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Dealing with Personal Conflict

Feelings Aside
Conflict Solving
Diversity

27 May, 2021

Imran Sheikh
Imran Sheikh

Head of Design (Product / UX / Marketing) at Chartboost (A Zynga company)

Imran Sheikh, Head of Product at LiveRamp, discusses his experience as both an employee and a manager in an office where the work at hand was not the first thing on everybody's minds.

Problem

In a previous role, I found myself managing a team, reporting to another newer manager, who began taking ownership over some of the projects that I was overseeing, not understanding the workflow already in place and our own individual goals. I had people under me who I had to manage; he got hired, distorting the team as it stood at the time - basically, saying that everybody should report to him. It was a power play for him.

My natural reaction: okay, it is what it is. It became very conflicting; I found myself fighting for my very own projects after having my team dismantled. I sought work outside of the company - the manager in question was passing me up for promotions in favor of my junior reports, many of whom were white. I noticed that my fellow employees of color were not receiving promotions in name, but, instead, simply a moderate increase in pay, under the table where nobody was able to see.

Actions taken

My first course of action was to go to my team. Am I the problem? Are you feeling the same? The problem was consistent across our data science and Engineering teams. Next, to the CTO: on the contrary, he expressed satisfaction with my manager’s work. I tried to assess both sides of the story. I had been with the company longer than this new manager and felt justified in what I was feeling and observing. I actually ended up approaching the manager in question privately, expressing that I felt like I was going to drop the ball if things did not change. It became emotional and complicated for him.

As a professional from Pakistan, I try to speak openly with my team about the challenges that I have faced as a professional of color in one of the most competitive industries in the world. We sometimes have to do more work than others, just to break even. The biggest hurdle to overcome is creating an environment that is safe and productive without creating chaos in the company.

Before moving to California, I never saw color. I learned that in the States, and I love this country, don’t get me wrong. On my team, I have benchmarks. I use metrics. I don’t care if you’re from Timbuktu - by the time I need results, are you present? Are you getting the work done? That’s all that matters.

Lessons learned

  • One of the lessons that I’ve learned is to never be aggressive with your manager. I try to be nice up-front. Always assume that your manager is trying to help you navigate the problem. On the other end of things: keeping justified feelings pent-up will only make them boil up inside of you. Talk to HR. Get executive presence. Rally with your team. Make friends in the company who you can trust.
    • Do not confront. If it becomes inevitable, do so in private. Submit, but do not submit to the point where you cannot breathe. Find a fine balance when communicating with your HR team. Be aware that, as a person of color, you will always come across this discrimination, underlying or verbal. Dealing with it sometimes means doing more work.

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