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How Nicole Mason works to create a diverse, inclusive NOAA
Katie Valentine
/ Categories: Profile, Women in Research

How Nicole Mason works to create a diverse, inclusive NOAA

Nicole Mason is the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO)/Diversity Program Manager for NOAA Research’s EEO Program Office, which seeks to help NOAA create a diverse, inclusive workforce. She is the first African American woman to serve in the position in NOAA Research’s history.

What drew you to your current career or field?

My work as an Equal Employment Opportunity/Diversity and Inclusion Professional is certainly informed by the direct discrimination my mother experienced while working for the federal government. She worked for 25 years, trained each one of her white male supervisors.  Unfortunately, she never experienced the joy and exuberance of being promoted.  

In addition to hearing my mom talk about these experiences while growing up, I also had a front row seat to the feelings and emotions associated with such discriminatory practices. I witnessed the impact ravish her health and chip away at her self-confidence. So, for me, ensuring that all people are treated fairly and equitably is not just about my professional career — it is a personal mandate.

I have worked in EEO/Diversity and Inclusion all of my federal career. It's been more than 30 years now, and I can look back to see some of the milestone accomplishments I have been a part of, but I also know that there is so much more work to do to level the playing field and to create inclusion in the federal workplace.

Nicole Mason

Nicole Mason

Nicole's work helps NOAA create a more diverse, inclusive workplace.

With the Covid-19 pandemic shifting much of the federal workforce into a work-from-home mode, what were some of the challenges you faced in the last year? Have you been able to adapt and if so, how?

Some of the challenges I faced were and are holding the space for others in my community who have suffered tremendous loss, working through my own emotions as I support others and embracing this new environment that we all find ourselves in.  

I have been able to adapt because of the resilience I have built up to handle difficult times. I would say that it has been a must for my community. I have a cadre of people who are supportive, I practice self-care through a variety of activities (i.e., reading, walking, resting and journaling), and I focus on my faith that helps me maintain my positive outlook about the future.

What experience or advice helps you when you’re faced with setbacks?

The advice that helps me when I am faced with setbacks is a mantra that my mom always spoke to me: "This too shall pass." We all will face setbacks, but it is important to note that it will pass. It is also important to note that our past setbacks that eventually became triumphs can be used as fuel to help us fan the flames of pending victory, even when we are in the midst of the raging battle.  

For me personally, it is the mindset to win that carries me through difficult times. I have the posture that I ALWAYS WIN! Even when I lose, I still win because I can apply the lesson learned to my life. By the mere fact that the lesson is adding to my wisdom and knowledge is indeed a win. I also feed myself with positive information (i.e., affirmations, reading biographies of other people who have overcome tremendous odds and have won, etc.).

With that in mind, we all must surround ourselves with others who will encourage us and support us during our most difficult times. We also have to be courageous enough to release people from our lives that subtract from us rather than add value. Learn how to say "NO" without guilt, advocate for yourself and embrace the fact that everything does not deserve a response. Sometimes, the best response is silence in order to protect your peace.

Has your idea or definition of success changed in the past year?

No, my idea or definition of success has not changed in the past year. Success is relative. What it means to one may not be the same for someone else. I think it is very important that each person define what success really means for them and not what someone else told them success is. I am successful whenever I am encouraging someone else to keep going in their own lives.

I also enjoy helping women to use their voices to advocate for themselves and to define success on their own terms. And, it doesn't matter what state I am in, my success is determined by what is on the inside of me and not external factors. I determine how I show up on the Earth. I am determined to live on purpose and execute my purpose, whether in the midst of a pandemic or not. I will make an impact in the lives of others! 

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I enjoy being a listening ear to the employees and offering advice that typically changes the perspective about the matter. I know without a shadow of a doubt that I am in my position for more than just being the EEO/Diversity Program Manager. I have been able to offer support to the employees and supervisors that go beyond the work and the workplace. I am honored that I have been able to create a safe space to offer wisdom and knowledge to help make the workplace better.

What advice would you give to women who are starting out in their careers?

I would encourage women just starting their career to seek out mentors that can assist them with their career journey. Mentors are critically important, because in addition to written rules there are unwritten rules of the workplace that women need to know and understand.

I would also encourage them to think about their professional path and begin to implement the strategies to move from one level to the next level (i.e., Individual Development Plans to include the appropriate training, professional developmental assignments and details, etc.). Finally, I would encourage them to join a group that offers a safe space to share issues and concerns regarding the workplace. Everyone needs a place to vent, get encouragement and get right back into the swing of things. 

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