Q&A with Yolanda Scott Weston: General Manager, Washington, DC
Our DC leader talks Slalom’s secret sauce, celebrating yourself, and completing two half-marathons when you don’t actually like distance running.
What attracted you to Slalom?
I saw colleagues from my prior firm who had joined Slalom post about the company on social media. They talked about authenticity. Everyone seemed to be smiling and happy. And I felt this twinge of jealousy because it seemed like they had figured out how to have fun at work. I was intrigued and started to follow Slalom on LinkedIn. I met a former colleague for what I thought was a quick happy hour—and it turned into a three-month process that landed me here. Over those three months, I had the opportunity to meet with several of the DC office leaders, and I realized that everything I was seeing on social media truly represents what this company is about—from the people, to the culture, to the commitment to authenticity.
The more I talk to people and experience Slalom, the more I fall in love with it. Slalom has figured out how to grow and thrive—and do it with heart, compassion, respect, and kindness. That, to me, is the Slalom secret sauce.
What do you consider your greatest achievements?
Becoming Slalom’s first female Black general manager is a huge accomplishment. I smile when I say that because I am so proud of myself, and so happy and full of hope for what’s to come in this role. Sometimes you’ve got to pat yourself on the back. I don’t celebrate myself often, but I stepped back and took stock of the fact that I worked really hard in my consulting career to get to this moment. It’s a big deal.
On the personal side, I am very proud of the life I’ve built. I have a lot of love in my life, tons of support, and a lot of grace. There’s power in having that village of people who carry you and are always there. And I completed two half-marathons and a marathon relay.
Wow! That’s huge.
It’s huge for me considering I don’t like long-distance running! I wanted to push myself to see if I could. I thought, “If I do it, maybe I’ll love it.” And let’s be clear. I didn’t. But I felt accomplished because I stepped out of my comfort zone and pushed myself to do something.
What’s some of the best advice you’ve ever received—either from a colleague or someone who mentored you?
Be who you are. Honor yourself. Celebrate your successes—because not everyone will. There’s a woman I follow named Carla Harris. She was the first African American to join Morgan Stanley’s management committee. She’s also a professional speaker and a staunch advocate for women and women of color. She says, “Sometimes you’ve got to take your hand, reach behind, pat yourself on the back, and say, ‘You go, girl.’” That pat on the back is your strength to keep moving forward. And for me, as an African American woman, I almost feel like you have to be fearless, because even with all the African American talent out there, you are oftentimes stepping into a space where you’re the first.
The first or the only.
Or the only. Right. And so, I think about that—even on this journey at Slalom. I am the first, and therefore the only, African American female GM here, and that comes with a tremendous responsibility to others who look like me. And a tremendous weight to want to do right by them and everyone else in this firm.
Do you feel like you’ve had to compromise anything to succeed in your role?
The answer to that is no. I’ve always been clear about who I am and what I bring to this space. If the market or the people I’m around don’t respect and honor that, then it’s not a place for me. Being Black and being female are the essence of who I am. I can’t change any of that to fit into a culture that doesn’t understand or respect that—and I wouldn’t want to be a part of it.
What is your leadership style?
Servant leadership is the umbrella over everything. Part of that servant leadership is me asking myself, “What am I doing for you?” and “How do we do this together?” I am extremely collaborative. My vision serves as a North Star, and I cultivate it within groups by asking opinions and listening deeply to the answers. It’s important to tap into the collective wisdom of the group to discover the next best step, or to make sure that we’re all in it together.
My style is also very transparent. And to borrow Brené Brown’s words, “Clear is kind.” So I will always be honest and clear with you. And it may not always be what you want to hear, but I’ll deliver that message with empathy and with kindness.
What does it take to build a diverse and inclusive team? And how are you approaching this in your DC market?
As a leader, you have to believe that it makes your business better—that it’s not just a box-checking thing. The only way it works is if there is an authenticity to your belief—that’s number one. And then other things follow: We have to focus on our recruiting, sourcing, and selection practices. We’ve got to think differently about where we’re connecting for diverse talent and pipelines. The other day someone said something that stuck in my head: “You can’t find what you're not looking for.” Our talent acquisition team spends a lot of time training for unbiased interviewing and selection processes—there is a commitment from our group to do that.
The second piece is developing a shared understanding that achieving diversity takes commitment and hard work from everyone—it doesn’t just happen organically. How are we engaging in open, honest, and multidirectional dialogue? How are we celebrating differences? Do we have a zero-tolerance mentality for behavior that’s not true to who we say we are?
What books, podcasts, or thought leaders have influenced you?
My all-time favorite is Brené Brown. In 2010, I had the opportunity to listen to her speak on vulnerability. And I will tell you, it changed me forever—how I show up at home and at work, and my willingness to tell my stories and speak my own truth. I’ve read all her books and every morning I listen to her podcast. Simon Sinek is another favorite. The person who speaks most to my soul is Maya Angelou—from her poetry to her books and how she lived her life. I am truly inspired by her.
It sounds like authenticity is important to you.
Authenticity is really important to me. It took me a while to trust that Slalom wouldn’t hold it against me when they said, “Be authentic.” I spent 17 years at a company I loved prior to coming to Slalom. But my two and a half years here have truly taught me the meaning of authenticity.
What’s your favorite Slalom core value, and why?
I used to say the bookends Do what is right, always and Smile. But I think my favorite core value is Smile. There is power in the smile—it’s contagious, and it can turn someone’s day around.