Behind and (Beyond) Prison Walls: The Transformative Power of Learning
About This Episode
In the pursuit of leading inclusively, organizations must be willing to establish learning, development, and job opportunities for underrepresented populations. Incarcerated women is just one of many underrepresented populations rarely discussed, but who deserve a place at the forefront of the conversation surrounding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).
We explore this topic deeper in this episode of The Edge with Danna Tongate, the Head of Demand Generation at Televerde. Together, Danna and host Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek chat about how a corporate commitment to embracing DEI initiatives and Impact Sourcing can drive quantifiable results—a “win-win” for both employees and the organizations who are willing to hire diverse talent.
Interested in learning more?
- Find out more about the Televerde Foundation
- Watch FOX 10’s highlight on Televerde
- Learn more about Skillsoft’s Leadership & Business portfolio
Michelle BB 00:00:07 The views expressed by guests are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Skillsoft. Welcome to the Edge, the Skillsoft podcast, where we share stories of the ways in which transformative learning can help organizations and their people grow together. I'm your host, Michelle Bebe. My pronouns are she, her and hers, and we are now well into our fourth season. And for those who don't know, the edge began during the early days of C Ovid 19 as we struggle to stay humanly connected in a new virtual landscape. It was a time of rapid change and unprecedented challenges as people and the organizations they worked for were forced to reimagine how they worked. And to be frank, who they were. It was also a time of deep and painful soul searching and long overdue conversations around issues of social justice. In our very first episode, which I highly recommend you go back and listen to, I sat down with Lawana Harris, a certified diversity executive, and an I C F credentialed coach to talk about leading inclusively.
Michelle BB 00:01:16 And that was a favorite conversation, and in some ways an uncomfortable one as we attempted to find a hopeful path forward through years of workplace discrimination, bias and oppression. And she left us with a thought provoking question. As a business leader, are you willing to open up access and opportunity for underrepresented populations? Now, if we've done the work over the last few years, many of us say we are willing, and if we have taken meaningful action to promote workplace inclusion, we're seeing positive results. Research suggests that diverse and inclusive companies are 35% more likely to financially surpass their competitors, but there still are underrepresented populations we rarely discuss. And some come with a heavy side of inherent bias. And I'll give you an example, incarcerated women. Now, think about this for a moment. Imagine being defined by your worst mistake for the rest of your life.
Michelle BB 00:02:26 And then imagine that someone stepped up and offered you a second chance the opportunity to change your life. Impact sourcing programs can do just that. They empower incarcerated women to learn marketable skills, to transition back into the world outside of prison. They are not only changing the lives of the people they employ, but the lives of their families and entire communities. According to B two B outsourcing leader Televerde, children of incarcerated parents are more likely to drop out of school, become involved in crime and experience mental health problems. Learning and job placement programs are helping to break this cycle by providing education, job training, and support to incarcerated women and their families. And this is truly a business that is a force for good. It's also a forceful business case. And here's an example. 40% of employees at Tele Verde's Phoenix corporate office are former inmates.
Michelle BB 00:03:32 And since 1994, tele Verde has generated more than 12 billion with a B in revenue for their clients. Our guest today, detonate, is one of the employees responsible for that growth, and I couldn't be more excited about having her on today's episode. Her story, it's remarkable, and I am absolutely thrilled to let her share it with you. Dana entered Perryville Prison in Arizona with a series of low skill, low wage jobs under her belt and without a high school diploma. And in her own words, she worked to pay the bills and fuel her drug addiction, and it was her addiction that led her to become incarcerated. But Dana's story does not stop there. Rather, hers is a story of resilience, of hope, of transformation because Dana left prison on August 29th, 2022, with her G E D a solid business education, sales and marketing expertise, a large professional network, and a whole cadre of executive mentors.
