On Career Ladder, Sometimes a Step Back is a Move Forward

By Contributing Writer - March 20, 2019

By the time she was eight years old, Cathy Grant had called London, the South American country of Guyana and Brooklyn her home.  It’s no wonder that her first childhood ambition was to become a flight attendant and see the world. A bad case of flight nerves forced her to consider other roles.

Keeping an open mind has become one of Grant’s strengths as Moffitt Cancer Center’s senior director of Diversity and a hallmark of her approach to developing the cancer center’s Diversity team. “It’s important not to simply look at the person as they appear before you,” said Grant. “Look at the whole person. Are their skills transferrable? I’ve transformed myself many times.”

Grant turned an early interest in architecture into the marketable skill of drafting, taught to her by one of her high school teachers. He also recommended Grant for her first job, drafting building floorplans and roadways for a civil and structural engineering firm. At age 18, she’d landed in a professional environment and gained experience working in a male-dominated field. The work paid just five dollars an hour, but it enabled Grant to make it through college without loans or money from her parents. She graduated with a degree in graphic design and eventually went to work for the publishing house Penguin, where she quickly joined the management ranks.

Not long after, a colleague told Grant about an opening at the Citigroup Foundation. The position offered better pay, but as an assistant to two vice presidents it would be a step down from management. “Everyone is in a rush to move up the career ladder,” observed Grant. “But sometimes, you need to step back in order to move forward.”

Grant gained valuable experience as one of the Foundation vice presidents recognized her work ethic. “He gave me plenty of responsibilities, and as a result I learned a lot about his role working with Diversity and Human Resources to award grants to not-for-profit agencies across more than 100 countries globally.” When the VP retired, Cathy was promoted to the position. She oversaw a $25-million annual budget to reach and interact with young people of color in hopes of recruiting fresh talent to Citigroup, while returning to school for a master’s degree in public administration and becoming a mom. Her work kept gaining greater meaning. “In partnership with the United Negro College Fund, we recruited senior Citigroup leaders to mentor students from historically black universities. It was a great experience.” 

It’s one that she leaned on when joining Moffitt, her first foray into the health care field. “My current role allows me to draw on all of my experiences in a variety of work settings over the years. It’s all been part of a path.”  She added that her time as an assistant to the VP also showed her the importance of building a relationship of trust and its critical role in becoming a leader. “He helped me to transition from assistant to leader because he trusted me,” Grant explained.

In her role leading Moffitt Diversity, Grant said she prefers to hire people with many skills that can be shared for success. “It’s important to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you, to know that they are smarter and be OK with that.”

It’s also important to have a woman of color in leadership, said Grant.  Though she’s had no shortage of strong women to look up to throughout her life, Grant said most “were not people you’d view as professionally successful. Their strengths were a depth of common sense and wise decisions, what they needed to survive.

“In business, you need a woman of color in that leadership role; someone who shares and understands your background. It lets others know that professional advancement is possible for them as well.”


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