On Empathy, Authenticity, and Making a Difference: An Interview With Dalila Wilson Scott

BlackHer is all about advancing Black women’s personal, economic, and political power by getting educated and organized.

This week we were thrilled to catch up with Dalila Wilson Scott, Senior Vice President of Community Impact for Comcast Corporation and President of the Comcast Foundation.

Me: Congratulations! You were just named one of the 2018 Most Influential Blacks in Corporate America by Savoy. That’s quite an honor.

Dalila: Thank you! It was incredible to be on the list.

Me: What are you working on? What are you up to at Comcast?

Dalila: It’s been two years since I joined Comcast. I’m still learning about and adjusting to being a part of the media and technology industry. I’m building and doing a lot of learning and coaching with my team. We have a longstanding history of philanthropy and civic engagement. Our employees are incredibly engaged – we have some of the highest rates of volunteerism and board service that I’ve seen. We are getting a lot of good work done. But I’m eager for us to continue to evolve and be even more strategic in our efforts.

It’s a new age for philanthropy and we have an opportunity to do more than charity. We can align our philanthropic efforts with our corporate goals. This doesn’t mean that we are giving up our desire to engage in altruism. On the contrary, we want to extend and leverage philanthropy to be an even better corporate citizen and community partner. A little over 5 years ago, we launched Internet Essentials, a low-cost broadband product with affordable equipment and free digital literacy training. This really brings that concept to life.

I’ve learned so much in my short time here. I wish more people could see what I see every day inside our innovative tech and media company. Some people just see us a cable company – if they only knew!

Me: Let’s talk about that for a second. I have to admit that when I think about tech companies, Comcast is not the first corporation that comes to mind. That said, you are the utility or, can I say – the plumbing, that enables online innovation to happen!

Dalila: We are proud to sit at the intersection of media and technology and recognize that not everyone realizes that – but we do hope that our customers are experiencing that. At the end of the day, we want our customer experience to be our best product. If you’ve lived in a Comcast or Xfinity market, you’ve always known us as your cable provider. But with broadband, video, Xfinity home and mobile – we want our customers to fully leverage the power of being connected. Couple that with the incredible content created at NBC and Universal – and we are delivering quite an experience.

It’s pretty impressive to think about how this small company, founded in Tupelo, Mississippi grew to be a global media and technology company – and still manages to pay it forward, community by community.

Me: Comcast and other internet providers power sites like BlackHer.  I wouldn’t be able to run our business without internet.

Dalila: That’s right. And that’s why it’s disturbing that there are still urban, metropolitan markets where folks don’t have access to broadband at home. It’s a critical utility for running a small business, doing research and homework. Many job applications are now exclusively online – and of course, most jobs require some level of digital skills.

Also, if you’re not online, it can be very isolating. You’re relegated to your physical community.

It’s interesting because the internet is becoming the new community resource center for many people.

Me: How do we address the digital divide or ensure that the internet is available to everyone?

Dalila: I mentioned Internet Essentials earlier and how we are focused on getting people connected. We’ve connected over 1,000,000 households or over 4,000,000 individuals and are always seeking ways to expand the program.

We provide families with the training and equipment they need to be comfortable online. This is especially important for many low-income families who may not necessarily trust the internet or know how to access online resources.

A connection is just the beginning. We also want to help people be safe and responsible online. We also know that the connection alone isn’t enough to help close the opportunity divide. We want to help people build and develop the digital skills that allow them to compete for 21st-century jobs.

Me: I want to pivot to talk about you and your role as a very successful Black businesswoman. You are a unicorn! How do you reconcile the tremendous success you’ve had in corporate America with the fact that most Black women are really struggling.

You and I both know the stats. The median income for Black women is $38,000 annually and we have a median wealth of $200!

Dalila: It’s difficult. I think about it a lot, especially because I have a daughter. First, while there are other Black women who serve in key roles at other foundations and corporation, you’re right, there still aren’t enough women of color in executive seats.

It’s important for those of us who are in senior roles to remember how many people are looking up to us. I’m more aware of this now than I used to be. And as women of color, we have to continue our tradition of giving back, paying it forward and mentoring others.

