We recently had an inspiring conversation with T. Canady Barton about her extraordinary career in tech. She is currently a Transformation Executive at Google and serves as a member of the T.D. Jakes Foundation’s Advisory Board Committee and International Women of Influence Network (IWIN). Read about her incredible journey below!
1. Thank you so much for joining us today! To start off, how would you describe your life’s mission?
I want to change the trajectory of lives — not just of individuals, but of entire generations — by elevating and empowering everyone with whom I come in contact to know their true power and purpose. I want to help others achieve what may have previously been thought of as impossible.
2. You are currently a Transformation Executive at Google. Can you tell us what that entails?
In July 2020, I started as a Lead within the Cloud Customer Experience organization, where we sit in the midst of digital transformation. I’ve served as a Chief Strategist/Transformation Leader within enterprise for several years, and now with Google, I’m fortunate to oversee everything from transformation acceleration, delivery excellence, partnerships, and everything enablement through support, with a sharp focus on culture, strategy and innovation to help organizations reimagine the future. It’s a very broad role, and a lot of hands and collaboration to make the magic happen.
My role continues to evolve. One of the things I’m most excited about is the ability to have a global footprint, working internationally and partnering with organizations to create scalable programs. Mentorship and coaching are also very important to me and I really appreciate how Google has embraced my platform – my whole self. It’s not just about coming in and doing the job for me; it’s about empowering and elevating everybody around me — being a force multiplier. I have been fortunate to build relationships across the organization that have allowed me to do some very non-traditional things and I hope that continues.
3. What is your career background? Can you tell us how you got here?
If I look back on my life and my career, I could not have predicted what I would be doing today. Number one, this kind of job hadn’t been created yet, and number two, there was no set path to get here. There’s never been a path for me to get to where I’m going because this isn’t traditional type of work. It’s certainly not anything I saw growing up.
Later in my career, I’ve been referred or recruited based on a persona, not a traditional skillset. It’s always been more. I’ve never had the same job twice. My goal is to earn the opportunity to solve new problems, to leverage my passions and experiences for something greater. Growing up, like many of us in my community, I was told that to be successful, I needed to be one of three things: a lawyer, a doctor, or an engineer. I loved chemistry and math, so it was engineering for me — plus, that left the door open for other possibilities. What I learned was that engineering brought out my creativity. Chemical engineering is all about process. For me, it was about finding different ways to solve the same problem. It’s about evolution and figuring out the optimal solution.
Right out of college (immediately after completing my undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering), I ended up in Big Oil – working within the supermajors. Within about three years, I was promoted multiple times, but eventually felt trapped. There were a lot of great things about the work — the people, the structure, the rigor, the exposure to global supply chains and every business function possible, as well as the many projects that were happening across the world. I had official decision-making authority very early on, but the work did not capture the creative side of me, the innovator in me, and the part of me that needed to explore more. I was getting all types of awards, which told me what a great job I was doing, yet I wasn’t getting any opportunity for real advancement. I was told to wait for the people that had been there longer, but they didn’t have the same passions or ambitions as I did. While I certainly have massive respect for someone who has seniority, I also believe in reverse mentorship and the opportunity to have fresh ideas at the table. So despite the uncertainty, I stepped out on faith and bet on myself. I took Proverbs 18:16 to heart and I jumped into entrepreneurship and became a partner to the entrepreneurial spirit, which has taken me to leadership in different companies, different functions, and in different countries as an entrepreneur and an intrapreneur.
4. What is the best part about your job?
Making the impossible possible! My “Superpowers,” as they call them, are curiosity, listening and empathy. I feel so deeply for other people. I remember being 12 years old sitting on the stoop of our house at the time thinking, “Where are these cars going? What are the people doing? Are they living out their dreams?” Even then, I hoped they were off doing something amazing and something they wanted to do their whole lives — and I wanted to help them get there. I was only 12 years old, and I have no idea where this all came from, but I knew I wanted to have a company (called Dream Catcher at the time). That’s how prevalent it was in my mind that I needed to help people catch their dreams.
We all have passions, but we don’t always get to pursue them. My objective in life is to help people do the impossible. I started out very organically in my consulting business doing that for smaller firms, and now I do it for enterprises of all sizes. My business tagline remains “Partner to the Entrepreneurial Spirit.” That’s what I’ve remained committed to doing to this day. If you have an aspiration, it’s my job to get you there. The price tags have gotten larger, but I’m still the same person, sitting side-by-side with leaders asking, “What can this be?” and “How are we going to bring this to life?”
We all have visions, but it’s difficult to execute the vision with the surgical precision needed to make it come to life. That’s my job, essentially. When there is no vision, I get to help cast the vision. Most people struggle in executing their vision, but I get to help make it real and say, “This is how we’re actually going to make this happen.” The technology is secondary. It’s about the people — the hearts and minds — and shifting them to know they can actually do it, casting that North Star, and making it real. I am clear at calling out the gaps and the things that are in our way, and how to overcome those. I think when you come from a place where nothing has been given to you, it just helps to fight harder for the impossible, and those that want it.
