Nkechi “Payton” Iheme is the public policy manager for Facebook, a job that, as you can imagine, entails putting out fires.
Facebook’s failure to ensure privacy for user data, including during the 2016 presidential election, resulted in its CEO being grilled in Congress in 2019. Mark Zuckerberg had to fend off aggressive questions on election interference, free speech, hate groups and fake news from members of the U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee.
As Facebook’s public policy manager, Iheme said her main goal each day is “to leave things in a better place than I found them.”
Some days, that means putting out fires and other days it means “creating opportunity where others saw none,” Iheme said in an interview with Moguldom.
Before starting her career in tech, Iheme studied communication technology and public relations at the University of Texas as an undergrad. She earned a master’s degree in government policy from George Washington University.
She began her career in the U.S. Army and has since spent more than 15 years on active duty. She’s gone from being an officer in the Army’s Special Operations Command to a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. Yes, Iheme is still in the Army.
Besides the military, Iheme has had an impressive career. She served as the senior policy advisor for communication technology at the White House, and held various roles in Congress. She was a legislative liaison and specialized in defense, intelligence, and special access programs for Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees.
Facebook is the fourth most valuable brand in the world with a value of $94.8 billion. The social media platform adds 500,000 new users daily.
Naturally, there are fires to put out. Iheme has been with the tech giant since 2016.
Iheme gave Moguldom an inside look at her work for Facebook.
Moguldom: How did you first get into the tech world?
Nkechi “Payton” Iheme: In a way, I was an early adapter to technology in some aspects. My undergraduate degree was in communication technology and I began diving into certain aspects of the field at every job I have had since college. My first experience with technology was writing websites using HTML. I was not very good at it and thankfully for everyone using the internet, the world moved on and web design became automated.
Moguldom: What attracted you to the military?
Iheme: I actually still serve. I spent around 15 years on active duty. I was a military intelligence officer then later a special operations officer. I currently serve in the military as a lieutenant colonel but have transitioned to serving part-time in the National Guard. I was drawn to the military due to the sense of adventure and working on hard problems. The military provided me with my fair share of both.
Moguldom: Can you explain your day-to-day role at Facebook?
Iheme: My role changes daily, but the main goal each day is to leave things in a better place than I found them. Some days that is putting out fires and other days it is creating opportunity where others saw none. At Facebook, we work to build community and better connection. Although my interface is usually with governments, I do spend quite a bit of time figuring out how to show up for communities and the people in them.
Moguldom: What do you find the most challenging about your role at Facebook?
Iheme: The biggest challenge is figuring out where to start. With so many opportunities to add value, you have to pick a focus area and see it through without being distracted by other issues that arise during the day.
Moguldom: What do you find the most rewarding in the role?
Iheme: Everyone has the opportunity to add value. It may not be your first year, it may not be your second, but if you keep at it long enough you will be able to develop programs where others didn’t see an opportunity.
Moguldom: What advice would you give to Black women who want to enter the tech world?
Iheme: Bet on yourself. Don’t wait for an invitation because we are already waiting to welcome you.
It is always a challenge to understand why you are treated differently. Is it you? Is it them? I have learned to trust my feelings when I feel that challenges are coming my way due to something I can’t change. So much wasted energy is spent on trying to understand why something is happening and it may be best to use that energy to pivot yourself to a better environment.Nkechi “Payton” Iheme, public policy manager for Facebook
Moguldom: Do you feel the tech world has gotten more diverse?
Iheme: In many ways, it has become more diverse. I credit many of the advocates and diverse leaders for championing the importance of diversity. The numbers have gone up, but I challenge companies to look at promotion and retention. Those two indicators reflect immensely on whether someone can grow in their careers.
Moguldom: How can tech companies become more inclusive?
Iheme: I think the first step is to be comfortable receiving feedback that there may need to be improvements to the system. It is interesting that sometimes the bulk of the pushback one may receive is from someone that thinks the system in place doesn’t have bias because managers are genuinely good people. Bias is inherently built into so much in the world, and everyone has to work hard to dismantle it. By creating an environment built on feedback and transparency, you are laying the groundwork for achieving inclusion through collaboration versus adversity.
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Moguldom: Have you experienced many challenges in tech because of your race and/or gender?
Iheme: That is a difficult question to answer. It is always a challenge to understand why you are treated differently. Is it you? Is it them? I have learned to trust my feelings when I feel that challenges are coming my way due to something I can’t change. So much wasted energy is spent on trying to understand why something is happening and it may be best to use that energy to pivot yourself to a better environment.
Moguldom: Data privacy has become a major concern. How is Facebook ensuring data privacy for its users?
Iheme: Getting data privacy and security right is fundamental to our business, and we are invested in making people’s experience of Facebook more private — as outlined in our long-term vision for a privacy-focused social platform. We continue to make major changes and investments to better protect people’s privacy – including controls, transparency, and accountability.
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