let’s get positive about ziversity
ziversity - with stefan palios - part 2
We’re back with our second part of three in our Stefan Palios interview series! In this article we’ll chat about Stefan and his super positive attitude and approach at life.
OUTVisions: What’s the most interesting/rewarding/favourite story about a customer/client interaction you had?
Stefan Palios: I have a fun one that brought a bit of a tear to my eye. I was speaking to a candidate who had signed up for our platform. We chatted about the job she was looking for and her passions, and she shared with me some of her past experiences with employers. The one experience that stuck with me was her explaining an interview process. Here’s what she told me:
“I was interviewing for a job at a firm that had just recently started their diversity and inclusion efforts. I knew that going in, but I was shocked to find that most of the interview, the interviewer was asking roundabout questions to get me to self identify. It was so uncomfortable for me; I felt like such a token. What’s worse, I couldn’t even talk about my skills because every time I tried to talk about my experiences, the interviewer would circle back to try to get me to talk about identity. He was not allowed to ask me outright my gender, race, sexuality, or if I had a disability (even though I visibly look like a minority), so he kept asking questions about “what kind of community group” I was involved in, and stuff like that.
With your platform, I can talk about identity up front… and then move on. I’m not a token anymore – I have the power to be open about who I am so we can use interview time to talk about why I’m the best candidate for the job. Thank you so much for the work you’re doing, this is a company after my own heart.”
The last bit is what got me, because she basically told me my company’s mission without me telling her first. We are here to empower candidates to bring their identity forward in a way that is comfortable and productive for them. It was such validation of the work we are doing and remembering that experience has gotten me through some rough times (and I’m sure I’ll look back on that story again in the future for inspiration).
OV: Who has been the biggest influence on your life, and why?
SP: I’ve been asked this a few times in my life, and I always feel like I’m doing a disservice to all the amazing, wonderful people who have helped me in life to pick just one!
I have to say that I feel like two people have been the biggest influences, but for the exact same reasons… so it’s kind of like one person, right? That’s not cheating, is it? (ha, ha).
Ok, I will pick one. He was one of my professors at Yale, named Fred Wherry. He taught in the sociology department, and taught me “Sociology of Markets” (my favourite course at Yale). He also advised me on my thesis.
He was the biggest influence on my life for many tertiary reasons, but one piece of advice that he gave me has made, I believe, the most profound impact on my life.
“There are two versions of everything – perfect and complete.”
He gave me this advice in reference to my thesis, but we later had a conversation about how it applies to life (one of our many talks – one of the reasons he had such a profound influence on me is because of how willing he was to sit down with me to talk, help me with papers, help me understand the lecture material, or even just debate a few things for the sake of it).
That one statement has guided my decisions since, and even helped me in building the original Ziversity product. Now, every time I have to make a decision, I look towards completeness, not perfection. There’s always room for improvement and iteration but you can’t get there if you don’t put something complete out in the market.
It’s also been a profoundly powerful statement in regards to keeping my mental health in check, as with the notion of being complete over being perfect comes the idea of self-love, self-kindness, and being at peace with your own progress.
The other person that I mentioned earlier was one of my high school teachers, Elizabeth Pattison. She’s such a hard worker who is busy as heck but was always kind enough to offer me help if I needed it. She praised hard work but at the same time treated me like an adult – I never felt pandered to and always felt like she treated me with respect (considering how some adults treat teenagers, this was a huge deal for me at the time). It taught me a good life lesson about how to work with people that I take with me.
OV: Positivity and passion are 2 traits of which you seem to have a wonderful abundance! Did Elizabeth and Fred help instill these?
SP: In a word: Absolutely. Fred and Elizabeth are two of the most passionate and positive people I’ve ever met in my life; probably the most.
Both have faced hardships and discrimination in their lives, which I believe gave them their sunny demeanor. In my conversations with both about their life experiences and how they got to where they are, one consistent trend came up: They smiled. They smiled because they were doing something they wanted to be doing. They smiled because they were at peace with the world being imperfect. They smiled because they realized that humans have far more control over how we feel than we think we do – and we are far more easily fooled (even by ourselves) than we like to admit; a smile can trick you into being happy all day.
But at the same time, neither gave up the fight for what they wanted in life and both learned the power to say no. I used to think happy people always said yes and unhappy people always said no – very Grinch like versus Santa like, if you will. In learning more about Fred and Elizabeth’s lives, I came to realize that truly happy people don’t take on everything, but instead think about what they want to achieve in life and make choices that they believe will take them closer to those goals.
I also keep a chipper and passionate demeanor as a bit of my own armor, if I’m being honest. I faced a lot of bullying when I was younger, which led to some mental health issues and depression. I learned to keep smiling for two reasons – it really does make you feel better and because sometimes it’s all you have in the world (not to be too dark). It’s the only thing you have total control over, and sometimes pretending to be happy is the best way to get through being sad. I often find it turns to real happiness soon enough (it’s a great reminder that pain is temporary).
I learned to be passionate because I was too stubborn to do what other people told me to do if I didn’t believe in it. I would fight heavily against being told what to do when I didn’t feel connected to the action or did not understand the reasoning behind action. Through those experiences I started to figure out what I did want in life (and still figuring that out, rest assured!), and so I started to chase it. Every time someone told me I couldn’t do something, I found a way to achieve my end goal. I started to think of statements like “you can’t do that” as “You can’t do that… that way… so go find another way to do it”. And that’s what I did and hopefully will continue doing.
OV: Thanks Stefan! We look forward to hearing about the fun side of Stefan in our next and final interview session!
Check out www.ziversity.com for more info on the company, and follow Stefan on Twitter @stefanpalios.
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