By Cindi Leive
Originally published: June 13, 2016
Maxine Williams has the kind of spectacular résumé that could land her a top job in any one of a dozen fields: She’s a Rhodes scholar, lawyer, improv comedian, human-rights advocate, and onetime soap opera star. But it was a call in her thirties from a law firm, asking her to be its diversity chief, that changed everything. (She had just one question: “What’s diversity?”) Now, as the global director of, yes, diversity for Facebook, she’s one of the world’s top experts on creating workplaces where everyone can thrive—something we should all get behind, since racially diverse companies outperform the national average by 35 percent. I met Williams at Facebook’s buzzing New York City office, and I brought a few of your questions.
Cindi Leive: You often use the Trinidadian phrase “Trying a ting.” Where does that come from?
Maxine Williams: It means “Take a risk, because you never know.” There may be a one percent probability that you’ll get what you want, but it still exists. When I came to the U.S. from Trinidad at 16, people advised me to apply to Yale University. I said to my mother, “What’s the point? We don’t have the money.” And she said, “Just try a ting!”... But you have to have as little ego as you can to not take it personally when you get hit back.
CL: Like when you got wait-listed at Yale, but you made a video that persuaded them.
MW: I didn’t even know what wait-listed meant! Someone told me, “It means they like you, but not as much as they like other people.” I went, “How do they know they don’t like me? They don’t even know me.” So I videotaped myself so they’d know more.