Michelle BB 00:04:36 And following her release, she joined tele Verde's corporate headquarters as their new head of demand generation. Today, Dana dedicates much of her free time to supporting Tele Verde Foundation, a nonprofit organization that prepares incarcerated women for success in the workplace after release, driven by a pay it forward belief, Dana mentors young women transitioning out of prison and leverages her marketing and project management expertise to extend the foundation's reach. She deeply believes everyone deserves a fair shot, regardless of background or circumstance, embodying a commitment to continuous learning. Deanna is augmenting her professional experience with formal education. She's pursuing a bachelor's degree in communications from the University of Phoenix with an anticipated graduation in 2024. First of all, Danna, congratulations on that. And thank you for being here. Welcome to the Edge.
Danna Tongate 00:05:36 Thank you for having me. I'm so excited to be speaking with you today.
Michelle BB 00:05:39 Oh, we are, we are thrilled to have you and Dan. Look, I think we all have an origin story. Um, I know though, I did not do justice to yours in the introduction because of all the origin stories I think yours is in is so incredibly remarkable, and I think it's important for our audience to understand just how remarkable your journey has been. So, would you mind sharing a little bit about who you were before you walked through the doors of Perryville and when, and how you decided you wanted a different life? Yeah,
Danna Tongate 00:06:12 Absolutely. So I, I think it's important to start from the beginning. You know, there there's so many commonalities between me and the, and and my peers that, you know, have been incarcerated. You know, we, we come from different backgrounds and my, like, I grew up in this amazing family. We, you know, my parents were so supportive and really there for me. And, you know, I, I spent the majority of my education in going to Catholic school and had, you know, grounded family values. But there was just something that led me in my, you know, in the years leading into my teenage years to develop these like, toxic relationships that led me to drug addiction. And my family tried everything they could to help me. And, you know, everything, every, you know, we went to treatment. We were, we were going to counseling, but my life was just consumed with drug addiction.
Danna Tongate 00:07:09 And, you know, when I landed in prison, I remember getting there and thinking, this is the end. And I, and I don't know how to do anything differently. Um, you know, I was served a significant sentence. Um, I knew that, that I was gonna be there for quite a few years. Um, and, and I just really didn't know what I was gonna do with my life. I really felt like after my prison sentence that I was going to have to get back out and re-offend again because I didn't know how to do it differently. You know, I'd spent years in drug addiction, um, when I, you know, when I arrived in prison, you know, drugs are, are a big part of that story as well. There's, you know, quite a bit of, of drug addiction and drug abuse to, to try to numb the pain of, of the life that we've lived and the, the darkness that has consumed us. And so that, that's really when I got there, you know, I, I felt like I had just arrived in a much darker place, um, than what had led me there.
Michelle BB 00:08:09 I I, you know, as I sit here listening to you, Dana, I, I can't help but think about the way that you were f you must have been feeling and this, this idea that this was, this was what your life was going to be. Yeah. And, you know, to hear you say, I didn't know anything different, and I don't know what my life looks like outside of, of this is really powerful. And I don't think people really understand how difficult it can be to overcome a past, you know, this is, and, and I'm sure we will talk a lot about growth mindset and how you have to believe in yourself despite the odds. But I mean, it's incredible because you, you did find a path forward and it sounds like, yeah. Um, you know, in the discussions that we've had up, up to this point, that you, you had a couple of choices here, or maybe three lanes, right?
Michelle BB 00:09:04 You had access to education and skills training and work experience. But, but let's face it, there's a lot of your own grit, determination, and dedication to personal growth that got you to where you are now. And then the third sort of element of this is the, the mentorship and learning and the examples that you had of other women who inspired you. So I wanna kind of break down each of these. So let's start with path one, which is the education part. Tell us how did you get into a program that gave you new skills? Because I imagine that that was not what you anticipated when you went into prison. <laugh>.
Danna Tongate 00:09:45 Yeah, that's a, I think we should actually go a little bit further back than that. So, sure. When I got to prison, it felt like there were a couple of, like, there's, you know, there's different groups of women, different groups of women that I kind of observed when I got there. So, you know, I, I get to prison and I'm broken. I, I feel like that there's no hope for my future. Um, I feel like I'm gonna go back down the same road that I've always been because I really don't know anything different. But I noticed that there were a, a couple different types of, of women when I got there. There were the women that were kind of in the same place that I was at, and they continued the same behaviors. They were still using drugs, they were continuing in that lifestyle. But there was this other group of women that I noticed that had this like determination and grit and light about them.
