In a world where conformity often overshadows authenticity, there are those shining stars who unapologetically embrace their true selves and inspire others to do the same. Meet Camiel Irving, a dynamic executive at Uber.
She’s a trailblazer in the corporate world, championing the vital message of showing up as your authentic self. Join us as we delve into Camiel’s remarkable journey, uncovering her wisdom, her passion, and her unwavering commitment to making space for authenticity in the professional realm.
Who is Camiel Irving?
I’m a Baltimore girl. I currently live in DC. I am a lover of people and all things Black, art, and music. By day, I’m VP of Operations at Uber, the General Manager for Uber’s Rides business in the U.S. and Canada.
Talk about taking up space as your authentic self.
I was born in the ’80s, and that’s relevant because I grew up in professional contexts led by Gen Xers. They taught me to assimilate. I was told to straighten my hair and dress conservatively, and I barely have a Baltimore accent anymore because I worked really hard to drop my accent so that I could fit in. I was working really hard to fit in, and I had to shrink in order to do that. My first corporate job was in sales, but with my free time, I ran a poetry event. I used to perform and write poetry, and I felt like I was living these double lives. But I couldn’t take the creative, the Black, the fun Camiel and infuse that into work, because I didn’t believe that led to my success. As I got more experienced, saw more of the world, I realized that I was using up a lot of energy pretending, and that was energy that I could be using to perform my work.
What happened when you began to show up to work as your full self?
Once I started bringing my full identity into my work every day, a crazy thing happened: I started seeing better outcomes. I performed better. I delivered better results. At the time I was in sales, I was closing deals left and right. At one point, I locked my hair. I had my locs when I was interviewing with all these elite business schools, and got into Kellogg at Northwestern with my locs. I interviewed with Procter and Gamble in my locs, with bright yellow pumps. I was committed to saying, “they either want to hire Camiel or they don’t.” That kept working. What I’ve realized over time is that I need to take up space in order to be good – in order to deliver results for these companies. It was too much work to pretend, and I have a finite amount of energy. I learned to funnel that energy into performing instead of pretending.
Could you elaborate on why it’s important, just being your authentic self — beyond the results?
Yeah, it’s mostly about energy management. I also think that it allows me to be grounded in who I am and not ashamed of it, and then that delivers tremendous value.
As an example, I run a huge, multi-billion-dollar business, and globally there are 6 million people who use this platform to earn money every month, and many of those people aren’t rich.
I’ve been broke before. I come from a family that did not have wealth when I was growing up. And that gives me an incredibly grounded perspective when I’m making decisions about this business and our drivers. If I shrink and I try to pretend like I’m somebody that I’m not, then I will miss the opportunity to infuse that unique insight into my work. Then Uber won’t be delivering our best results.
So it’s part and parcel to my performance to take up that space and to be who I am.
How does being yourself help with leadership?
The foundation of leading people is relationships. And the foundation of relationships is trust. And trust has a few elements — reliability, credibility, intimacy, and lack of self-interest. If I’m putting on and I’m pretending to be somebody else or shrinking or flattening myself, I’m not going to be able to build trust in these relationships. I think that it’s very clear when you’re guarded. And that doesn’t mean that I’m not choiceful with my words or that I have to tell everyone my business. But in relationships, it is a barrier to trust when you’re not transparent. So that transparency is important to me. I’d also say that, again, going back to this energy part, I’m more credible when I’m performing well. And performing well for me requires me to show up. It’s sort of a reinforcing thing that because I am myself, I’m excellent at my work. Because I’m excellent at my work, people trust me to get things done and to steer them. People also trust the advice that I share. I’d also recognize that I don’t know everything.
Is that a vulnerable space?
Not really. Uber is not the kind of culture where it’s a faux pas if you don’t know the answer. Our ability to innovate quickly is grounded in a lot of failure and retrying, so I create an environment where failure is celebrated. The only way I can do that is by celebrating my own failure and by demonstrating this behavior of asking for help even when you don’t need it. I also believe that another foundational piece of innovating is the idea that an idea improves with more minds on it. So I cultivate an environment where people are looking for additional and diverse perspectives to add to their idea in order to strengthen it.
In terms of being your authentic self, how has that looked over time, and how do you think it’ll look in the future for you as well?