When I think of my own career, I realize how important mentoring was. I’m more cognizant of that now that I have a daughter and want to set an example for my sons as well.

Regarding, the stats you mentioned. It is a bit of a dichotomy.  So many Black women are in a dire situation. How are we going to help each other through this situation and get the training and asset-building solutions we need? Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. We need training, skills-building, inclusive environments, supportive networks – and to invest in ourselves and our future – while we are caring for others. We need the headspace to build wealth and legacy, but we are often sacrificing that for today.

Seeing the number of women who are going further in school, becoming entrepreneurs, and working more than full time and still having a hard time making ends meet, gives you incredible pause.

Me: Who are your mentors?

Dalila: [Laughing] I have several. I have different mentors for different moments!  You can learn from anyone – if you’re open to it.

Me: I like that.

Dalila: Actually, I think the best “mentors” or mentoring moments I’ve had were actual experiences that I learned from and observations I’ve made. How have others dealt with adversity? How did she handle that situation? It’s important to watch others and learn – from their successes and their failures.

So many Black women and men have to put on an air so that when I see authenticity, I am energized. I love seeing people speak truth to power.

Me: At the PowerRising Summit, we talked about how draining it is to pretend or “code-switch” at work.

Dalila: Exactly. Code-switching is emotionally draining. It takes a lot of effort. Sometimes we do it unknowingly, but we all know it can take its toll if you are giving too much of your true self.

I also look up to my mom. I’ve seen her experience highs and lows. I have a different level of respect for folks who can manage their reactions in difficult moments. And I have girlfriends who set me straight on this or that. However, I do feel like you never have enough support. Do I have enough women of color in my life? Who could I be reaching for who has a different view? These are questions I constantly reflect on. Career, motherhood, marriage – there is always a new experience or challenge before us!

Me: Is it fair to say that you sometimes feel isolated?

Dalila: It is isolating at times. There are other Black women who are successful corporate and foundation leaders. But we don’t have enough space or time – safe or otherwise – to really connect with one another. Everyone’s so busy striving for that next level, balancing so many aspects. I have to do a better job of staying connected.

Me: As a senior executive, is it hard for you be too focused on race?

Dalila: I always try to remember why we are here. In any senior role, you’re representing a number of different people and opinions – and you need to be effective on various fronts. I’m fortunate to have a platform and work for a company that lets me celebrate being Black. But one piece of advice that I give folks is that being Black can’t be your entire platform or your only story. You get labeled and this can actually be limiting and can decrease your effectiveness. People need to know that you are empathetic, and not just to those who share your experience – and more importantly, that you can bring disparate pieces together and move an idea forward. Use your difference to your advantage, but don’t let people believe it’s your only asset.

And more importantly, there is diversity among Black women. For example, I was not in a sorority. I did not go to an HBCU but I don’t feel like that makes my experience any less valid. There is much we share, but we are not homogenous.

Me: I totally agree. We don’t want to essentialize Black women. That would defeat the whole purpose of BlackHer. Black women do have struggles that are unique to us as a demographic but we are also incredibly diverse. That’s the beauty of it.

Dalila: That’s right. There are class and generational divides. For example, in my mother’s generation, there was no bringing your “authentic” self to work. You were taught to mirror the corporate norms that were prevalent – and be appreciative of the opportunity – or else you would never survive. Millennials and Generation Z have an entirely different take on that. The question is how you engage in conversation across difference and generations. What does that look like?

Me: I agree. Dalila, let me ask you my final question – The Miracle Question. It’s a year from now and you’ve had an incredibly successful year, what happened?

Dalila: Two things. I had been at JPMorgan for 17 years before joining Comcast. It was the right risk and time for me to move here and it’s taken time to settle in personally and professionally. I’m still working on it but am making progress. Success would be, at the Foundation, making some great headway and really building momentum against our strategy and commitment to close the opportunity divide. Two, in my personal life, my husband and children took this journey with me and all I want is for them to be settled in and happy here in Philly as well. Yes, that would be a success on all fronts.

Jocelyn