Tech COO Janeen Uzzell May Come in Peace, But She Means Business

Featuring a broad cross-section of women who have distinguished themselves across a rich variety of careers, our Portraits of Power series is a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Black Enterprise, and of black women. It’s a place for today’s businesswomen to share their own favorite images and their own stories, in their own words. Today’s portrait is tech veteran Janeen Uzzell, who spent 15 years at GE before becoming the COO of the Wikimedia Foundation, home to Wikipedia.

Janeen Uzzell

Chief Operating Officer, Wikimedia Foundation

Nickname “J”

My first job was as a supervisor in a manufacturing plant for Johnson and Johnson. I supervised a team of workers on the factory floor, manufacturing surgical-grade needles and sutures.

My big break came when in my late 20s, I worked for a man named Glen MacArthur at a telecommunications company called Telcordia. Glen was the first one to recognize my affinity for leadership and encourage me to get an M.B.A. instead of a masters in engineering as I had originally planned. I got my M.B.A. while working full time, and he supported me through every step of the process. When I shared my excitement about a case study about GE in my last semester, he pushed me to apply to GE. That decision was one of the best I’ve ever made. It shaped my entire career, all thanks to Glen, who has continued to be my friend and mentor to this day.

I never imagined I would see as much of the world as I have.

I wish I’d learned sooner that my unique talents and skills are valuable. Early on, I had a mentor tell me, “Even if you are amazing in your career, there are two things the world will expect from you as a leader, and you’ll never be able to give it to them. You’re never going to be white, and you’re never going to be a man. So you need to focus on the other amazing traits you bring to everywhere you work.” I didn’t realize how accurate he was until many years later, when I finally stopped trying to meet expectations others had and instead focused on my own value.

The risk I regret not taking is not standing up sooner for myself and others with #MeToo issues that I’ve seen throughout my career.

If I could design my fantasy self-care day, it would actually start with an intense workout—a bootcamp and a personal training session with my favorite trainer and my workout crew. Then I’d go to brunch with my friends, to talk and share and learn. The rest of the day I would spend at the beach, with my amazing beach setup and a good book.

What keeps me up at night is how in the tech industry, the teams working on solving the big issues are not diverse and not representative. Trends like AI, facial recognition technology, and fake news are already influencing our daily lives. Yet there’s a startling lack of diverse teams involved in the solutions. The implications of this lack of diversity are bad for everyone, but for people of color, the outcomes can be deadly.

When I’m struggling, I speak words of faith to myself. I also keep a list of affirmations that remind me of who I am, so that that person shows up. I call it the “Book of Janeen.”

I am unapologetically a person who comes in peace but means business. Just because I come with tenderheartedness and caring and kindness, I don’t want people to overlook the strength I bring to important issues.

Portraits of Power is a yearlong series of candid insights from exceptional women leaders. It is brought to you by ADP.