Introducing Tchernavia Rocker – Chief People Officer Extraordinaire

Author(s): Talia Speigel

Introducing Tchernavia Rocker

Tchernavia Rocker is the Chief People and Administrative Officer of Under Armour, where she is responsible for people and organizational transformation and strategy execution.

Members of McLean & Company will remember her inspirational presentation at our 2019 Signature conference, where she shared the message that it is time for HR to stand up and stop worrying about a seat at the table. Her message brought the room to their feet! We are excited to share this profile of Tchernavia with you.

What do you think is key for HR leaders and BIPOC HR leaders right now?

I think all of us have these revelatory moments when it comes to unapologetically projecting and imparting the Black experience and Black Excellence in HR. Should we all be tired of the status quo? What will convince you to push the envelope or move on? How much injustice is enough to move from our personal comfort? Sometimes we're (HR professionals) in the HR space so long that we become part of the problem. Are we going to be a part of systematic racism or do something to improve it drastically? For BIPOC HR leaders, we need to ask ourselves how will we show up and how do we change the system from the inside? We have the best seats in the house, and we haven't fully leveraged them.

I am at the place where I have no fear in my career or my life and I know that I sit in a position of privilege in that regard. That said, I think HR must take on a different leadership role. HR is worried about risk to the organization. We can protect organizations by challenging them to live within their values.

Just because you are Black doesn't mean you are an anti-racist. It requires an active action that requires you to be well-informed intellectually and emotionally, because to advance the conversation you need stamina.

You rarely grow in comfort.

What motivates you?

I grew up in a family with the tenet that what we do for others is all that matters. So my life motivation has always been about helping and driving and lending yourself to something greater than you. For me it is knowing that I do something that matters in this world. I love working for organizations that help people live better lives and doing things that bring people joy or growth. I sit in a place of accountability and responsibility and that drives me every day. I'm accountable in my role for more than just me and my family; I'm responsible for families and futures for communities and that gets me excited. I love that!

I have volunteered with the Girl Scouts and the Boys and Girls Club of America for the last ten years. I've been called to do something for little Black boys and girls by grace and the people who decided to invest in me. They gave me educational resources, encouraged my creative energy, and protected me from outside influences that would have knocked me off my path when I was growing up. So, I am a big advocate of programming and organizations that are outcome-based to help elevate boys and girls. They have always been there for me as my place of refuge, even as an adult. I invest my time, talent, and treasure, including donating any speaking fees to these organizations; they need every dollar. I think it is important to not only give back to our jobs but to our communities.

What advice would you give your younger self?

To be honest, I think I had just as much growth in my mistakes as anything else. So what I'd tell my younger self is, "You're going to mess up. You are going to be successful. There will be days you'll cry yourself to sleep. And there will be days you'll wake up with joy. Just know, in the end, it will all be worth it."

What's the biggest hurdle you've faced in your career, and what did you learn?

My career hasn't been a straight path: I started my career as a nurse, then took an MBA program and moved to operations, then to HR, back to operations, and back to HR. Because I was navigating unfamiliar spaces, there was always this self-doubt and I think it made me stronger somehow. Still, it was and continues to be my biggest hurdle.

I won't sit here and pretend that I have it all figured out. I am capable. I am smart and knowledgeable. I can learn quickly. I am dope. I need to remind myself of these things to overcome my self-doubt, which is a hurdle of my own making, maybe heightened by how I think other people perceive me and how they have treated me in the past.

Growing up, I was taught that girls are supposed to be seen and not heard. My parents didn't work in corporate America, so all they could tell me was "work hard,” "stay true to who you are," but "keep your head down, you've got a good job." Whether we realize it or not, words creep into our psychology about what we're capable of achieving. The most important thing we can do for young girls is to instill in them confidence, not ego or arrogance, but confidence.

I have been fortunate to be in organizations where I am accepted, but there were times in my early career where it was like, "Who do you think you are?" Those moments existed, but something in me allowed me to look at those people and those moments and learn from them.

A mentor told me years ago, "Tchernavia, you can be humble, you can be grateful, but it doesn't mean you have to be small." Each of us has to find our truth, which requires a level of introspection about where the doubt comes from and how to overcome it. When you wake up in the morning thinking you can do just about anything you set your mind to, it is quite liberating and creates other options.

As an HR professional and a woman of color, how do you take care of yourself?

It’s complex as the time commitment for an executive is at times overwhelming. When people tell me, "I want your job," I say, "Count the cost, baby, count the cost."

I have found three practices that are important for me and that heal me:

  • I protect my vacation time at all costs. When I'm on vacation, I'm on vacation. I honor that uninterrupted time with family.
  • I spend time every night in prayer and meditation, reflecting on what went right today and what I could have done differently and asking myself did I mistreat anyone in any way and need to make amends. If I've done something that's off, I don't sleep well, so I have to bring closure to it before I go to bed.
  • I'm a jokester and love having fun. Right now, Facetime with friends and family is my jam. Finding time to laugh is my jam. 2020 needed every meme!

What books or social media are you into?

I am a thirsty reader; it sustains me! For business, I read The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, and industry periodicals.

I love, love, love focusing on reclaiming Black history in America with a more exact lens and learning what we didn't learn in school. For me, it is a rediscovery, critical analysis, and tough, challenging reads:

  • The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  • Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson
  • Oldies and goodies by Angela Davis and Malcolm X

I also like a good sci-fi love story, so a host of books by Octavia Butler, as a break from this world's harsh realities.

Related Content