Interview with Jocelyn K. Allen of GM and founder of Divas4Life
Not only is Jocelyn Allen making a difference in her role with GM, but she is also the founder of Divas4Life, is a not-for-profit program dedicated to fostering determined, inspired, victorious, adventurous (DIVA) young women, ages 8-18, through the instruction of life-sustaining skills.
Tell us about your position at GM as Director of Grassroots, Community and Diversity Communications.
My actual title is Director – Regional, Grassroots and Diversity Communications, and I have three distinct but inter-related roles:
- Work with my regional Communications teams to identify PR opportunities for GM’s people and products across the country
- Identify and work with local influencers and organizations across the country to get them exposed to our products
- Work with local and national diversity media and influencers across the country to get them exposed to our people and products
A recent significant accomplishment of mine was participating in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Memorial dedication this past October. GM was the first major sponsor of the Memorial project and has been involved for more than a decade in making this tribute to the civil rights leader a reality. I actually remember handling the first news release in early 2001 when GM announced it was signing on as a corporate sponsor for the project. Being a part of this initiative meant so much to me. GM and Chevrolet were involved in the MLK Memorial, not because of the past, but because of today and the future. It was really about bringing Dr. King’s vision of having people of all races and all ethnic backgrounds and genders and different lifestyles come together and have a conversation about how we can make our communities better.
What other work have you done for GM?
This is actually my sixth position since joining GM in 1999. I’m fortunate to be at a company that allows me the opportunity to re-create myself every few years. I started as an internal communications manager working with our teams across North America to make sure our employees had the right information about the business so they could effectively do their jobs. Then I took my first Public Relations job as PR manager for our diversity and philanthropy efforts – I was actually the first person to officially hold that role with GM. Then I moved on to be the Broadcast Media Relations manager. And then I took the biggest leap of my life and I went to head up OnStar Communications where I was being asked to lead a team that would effectively communicate about OnStar’s breakthrough technology. It turned about to be the greatest learning experience of my career so far, and a place where I think my team and I achieved incredible results. Last year, I came back to the corporate side and handled communications for a number of corporate functions, and in February of 2011, I took on my current role.
Please tell us about your non-profit Divas4Life and how that got started.
I was youth director at my church before founding Divas4Life, and I was witnessing something I call a “generational curse” – a cycle of poverty that is brought on by the lack of access to a good education and opportunities for socio-economic growth. I felt strongly that I could do my small part to end that curse, at least in the lives of the young women I knew. Founded in 2002, Divas4Life is a not-for-profit program dedicated to fostering determined, inspired, victorious, adventurous (DIVA) young women, ages 8-18, through the instruction of life-sustaining skills. Our mission is to turn young women into young ladies.
- Social Interaction: Etiquette, cultural awareness and volunteerism
- Achieving Your Personal Best: Self-esteem, health & wellness
- Education: College Preparation
- Career Planning: Mentoring/Coaching, awareness
- Financial Literacy: Money Management and The Importance of Good Credit
Divas4Life offers these young ladies the opportunities to attend educational, cultural and motivational events. These events not only provide an escape for our girls, it allows them to see, first-hand, people who look like them, who may have similar backgrounds as they do, excelling in their chosen field. Simply put, it allows them the opportunity to believe that their life can be better.
What inspired you to launch your non-profit?
I believe anyone who has been blessed has an obligation to pass those blessings on – there’s a cycle of giving that has to start somewhere, why not with me?
So many people are balancing a work, a business and a family, how do you manage it all?
I don’t profess to have the secret. It takes real effort to balance work, family and time for self, but you have to make each of them a priority; the hardest part for me was learning to say “no” to certain things and being okay with that – realizing that a “no” to something meant a “yes” to me.
What have been some major challenges in operating a non-profit?
For me, it’s really just been about balancing the time and energy needed to work full-time and run a non-profit and devote enough time and attention to the girls. We have not had a shortage of volunteers coming forward to help and we’re not without great ideas of things we want to do with the young ladies.
What have been your major successes?
Divas4Life’s greatest success, so far, are our girls who have graduated from high school and gone on to college, and are now giving back to other young girls. We actually have one of our first young ladies who is about to graduate from college, and she was D4L’s first intern because she wanted to stay involved. She and her younger sister are both pursuing their academic dreams, partly because of what they have learned from being a part of Divas4Life – that is definitely success to me!
On those impossible days, what motivates you to keep going?
The fact that these girls count on me, and in some cases, Divas4Life may be the only bright spot in their day, or their life.
How important do you think it is that everyone does something they are truly passionate about?
I’m fortunate to come to work every day and do something I believe in – something I feel good about; then I’m blessed to go home and in my spare time work on things that I’m really passionate about, which gives me the fuel I need to keep going.
What’s the best piece of inspirational advice you have given to the girls at Divas4Life?
It’s really not so much about what I say – I try to show our young ladies that you don’t have to be defined by your circumstances. By all statistics, I probably shouldn’t be where I am today. I’m the product of a single parent who then went on to be a single mother myself, I didn’t come from wealth or privilege, but yet I went to one of the most prestigious colleges in the US, I’m an executive at one of the biggest companies in the world, and by all outside standards I live a pretty good life. None of that is accidental – it was a combination of hard work, opportunity and the determination to be more and have more than society said I should or could.
What advice would you give someone struggling with balance?
You really need to make a real assessment of what’s important to YOU. So often, we spend so much energy on things that are important to others, but when you really focus on what’s important to you and why, some things naturally fall off the list.
What is your favorite business, tech tool and/or resource?
Facebook is still one of the best” tools” I use every day to get my story out – whether it’s personal or professional.