Forging your own Path

Published on:

January 29, 2022

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Colourful leaders

Known for being empathic, versatile and a problem solver, Dessi wears several hats at IHS Markit across the Legal function and serves as the Global Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer (CDEIO) for the organisation globally. She is never one to shy away from a new set of challenges. From her perspective, each responsibility undertaken is an opportunity to go beyond your comfort zone and essential to growth. This admirable characteristic is deeply rooted in her upbringing. Hailing from the Horn of Africa, Dessi spent her early childhood in her beloved Eritrea during the period when the country was under Ethiopia’s military occupation. Her family was able to escape to England where, together with her parents and three brothers, the family had to rebuild their lives in a new environment. This is where Dessi learnt to adapt to a new language and culture to survive and integrate. A true testament of resilience, Dessi attributes her achievements, in large, to her Eritrean roots and embracing these early life experiences and challenges.

Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer, APAC General Counsel & Global head of Financial Services and IP Legal at IHS Markit Singapore

How do you keep the wheels turning carrying this many responsibilities?

I believe my versatility and resilience is rooted in my early childhood experience; it helped to form a very determined mindset. I saw, first hand, how my parents, as qualified professionals, had to completely start from scratch and rebuild their entire lives in a foreign country. My amazing mother had to work incredibly hard raising 4 children without the support of her extended family. My father provided for our family and so many others in the community who were in a similar position to us. Still, both shielded us from the harsh reality they were facing. So, the way I see it: if my parents could achieve greatness despite the many obstacles in their path, I can overcome anything. All I need is the opportunity, and the rest is up to me.

What else do you attribute to your childhood when it comes to your work ethic?

I believe resilience, hard work and determination can help you achieve anything. I attribute my strength in these areas to my early years’ experience of living under a military occupation and then having to reinvent myself in the UK. Learning a new language and adapting to a new culture were essential for my survival in London. There was no integrating or assimilating without this difficult transition and I don’t regret any of it. Those formative years pushed me to learn and allowed me to develop a natural curiosity to learn about others. I would not be who I am today, were it not for those challenging and sometimes painful experiences.

Everyone has different strengths and experiences, but what is the common denominator when it comes to success?

How much you invest in something is going to determine your achievements. I say this because it is not happenstance that I achieved my success. I always share with my mentees and team that nothing is going to save them from hard work and effort. Those are essential to achieving positive outcomes. I have always asked more from myself than anyone could ever seek. I am constantly thinking about what else I need to do and learn as I enjoy my journey. How can I push myself beyond my comfort zone? This drive has helped the right people see what I am capable of contributing, and led me to more opportunities.

“My advice is to surround yourself with great people and enjoy the learning journey which will not always be linear or on an upward trajectory.”

Dessi Berhane Silassie

Is there anything you wish you learned sooner when you were figuring things out as a junior?

There is a key difference between mentors and sponsors – and you are going to need both in your career. Sponsors are key when you are trying to advance from mid to senior leadership. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realised the difference. I always had great mentor relationships, but did not appreciate the value of sponsorship. I am eternally grateful for those people in my career who pushed me to achieve my potential. So, essentially, the lesson was that it is imperative to connect with a network of people who understand your contribution and value so that they can advocate on your behalf; especially when you are not in the room.

How does one set out to find mentors and sponsors?

There weren’t many formal mentoring schemes when I began my career; and I must admit, I have never asked someone to mentor me outright. However, I did forge connections with people whom I respected and wanted to learn more from. My mentors were colleagues across various functions in my organisation and, in some instances, individuals outside my organisation whom I approached with a desire to learn and support. I focused on building and nurturing those relationships, which created longstanding and meaningful working relationships. So, my advice is to seek allyship and build a broad network of people around yourself and always embrace a learner mindset. Ultimately, what makes any career journey great is the people you share it with.

What have you learned from your mentees?

To mentor well is to listen and respond empathically to the needs of your mentees. It means nurturing a space for individuals to openly share their experiences, thoughts, and challenges as they forge their own paths. During my journey, my mentees have reminded me of so many valuable lessons – from overcoming self-doubt, valuing the power of authenticity, to being open to risks.

What makes a healthy career path?

Based on my experience, a healthy career path has entailed embracing a learner mindset, being open to change and taking risks. My advice is to surround yourself with great people and enjoy the learning journey which will not always be linear or on an upward trajectory. Despite the roller coaster highs and lows which will inevitably come your way, always maintain your focus on what matters, and your sense of balance.

What is the best thing a leader can do for their people?

I was appointed as the CDEIO in 2020 and became a member of the executive team, reporting directly to our CEO. I have the privilege of working with amazing teams and individuals within-and-outside the organisation who allow me to lead as I would wish to be led – a principle I always remind myself of. I don’t pretend to have the silver bullet, but, as leaders, we can maintain a working environment that enables each person to be their authentic self; build trust and deliver to their best potential.

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