Wow, that’s a great question. I’d say that my journey toward authenticity was a long one. And I wasn’t showing up as my authentic self when I was younger. I was educated in Catholic schools in Baltimore, which were mostly white. I think that I assimilated a lot and I really shrunk. I was kind of ashamed of my family, life, and where I came from. And I think the best example of that is my two spaces as a young person: school, this very mostly white environment, and church, which was very Black and where I felt ashamed. I didn’t want the two to mix. I felt like they didn’t have anything to offer each other. And so how this evolves over time is sort of the opposite. Understanding the immense value from my personal life that I can infuse into work. To give an example, during the pandemic when people got stimulus checks, it was a big deal in my family because people were having various experiences with their financial situations. At work we were reviewing the business, and there was a week where the demand seemed to spike out of nowhere. Our normal historical data didn’t explain this spike in demand. But I spoke up and said it was the stimulus checks. Everyone was impressed at this insight. When we looked at the data to validate, we noticed big growth especially in essential use cases. An earlier, younger version of Camiel probably wouldn’t have wanted anybody to know that my cousins received stimulus checks. But in this case, it was really important to bring that perspective to the table.
Do you have any advice on how to be your true self and still deliver at work? I know you talked about the results, but for somebody younger, how would they get past the barrier?
The first thing I would do is I would tell them that you have to do your job well. That’s where it starts: If that means that in the very beginning, you’re a bit more guarded because you want to demonstrate that you can perform, then that makes sense. Then I would tell them to find someone who they can trust who can make them feel affirmed in their identity, and test authenticity little by little. For me, it started with the hair. I wore my natural hair, and then it was locs. It was scary at first because I didn’t know how people would react. Then I did it and no one really cared or they were hyper interested, but it didn’t impact my ability to perform at work. I would be honest that there’s a little bit of trial and error that’s going to happen. I don’t think that in many environments you can assume that everything is going to be acceptable by everyone.
That said, I would also recommend that you do not put yourself in a work environment where you feel so suffocated that you can’t at all express yourself. Test it out over time and watch your energy levels. Watch how much energy you’re spending on how you show up versus how you’re delivering, and make sure that has the right allocation.
What advice would you give to someone who may receive pushback for being themselves?
I would tell them to evaluate who it’s coming from and how important that person is to their career. Seek out someone who is a person of power who can affirm you and then make that person an ally in your career journey.
If you cannot find anyone who will affirm you, you probably need to get out of that environment. Just find that one person and then start to work on that relationship. Sometimes we bear an undue burden of having to educate other people. I don’t like it, and I think it sucks. But if you’re grounded in what you’re trying to accomplish, then that just may be the work that has to get done for you to accomplish the thing that you want to accomplish.
Give me an example or two about how your background and experience give you an advantage in your role.
My favorite example is how I grew up in church, and a really common thing I had to do in a Black church was speak in public constantly. Whether it was Easter, hosting an event, etc. It was just an ingrained part of the culture that I grew up in. It meant that I got incredible practice at public speaking, and I was completely fearless to do it. As an executive in a large organization, that is not something I’ve had to overcome or work on. I’ve invested in my ability to be a communicator, but I’m investing in it as a skill to help accelerate it. All of that started at Faith Baptist Church in Baltimore.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I was “that girl” before I knew I was “that girl.” And I would tell her, you’re that girl. Stop trying to be anything other than Camiel, because, I promise you, you’re that girl.
Drums or flats?
Drums. The benefit of being a drum girly is that I can share the food with people, but they won’t eat it because they don’t like drums.
Salt or sugar in your grits?
Both. I like both. I prefer savory grits with salt, but I have had sugar grits, and I think they’re fine.
What’s your go-to hair product?
My wash-and-go product of the moment is the Honey Curl Custard from The Doux.
And then for the fashionistas, sneakers or pumps?
Yes. Some days it’s a sneaker day. Some days it’s a pump day. The beautiful thing about an open dress code is that it can be whatever day I want.
Posted by Uber
For Omar, Advertising on Uber is a chance to build a startup within a large company
February 22 / Global
The blueprint on how to become a CEO whisperer (spoiler alert: there is no blueprint)
January 2 / Global
Supercharge the Way You Render Large Lists in React
uVitals – An Anomaly Detection & Alerting System
UBER DELIVERY TIP POLICY – SEATTLE
App-based Worker Notice of Rights (Seattle)