Danna Tongate 00:10:39 You know, I heard them speaking about, you know, their futures and getting out and going back to their children and reintegrating with their families, and having these amazing opportunities to be able to provide for themselves through career opportunities and workforce development programs through a company called Televerde. And I'll talk a little bit about that in just a minute. But, but I wanted what they had. I wanted that confidence. I wanted that, that hope for a better future. Um, I just didn't know how to get there. And so mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I figured I needed to become friends with 'em. So I started, you know, striking out conversations and really getting to know these women because I had admired them. There was, there was something about them that I wanted, and I didn't know, I didn't quite believe that I could have that, but, but I really wanted, wanted it.
Danna Tongate 00:11:30 I was hungry for it. And so I learned about this company called Televerde. Um, so they are, Televerde is, uh, has been in business for about 26, 27 years now. And they're a sales marketing and customer experience solution provider that has, they've generated over $65 billion in pipeline and $12 billion in revenue for companies like SS A P and Broadcom and ge. These are enterprise technology companies that we have partnered with to help support their business. And, and I, I think that's pretty incredible. So tele Verde's business model is they actually execute all of their programs from women's, women's correctional facilities in Arizona, Indiana, and Florida. And so there was just something about the women that worked for Tele Verde that was different. And I aspired to be like, and one of the requirements to actually become eligible to apply for televerde was that you had to have a G E D.
Danna Tongate 00:12:34 And I didn't have one. I had dropped out in, you know, my sophomore year in high school and never really pursued anything after that. I had never had a real job before. Um, I didn't care about my education. And so I knew the first step if I wanted to, to, to have the life and, um, have the opportunity to work for televerde that I had to go get my G e d. And luckily, our facility had, uh, courses that where we could take, you know, training and, and teaching and get our G e D. And so that was the first thing that I did. And I was pretty surprised when I took the GE test that I actually nailed it. Um, and that was the first time that I had, I can really say that I was proud of myself. I showed up for class every day.
Danna Tongate 00:13:19 I worked hard, I learned. And when I took that test in my past, I was, I, I was kind of surprised to be honest with you. Um, but it felt like such a sense of accomplishment. And I don't know that I had ever felt that before. So that was the first step was getting my g e d. The next step was that, um, you know, the, the Televerde program, a a lot of women felt the way that I did. Like it was something to aspire to. It was something that, a goal that, you know, they had set for yourself themselves. And so there was a lot of competition. So the first time that Televerde posted for a new hire, um, I was probably up against 50 other women that had applied for the position. And I interviewed, I went through the process and I didn't get it.
Danna Tongate 00:14:03 And I was devastated. Um, and I felt like I had failed and I was just gonna move on and, and just kind of brush it off and, you know, kind, that's what I've done most of my life. And one of the, the women that I had become friends with that worked for Televerde was like, what do you mean? So apply again, just because you didn't get it the first time doesn't mean that you're not gonna get it the second time. Mm-hmm. And so, you know, a few months later, they posted again and I applied, and I got it this time. And that was the first time in my life that I had failed at. I felt like I had failed at something, but I kept trying, I kept trying, like I didn't give up. And then I, I got the position and I was so excited. And, and then <laugh> felt like, oh gosh, what am I gonna do now? <laugh>.
Michelle BB 00:14:48 Well, I mean, you know, what I hear is I, I, I hear a journey that first was about you gaining confidence, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it, it sounds like you had really sort of lost faith in yourself as, as, as someone who, who can be a contributor to society, that that, that there is more to you than what others sort of thought. And you had this tremendous set of aspirations and growth potential inside you that you didn't even know existed. And I think confidence is, is so important. And, and, you know, I consider it to be a power skill, right? There's so many things, like we have to be able to communicate, we have to be empathetic, but we have to be, we have to be resilient, but we have to have confidence in ourselves. Um, because it is the only way that I think we can grow and learn, to your point, from quote unquote failure.
