Valerie M Jensen
Executive Director, Twin Cities Diversity in Practice
What do you consider your greatest strength, and how do you think it benefits your business?
I believe that my greatest strength is being able to move across cultures and to create synergies among seemingly different agendas. I have been able to work in very diverse teams and create an environment where people feel they are heard, valued, and inspired to move forward, even in very difficult situations.
Who inspires you? What did they motivate you to achieve or accomplish?
So many people inspire me!
My students and young lawyers continue to awe and inspire me with their ability to persevere despite what some may consider impossible odds to become amazing accomplished lawyers and professionals.
My parents who adopted me, and my brother and sister, when no one wanted mixed race children. They raised us to be proud of our heritage and our community. They also raised me with a sense of the importance of giving back because of the opportunity they gave us. They were both educators and foster parents, and taught us that your family is the most important gift you give to the world.
How do you motivate others?
I motivate others by listening, really listening, and then giving them permission to be their authentic selves. I believe in the value of diversity, and I live what I believe. I try to create an example of living my authentic self, with all my faults and weaknesses, and creating a safe space where my lawyers can be vulnerable and not be judged for their short comings.
What do you think is the greatest issue or dilemma facing the African American community today?
I believe the biggest crisis facing the African American community is the leadership gap and our identity as a community. We have not given each other permission to lead in all arenas. We are failing our young people by not supporting them where they are today, and we have not prepared them to hear honest critical feedback. The Latino community has become the largest minority community in the US, with a strong voting block and growing economic powers, which leaves the African American community fighting for second place. We have not been able to work across our differences, even within our own communities. The fastest growing segment of our population is African, and we often cannot work across those differences. We need to focus on not only educating our young people, but also supporting their success when they get into the workforce, instead of pulling up the ladder behind us.
How do you give back to the African American community?
I have dedicated my life to supporting diverse communities, with a particular focus on African American and African men and women. I believe that I need to live in the communities I support, speak out on the education, health, and wealth gaps, and be a voice for those who are not at the table.
What’s the most important lesson you have learned in the course of your career?
I have learned that I cannot get anywhere by myself. I can work hard, produce good work, and always continue learning, but nothing can move forward in a vacuum. And by supporting and sponsoring others, I can have an impact.
What advice would you give to someone just beginning his or her career?
Create authentic relationships by not only taking, but also giving. Learn how to lead, not just join, and support your peers in their process of learning to lead. Create a group of sponsors who will be honest with you, and who will ultimately have your back. No one builds a career on his or her own.