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Black History Month Roundtable: Extra Space Storage Leaders Discuss Inclusivity & Growth

With self storage properties in 43 states—including Washington, DC and Puerto Rico—Extra Space Storage is home to a diverse group of employees. No two people are the same, and each faces different obstacles and triumphs in their career journeys. As Black History Month comes to an end, Senior Vice President of Operations Rashede Peoples hosted a virtual discussion with Extra Space Storage leaders about creating inclusivity and career growth in a diverse work environment. Participating in the conversation with Peoples were:

  • Chanel Pickens, Operations Specialist
  • John Matthews, Director of East Coast Learning & Development
  • Maishawna Fortune, District Manager
  • Raymond Huntley, District Manager

Below are video clips and highlights from the discussion.

Q: Can each of you introduce yourselves and share a bit about your background here at Extra Space Storage?

Pickens: I have recently been promoted to Operations Specialist in Salt Lake City. I came on board as an Assistant Manager, so I’m still very close to everything that happens in the field. Storage has by far been the most exciting thing that I’ve done.

Huntley: I’ve been with Extra Space Storage for a little over six years. I started in the Memphis, TN market, and fortunately, I’ve been able to transfer back to my hometown of Oklahoma City, where I now reside.

Fortune: I’ve been with Extra Space Storage for ten years. I am now a District Manager in Pittsburgh, but I started as an Assistant Manager in the Washington, DC market, and I moved through many promotions to become a District Manager.

Matthews: I’m the Director of Learning & Development on the East Coast. I began my career with Extra Space Storage as a bench District Manager. I came to the organization because I believed it had a bright future.

Q: I’d like to start by asking each of you to share your personal leadership philosophy; I will share mine as well.

Peoples: For me, you can see the “212 Degrees” poster hanging on the wall behind me, which basically means one extra degree of effort makes all the difference. It’s a pretty simple concept that has helped me along my journey to succeed when things were good and also through adversity alike. Once I embrace this philosophy, it contributed greatly to my journey.

Huntley: The philosophy I’ve applied in my markets is “One is good, but together is much better.” It has helped my team get better results, and actually, we’ve managed to achieve a lot more.

Fortune: For me, it would have to be “being better than yesterday.” I am very goal-driven, so I make sure that I focus on all of my goals every day. Regardless of whether I meet them every day, my next goal is to be better than what I set that goal to be before. And I do make sure that my team follows that philosophy as well.

Matthews: My leadership philosophy is about helping someone be better than when I found them. If I’m not doing that, I’ve taken time away from people and not moved them forward. So I always use that as my filter, “Did I leave the person in a better condition than when I found them?”

Pickens: Mine is “If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.” I never back down from a challenge because challenges are opportunities to grow and learn. By rising to each new challenge, you come out of it with the experience to create better processes and lead others through those processes or that experience, and it prepares you for the next challenge. You become stronger, and everyone around you benefits from that.

Q: As African American leaders within the company, what advice do you have for other employees and leaders looking to improve inclusivity in their teams?

Fortune: I would tell everyone to be open-minded. We all come with different strengths, we come from different backgrounds, and there are no two people here that are alike. The one thing we do all have is an opportunity. To build a great team and be successful, you have to know what everyone’s strengths are and play off of that.

Matthews: I think it boils down to “What can you add to your team through inclusivity?” There are always skillsets and experiences that perhaps your team doesn’t have that can allow you to serve your customers—whether they’re internal or external—much better.

Huntley: Listening. You have to listen to everyone’s story. Everyone has a unique story that makes them who they are. And by listening and understanding who they are, you can come together and blend as a team more successfully.

Pickens: It’s a great thing to model by example, and I think Extra Space Storage does a great job of showcasing their support of inclusivity in many ways. And then I think it’s important for teams to be open and embrace different perspectives and styles. I think the doorway has to be open for our culture to trickle down and foster those opportunities, and then everyone has to care enough to listen and learn from every angle.

Q: What advice would you give to future leaders lacking the confidence to step forward because they may not see other leaders who look like them?

Fortune: I would tell them that, while Extra Space Storage is doing their part to make changes, we as managers and future leaders have to make sure that we are shooting for our goals no matter what. If you don’t see someone that looks like you, dresses like you, or whatever the case may be—let’s delete the perception that you have to look a certain way to be a leader at Extra Space Storage.

Matthews: What I would add is to realize that fear of the unknown can prevent you from moving forward. You may not know why there hasn’t been somebody in the role you would like to achieve, but always step into that and say, “I don’t know why there wasn’t, but I’m going to be the first.”

Pickens: I would say “Be the change you want to see.” Sometimes, you have to get out of your comfort zone, and if you know that’s where your passion is and that’s your goal, step forward and grab it. Take those opportunities. Rise to those challenges. Step out of the box and get to where you’re trying to go.

Huntley: Every room I’ve walked into, I never know who’s going to be in that room. Sometimes, it may be just me who is the representative in that room, and sometimes, there may be others. Many of you may not have met or know any of the individuals on this call now, but that doesn’t matter. Either join them, or be the first, but go in that room!

Q: What advice do you have for employees who are looking at you and your role and thinking that’s where I want to be down the road?

Matthews: My first thought—and obviously this comes from a Director of Learning & Development—but start with equipping yourselves with the tools and knowledge that you need to successfully do the job and represent yourself well.

Pickens: I would say to “be the best.” Be the best version of yourself every day. Strive to be better than you were before and look at where you want to go, and start taking on those opportunities that will give you the skill set you need for those areas. Also, embrace feedback. When you get feedback, take it with an open mind and make those changes. It might not be easy, but it’s going to be beneficial in the long run.

Fortune: I would tell them, on top of being the best that you can be every day, make sure that you are putting yourself out there every day. No matter who’s in front of you or whether no one’s watching, live our company values and make sure that you’re putting your best foot forward no matter what you do. And from personal experience, it definitely helped me to make sure the company compass was in front of me at all times. I refer to that at least once a week. That’s my guiding light.

Huntley: Keep growing and learning. Keep absorbing as much information as you can to help your knowledge base, and then apply it.

Extra Space Storage is committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace with its Diversity & Inclusion committees and internal initiatives like the recent “Ask—Listen—Act” campaign. Learn more about our values and company culture.