Michelle BB 00:15:44 You know, I had a, a guest on recently who talked about self-leadership, which to me is incredibly important. 'cause we can't lead others until we lead ourselves. It requires discipline, but also that courage to look inside ourselves and be open to feedback from others, which it sounds like you got. So I wanna talk a little bit about dedication to personal growth. I know that, that you had a program in Perryville called The Way Out, which, which I believe was a key to your own personal growth and, and to continuing this transformation, which, you know, has been lasting. I, would you tell us more about that? Yeah,
Danna Tongate 00:16:19 Absolutely. So, you know, I started working at televerde, and once I got the job, I, I was terrified of failing again. I had failed so much in my life. And, and those failures were detrimental and life changing. Um, and, and never in a good way. And so when I, when I got the job and I started, um, with the company, and we went through this incredible onboarding experience, you have to remember that the majority of us come from a background where we've never had p professional positions before. And so we had to learn about corporate America from the inside out. Um, and I remember getting out of this four week bootcamp that was like drinking out of a fire hose and so overwhelming, and then getting out on the floor and having to make that first phone call, um mm-hmm. <affirmative>, where you were trying to reach out to c-level executives to have a, a meaningful business conversation.
Danna Tongate 00:17:13 I was terrified. Um, the first person that answered the phone, I actually hung up. 'cause I was terrified to talk to them. And my supervisor was like, Nope, nope. You're going to have this conversation. You have all the skills that you need in order to be successful, and so I want you to pick up that phone again, and I want you to call that person back. And I did. And it was so exhilarating to get off of that call and know that I had learned something about myself and built confidence in myself because of this workforce development program that believed in me. And so, through the Televerde program, I learned leadership skills. I learned how to be confident, uh, a confident communicator. But I also realized that there was, there was more work to do within myself besides just the professional skills. I knew that there were, there was trauma in my life that I had to deal with.
Danna Tongate 00:18:06 I knew that there was addiction that I needed to deal with and, and really start to understand more about, become more self-aware. And so one of the women that, that had been with Televerde for quite a few years, developed a program herself that is very much an alignment with 12 step recovery. And it was called the Way Out. And so I took that class, um, because I, I wanted more for myself. I wanted better for myself. I wanted better for my family and my support system. And I just wanted to make sure that I did everything possible to make sure that when I was released from prison, that I never had to go back again. And so I took the way out class, um, the, the facilitator and, and the, the founder of that program, her name is Carrie, and she, um, taught me so much about personal development, emotional wellness, and, and mental, mental health.
Danna Tongate 00:19:01 Um, and through that class, I learned so much about myself that I really wanted to be a part of the program in a bigger way. And so I learned how to actually teach the class so that when she was released from prison and, and got to graduate, that there was somebody to come behind her to be able to help take that class over and continue supporting the mission. And so I did that for, for a couple years. And I think through, you know, being in, in that sort of capacity as, as a leader and a mentor and a support system for other women, I think that, that, I really believe that that is what really has driven me and given me so much more, um, by, by being involved in that type of, of leadership and me mentorship capacity.
Michelle BB 00:19:51 I absolutely love that. First, it's women learning from other women taking responsibility and then passing it along, right? Paying it forward. It's the perfect circle of mentorship. And, and we talk often about the importance of mentorship. And I think your story is so exemplar of why mentorship is so critical and key. How can we lift others up? How can we play a role in their development? How do we help them achieve what it is they wanna achieve? And, and how do we serve as, um, role models or examples? And, and look, you know, I don't think I'd be where I am today if I didn't have some amazing women who had the generosity to take me under their wings. But my goodness, this, this notion of mentorship, especially with this program, the Way Out sounds like it is such an incredible opportunity. And I know that you now spend your free time working with the Televerde Foundation, which is the, the nonprofit part of the business. I'd love to learn more about your work there. And then how does, how does that work hand in hand with the, with the business skills side of things?
