Closing The Gap

Lyft's VP of design says an executive coach once gave her this advice—and everyone should ignore it

Lyft's VP of design Katie Dill.
Photo credit: Lyft

As vice president of design at Lyft, Katie Dill is responsible for overseeing the design process for all of the company's products including its website, app, bikes and scooters.

Prior to joining the ride-sharing firm in 2017, the Silicon Valley executive worked as Airbnb's director of experience design, where she grew her team from 10 to 100 people.

Like many professionals who are rising through the ranks in their careers, Dill says she once sought advice from an executive coach in order to become a more effective leader. To her surprise, she tells CNBC Make It, it was through this executive coach that she received one key piece of advice — that she believes everyone should ignore.

"We got together over coffee at Starbucks," says Dill. "I was wearing a skirt that day and, you know, I had jewelry on and makeup. She looked at me, and looked me up and down, and said, 'Stop wearing this. All of it. No more jewelry, no more makeup, no more high heels and no more skirts. If you're going to earn the trust of your team, you have to look like their little brother.'"


Dill, who says she didn't feel she was dressed in an inappropriate way, says hearing the advice was shocking. It made her "realize just how far we still are from people being able to be themselves in the workplace."

"To me, it was hard to hear because I went home and the next day when I was getting ready for work I was about to do it," she says. "I was really like, 'All right, I guess this is what I gotta do.'"

But, after a few minutes of contemplating, Dill says she ultimately decided to wear the clothing and makeup choices that best fit who she is as a professional. "It wasn't worth it to me to cater my appearance to make somebody else feel comfortable when the most important thing was for me to be comfortable in my skin," she explains.

Though the advice was given to her with good intention, Dill says ignoring it let her know that it's possible to get to where you want to be in your career by working hard and bringing your authentic self to work.

Former Uber and Apple executive Bozoma Saint John agrees with Dill, as she knows first-hand how damaging it can be to shrink yourself for others.

In a 2017 interview on the "No Limits" podcast, Saint John told host and journalist Rebecca Jarvis about the time when a female executive advised her to never wear red nail polish or red lipstick to work. "It would be a bold message, and you don't want to do that," she says the executive told her. "You want to be sort of understated and let people take you seriously."

Instead of helping her, Saint John says that advice hurt her and it made her question whether or not she could be herself at work. "I'm bold in personality, I'm hella tall and I'm hella black," says the long-time executive who currently serves as the chief marketing officer at William Morris Endeavor. "It's not natural to me. It would make me unproductive in what I do because I would be so focused on being quiet that I can't really show up."

For six months, Saint John says she followed that executive's advice and found herself in a major slump because she wasn't being her true self in the workplace. Eventually, when a friend called her out for not being authentic, Saint John says a light bulb went off. It was then when she realized that the best way to succeed is to not silence who you are professionally.

"By bringing your whole self to work you can bring full ideas and the wholeness of you," she explains. "You are the only you — so why not bring that?"

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