PUBLIC RELATIONS and COMMUNICATIONS – This spotlight series features T. Howard Foundation (THF) alumnae working in Public Relations and Communications.
Raina Searles Sibanda (THF ’17)
Assistant Director of Program Communications, Project Bread
What do you enjoy most about your company?
I most enjoy working at a company where personal growth and capacity matters. I’ve worked at an organization where that was not prioritized, some junior staff were discouraged from using professional development funds, and there was a lack of upward mobility within the organization. At my current job, we have unlimited PTO, the senior leadership team has been thoughtful and forward thinking in planning on continued remote work and the strategic planning. Mental health time is encouraged, and we have a progressive, female-led team. There’s more work to be done in terms of diversity, but the organization has a demonstrated commitment to ensuring that it’s always part of our conversations. My voice has always felt listened to, and my achievements have been acknowledged, not just with lip service, but in my compensation and role as well. The value being at an organization where it feels like people actually care about you on a personal and professional level is extremely important.
In what way did this type of work interest you and how did you get started?
I found myself drawn to nonprofit work in my early college days because as a lifelong Girl Scout, public service has always been ingrained in me. I’ve always valued the opportunity to support others and enhance people’s lives, but I realized that I wanted to do that myself, and not through philanthropy because I wasn’t passionate about other work and couldn’t imagine myself just working for a paycheck. I want my 40 hours a week to mean something to myself and others, and with my degree in Marketing and Communications, I knew that I could take those skills anywhere. I worked in the arts for the first four years of my career, as well as at a horticultural organization, but my latest role is in an anti-hunger organization. While hunger and social work was not in my background, I was hired for my communications, organization and project management skills, and I’ve been learning the scope of hunger work in Massachusetts over the last year to best perform my job. There’s so much to the policy side of things, as well as understanding what programs and services my organization offers. What stood out to me most when interviewing for this job was that there was a focus on policy and advocacy. We’re not just providing people meals, but we are promoting long term, systemic change and promoting federal nutrition programs that are scalable and sustainable.
Has your career path been linear or non-linear?
My career path has certainly been non-linear, and yet, I think most things have led to the next in a crooked sort of way. For my first job, I was referred by my boss while interning at the company in my senior spring. I had gotten the internship on the referral of a local director whose show I had worked on earlier that year. I had connected with that director on the referral of an actor that I met through a theater class I took. None of those people were specifically in my circle for “networking” but my relationships with them allowed me to jump from one thing to the next with support and encouragement. When I got the job at the horticultural organization, my new boss was someone who had worked at a partner organization to my last company. She knew my work and had been excited to see my name pop up in the application pool. Because I’d worked on general marketing at my first company but focused on social media in my second, I applied for a social media manager role at my current organization (Project Bread). I went through the full interview process with them for that role (and it was a cold application), but then when they did not offer me the job, they told me to stay in touch because they were posting a new role soon that they thought I’d be a better fit for. It was unexpected to receive a referral in the application process, but I did stay in touch and applied when I saw the new job pop up. I still went through the interview process over again, but this role has indeed been a better fit. I was promoted after 6 months, and I’ve been able to expand my workload, delve into public relations for the first time, and take on my first direct report who isn’t an intern. It’s been quite a winding journey, but each step of the way has been essential in informing the rest.
How has your affiliation with the T. Howard Foundation influenced your career?
The T. Howard Foundation was my first industry internship at Comcast, and I had first applied because I was interested in the arts and thinking of media as an extension of that. It was a time for me to explore a more corporate world, learn about the professional work environment, and gauge my interests in person. While Comcast wasn’t a fit, I met so many people through THF who were pursuing their passions in different ways, and exploring their arts as well. It inspired me to follow my dreams, which still led me to land in the arts. I appreciated the times I met with my THF mentor and the feedback they provided over the years, and I’ve had the chance to see my THF cohort grow in their own careers as well over the last 5 years. The continued resources and links shared in the THF newsletter have keep me informed of the media and entertainment industry, including many topics that apply across industries as well. I’ve sought to increase and promote diversity, equity and inclusion in all my organizations with the resources and lessons I learn from THF.
What personal attributes have been essential to your career success?
I would say that a certain sense of boldness has been key. It’s led me to go for things I haven’t tried, volunteer for new opportunities, and speak up for myself and others as an advocate and in what positions of power I have within an organization. I would also say that while I may not be the most rigorous negotiator, my defense of that is because I believe in valuing people and things for what they’re worth, and working to ensure that we can find solutions that work for as many as possible. I’ve learned to compromise, and I can be a bit of a diplomat when it comes to managing relationships. I was hired at Project Bread as the Program Communications Manager, and my entire role was to develop processes, streamline cross-departmental coordination and communications, and increase organizational capacity through increased efficiency, while building up our program awareness. I met with people from every team in my first few months to understand gaps, pressures, and what individuals wanted to see improve or stay the same. It was this informed approach that allowed me to develop solutions that would be effective and sustainable, and I’m now working on the new challenge of managing someone else. That includes managing their workload but also their personal growth, and it means supporting them and advocating for them upwards as well. Learning how to manage others through other settings such as college groups and community organizations has been instrumental in developing those leadership skills.
Are you extroverted or introverted? How does this show up in your professional life and how has this trait benefited you professionally?
I am definitely an introvert, so socializing in large groups of people I don’t know is not usually my element. Huge networking events are tough for me. However, I have found value in mentorship programs, inviting people for one-on-one conversations, and developing personal relationships with my coworkers and team. I can be very friendly and warm, so once I am comfortable with a group, my personality comes out more and more. This is helped by team building exercises and sessions where I am able to better get to know my coworkers. When it comes to huge networking events, if I can’t bring a buddy, my usual MO is meeting 1 or 2 people who might seem similarly uncomfortable, bonding over how tedious these events are, and then connecting over a more in-depth conversation. Still, you can’t always hole up in a corner, so other times, it’s just a matter of putting on a brave, confident face and shaking some hands. I never want to miss an opportunity if there really is someone I’m hoping to connect with.
Raina’s Piece of Advice:
I would advise others to talk to people, share what you’re interested in, and try new things. You never know when you might meet someone who will direct you down a new path that leads to the role or the position you were looking for. I found my way to where I am by talking to people and shooting for new opportunities both in my organization as well as in my community. Look for leadership opportunities, and if there are none, there are still ways to position yourself so that you are ready for the next step. Whether by taking on a challenging workload and excelling or expanding your network while you wait, everything you do can prepare you for the next big thing, whatever you’d like for it to be.