Danna Tongate 00:21:07 Yeah, absolutely. So I've, I've been with Televerde for about 16 years now. Um, the, the, the corporate side of Televerde. And, you know, when you talk about mentorship and the importance of mentorship, my career has taken <laugh> such a wild ride. I have, you know, I, I take on a new role and I am terrified, um, to take on that role because I am habitually afraid of failure. And there's always been someone in my, in my, you know, circle of my tribe, I guess you would call my professional tribe that has believed in me a little bit more than I believed in myself and helped push me, um, to take that next step and take a risk. Um, and, and once I take that risk, because, because I've had that tribe to help push me and drive me, I, I start a new role and I learn new things.
Danna Tongate 00:22:02 And the more that I learn, the more successful I am, and the more successful I am, the better I feel about myself. So it's like this continuous cycle of like grit and determination and passion to just be better. And, and without that mentorship, um, and that the, the tribe of professionals that I have behind me to, to help push me in those moments where I just have this fear of failure or imposter syndrome, um, I don't think that I would be where I am today. And so, you know, in my 16 year tenure with Tele Verti, I am now the demand generation manager, um, for televerde and, and really drive all of the marketing plays to help grow our business. Uh, you know, a few years ago, I think it was back in 2019, we decided to create an arm of Televerde, the Televerde Foundation, which is the nonprofit side of our business that is really responsible for helping women transition from prison out into our communities and the workforce successfully.
Danna Tongate 00:23:04 Um, it, you know, and, and another part of that, of the foundation is inside the walls of prison, um, in Indiana and Florida and, and Arizona and, and hopefully many more states, is we're creating workforce development programs for women that don't necessarily have the opportunity to work for Televerde corporate, but they can learn the same job skills, um, so that when they're released from prison, they don't have to feel like I did when I first came to prison, that there is no hope I have to go back to my same way of life, right? Like, we're developing those skills so that when they're released, they are successful and have meaningful careers and can provide for their families. And so I'm very passionate about the mission of the, of Televerde and the Televerde Foundation. And so I make it a point to spend as much time as I can, um, and helping develop and, and grow the Televerde Foundation through, you know, we're, right now, we're in the middle of planning a charity golf event in November. And so because of the skills that I've developed at Televerde with and this workforce development program, I can take those skills and then help project manage a program and, and, um, uh, organize a golf event that then raises money and awareness to be able to grow the foundation programs and the workforce development programs.
Michelle BB 00:24:26 Dana, I think that's, I think that's remarkable. And, and you know, what, what I love about what you said is certainly Televerde has done quite a bit in terms of its own hiring programs and support of, of this particular population of incarcerated women. But to be successful, it has to extend beyond televerde. Yeah. So you've got to be able to arm these women with the, the skills to be successful and to be able to go out and get other jobs. But at the same time, you also have to find companies that are willing to, organizations that are willing to hire incarcerated women. So, so help me understand, you know, you, you talked about impact sourcing mm-hmm. <affirmative> and I, and I do believe it is a win-win for both organizations as well as the employees, these women who whom may hire. And I think that it's an opportunity to demonstrate that you can balance purpose, do good things with profits, still actually excel and, and tell Verity as, as you talked about, um, incredibly successful balancing purpose and profits. But, you know, if you think about the organizations, organizations that may not have invested in a program like this or are perhaps unaware of the program, what are some of the benefits you've seen for those companies that are willing to hire incarcerated women who have been a part of this program?
Danna Tongate 00:25:54 Absolutely. So I'll tell you that the women that are coming out of this program, it, it's not just about pay, you know, getting a paycheck to pay the, to pay the bills and have a career. It's, it's about changing their lives. When you come from an incredibly dark space without any hope, um, without any confidence and fear of what the future looks like, the opportunity to be able to learn, to develop, to provide for your families to find meaningful work that makes you feel good about yourself, there's this, this passion to do better. I, I talked about it a minute ago where the more I learned the, the more successful that I was, and then that success built this confidence and this passion to do better. And so it's this cycle, uh, that just continuously feeds itself. And so, you know, people that are coming out of prison that are given opportunities, um, that they've never had before, are more dedicated to the company.