5. What is it like being a Black woman in a white male-dominated field? What challenges have you faced?
My life, as you see it today, has not been anything that has been handed to me, and I’m in the thick of the journey. But, I always come back to grace. It’s all grace, giving it and accepting it. I’ve been given many things, but it has certainly come with its challenges, mostly presented by mankind. But, I have never really been incredibly bothered by it. One thing I tell my children is, “It’s not my concern how people treat me. It is my concern how I treat others.” That’s something I live by: doing right in every situation that I can possibly control. So, yes I see the inequities, and I see plenty of trends and patterns. But everything that’s been thrown at me, I’ve worked to use it to my advantage. It has made me stronger, but I pray for a time where we don’t have to carry that weight.
Today, there is no denying my work ethic. You can put me in any space and I commit to winning because I’ve been through it. I cringe a bit when I hear people talk about having imposter syndrome because I think, “No, we deserve to be here.” My whole life there’s been someone who didn’t want me to do something or be something. But it’s not about anyone else’s acceptance. It’s literally just by sheer will that we are here, still learning and growing. I have a purpose and a mission and I will see it through with everything in me. What’s imposturous about that?
6. Who are some women that inspired you growing up? Who inspires you now?
Besides my mother (who is grace personified), it was Phylicia Rashad, specifically her role as Clair Huxtable. I saw her and I realized it was all possible. She made it real for me to see a powerful, polished, professional, black, multilingual woman on TV who was just as bad as she was gorgeous. She was all the things and then more; she was a force and a mother. Representation matters!
When I was in school, I wasn’t much into going out all the time. I had track meets and lots of events to attend, but they were all purposeful. My parents never knew how important it was to me to be a wife and mother, because I always focused first on establishing myself. And now they see me as a very present mother and wife while still being a force in my career. Growing up watching Clair Huxtable showed me it was possible to be a multidimensional woman with a career and family. Not one instead of the other.
And, of course, seeing my mother with her hustle, coming through all she went through, always plays a part. Her integrity, her pureness and her goodness are just out of this world. So when I hear people say those kinds of things about me, I tell them that the woman that raised me is that person and I’m a beneficiary. She’s here to serve. She’s just an amazing woman.
7. What advice would you give to young women embarking on a similar career path?
You don’t have to follow anybody else’s path. Observe and be curious. Listen to the patterns around you, but know all of it is going to change. What you really need to embody is not a particular skillset, but an aptitude to just keep creating and learning. All of our jobs are going to change in another 10 years, maybe even 5 because the cycles are getting shorter. What you will be doing as a career has likely not even been invented yet, so be a continuous learner, be a “go to” person that people can trust hard things to, unequivocally.
I am ridiculous when it comes to continuous education and exposing myself to new ideas. I am always thinking about what’s next. We have the whole Internet at our fingertips. We all have so much access now.
I would also advise them to get around good people, who are entrepreneurial and strong-spirited — they are always thinking bigger. You never want to stay the smartest person at the table. It sounds cliché, but you should be uncomfortable as much as possible so you can continue to challenge yourself. I’ve heard it said, “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” And it’s true. Put yourself in uncomfortable situations intentionally. When I was deciding between Google and another firm, a well-respected offering, and a very grand title for things I’ve done hundreds of times over, I chose the path where I could not see the next three years. I had no idea what it was going to look like for me at Google and that gave me more of an opportunity to create what was next. I encourage others to do the same.
8. Do you have a favorite female empowerment quote/movie/book that you can share or recommend?
Yes! Some of my favorite books include Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, the founder of Nike. It’s a true American underdog story. I also love Becoming by Michelle Obama. I watch Without Limits, the biographical sports film about the unconventional runner Steve Prefontaine (“Pre”), every chance I get. And I find inspiration from the whole book of Ecclesiastes, particularly Ecclesiastes 3:22, which reads, “So I saw that there is nothing better than that all should enjoy their work, for that is their lot; who can bring them to see what will be after them?”
And, this excerpt from Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love (1992):
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
9. Any final word of advice for women in STEAM?
Be big. That doesn’t mean be loud or don’t be humble. It just means be big in your ambition and be big in how you show up every day. Your presence should elevate the room when you walk in. That’s what I wish for people — especially women, black women, minority women — because we often don’t feel that way, but I want everybody to feel that. If we all come to the table believing we can do amazing things, we will. And that is powerful.
The blessing of being where I am now at this phase of my career is being able to say, “This is who I am, and it does not stop at work.” I don’t have a work mode or an off mode — this is just me. I work in pursuit of these goals every hour of every day whether it’s pouring into my girls, investing in my camp, or showing up at work for my colleagues and pressing them toward their best self. I show up fully and authentically. I show up as me.