s DNA. I find that while many companies have adopted strategies around DEI, they fail to see a real and lasting impact on people’s hearts, minds, and ultimately, their behaviors.

Especially for large enterprise companies that employ tens of thousands of people and have global reach with their products and services, architecting a workplace that’s inclusive to all is both a moral imperative and good business. It starts with creating a culture that not only recognizes the diverse needs of its workforce but actively works to meet them. When people feel valued and heard, they’re more likely to bring their best and most innovative ideas.

Of course, I’d be remiss to not say that some of the most people-forward companies also leverage tools to help them develop inclusive leaders. While I am biased here, I think Praxis Labs’ immersive learning platform is uniquely valuable in helping develop and put into practice inclusive leadership skills.

Do you have any advice on how to handle a bad boss?

Dealing with a challenging boss is something everyone can relate to. I believe in the power of direct and constructive feedback that centers empathy and humanity. Laying a foundation of collaboration and mutual respect is an important part of this conversation. Modeling behaviors on how you want to be supported can be a helpful way to establish this common ground. Both you and your boss need to remember that your success is your boss’ success.

After all that, if the situation remains challenging, it is okay to recognize that it might be time to explore new opportunities. Every person deserves a work environment where their growth and success are prioritized. In the end, it’s about finding a boss who invests in your potential and is genuinely committed to your success.

What’s the top career advancement tool that you’d recommend to young professionals?

Well, of course, I have to plug my own company, Praxis Labs! We’re laser-focused on building what we call “human skills” that help all learners be leaders for equity and inclusion.

While the shelf-life of technical skills seems to be shortening each day with more advancements in AI and other technologies, we’ve found that these human skills—leading across differences, navigating difficult conversations, giving actionable and effective feedback—are far more enduring and help organizations navigate uncharted waters. For aspiring leaders, these are valuable skills that demonstrate your ability to motivate and inspire teams.

If not shouting out Praxis Labs, I’d say LinkedIn. I love scrolling through and reading what people are working on, what they’re building, what they are celebrating or thinking about. I have done many cold outreach messages on LinkedIn and am grateful that some of the leaders I admire responded to those messages. I always say why not try? Worst case, you don’t get a response. Best case, you could gain a powerful sponsor or advisor.

What was your first major career win, and how did you celebrate?

One moment that comes to mind is when I successfully negotiated a well-deserved pay raise and promotion in one of my earlier jobs. What made it even better was that I was able to celebrate with my family by bringing my parents on a work trip to Turkey.

I’m so grateful for everything my parents have done to give me the opportunities I have. It meant a lot to me to be able to show them the impact of their sacrifices and investments in my life. Celebrating this win with them was not just a personal victory, but a shared moment of acknowledgment for all that they have done for me and my sister.

Who’s the first person you call when you get exciting career news/updates, and why?

I’m lucky to have two great partners in my life. In my romantic relationship, each triumph, both personal and professional, is truly a shared victory as we often contribute to each other’s successes in direct and indirect ways.

Similarly, in business, I see my co-founder Heather Shen as more than just a collaborator, but a companion on our shared journey. Every career win is a shared win, as we build and navigate this experience together.

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