Danna Tongate 00:27:00 They work harder, they are more passionate a about the work they do, they do, because it's not just about the job or their career. For them, the, the opportunity is life changing. It's life changing for their future, their family's future, their, their children's future. And so it just means more, um, and you will never find a more dedicated, more driven, um, individual with just the, the grit to work as hard as possible for a better life, life for themselves than you will with the women that are coming out of our programs, whether it's tele corporate or the Televerde Foundation Career Paths program. It's, it's, it's all about the opportunity to change their lives and not a paycheck.
Michelle BB 00:27:47 So, so, um, I wanna, I wanna share some stats because I think it's really impressive, right? So 94% of Televerde graduates are still employed after five years post-incarceration and earning four times the salary of others, other formerly incarcerated females who did not go through the program. Is that true?
Danna Tongate 00:28:06 Yes. Okay. That is absolutely true.
Michelle BB 00:28:08 And we also know that programs like televerde have been shown to reduce recidivism rates by up to 50%, which then lowers taxpayer burden. This is a, this is a great program and a win-win for both individuals, organizations, and society at large.
Danna Tongate 00:28:28 Yeah. Think about what I said at the beginning where I came to prison and I had, I really believed that I was going to get out and re-offend again because I didn't feel like that there was another path for me. And programs like this create a new path. It's a choice. The, the opportunity that I was given was not handed to me. I had to work hard for it. But there, but with that opportunity came a sense of I can have a better life. And, and none of us want to go back to prison. That that's not the goal of anyone. The, the, it's the, the lack of resources and hope for the future that drive people back to prison because they don't feel like that there is another option for them. And so that's what creates the recidivism, is that people that are being released, men and women, do not have opportunities in order to create sustainable, um, futures for themselves. Right? Um, the, the, the Televerde program creates opportunities for us to get out and have meaningful employment that we can feel good about, that helps us financially support ourselves and our families. And, and that's what creates this sense of, that is what creates the reduce in the recidivism rates with our program, is because people are transitioning out of prison with hope and skills and opportunities that, that they know they don't have to go back and re-offend again.
Michelle BB 00:30:01 So, Dana, help me then. What would you say to someone trying to start a new job, or even a whole new chapter who might be coming from a very vulnerable place like prison, perhaps elsewhere, perhaps they didn't have access to education or prior opportunity. What would you, what would you say to that individual? What is most important?
Danna Tongate 00:30:21 I would say that there are so many communities, um, there, there's a tribe of people that want you to succeed. Whether you've been through the Televerde Foundation, the Televerde corporate program or not, there are people out here that want to help you succeed. And you have to be confident. You have to be brave and ask for help. Um, I, I, you know, that was, that was one of the things that, that kind of was my downfall before that, that was my downfall before, is that I did not ask for help. I was scared to ask for help. Mm-hmm. I was embarrassed to ask for help. And so you just have to reach out and find those people that are willing to support you and mentor you and push you and drive you. Because if it wasn't for that type of, of comradery and, and support system that I had in prison and being released from prison, I don't, I know that I wouldn't be where I am today. I had people that believed in me when I couldn't believe in myself I had, but I had to ask for that help as well.
Michelle BB 00:31:25 I think that is such an important message, and I think that it's, it's, it's such great advice for everyone. I think we all, everybody struggles at some point, but I do think that that willingness or that ability to ask for help to reach out to someone else, it's critical to success. And I, I, I'm, I'm grateful that you've shared that bit of advice, because I don't think people are willing enough, Dana, to do that. I think there's, there's something in us that says, you know what? I can do this on my own. I don't need help. But in fact, in so many cases, we're better served when we reach out to someone else and, and people are willing to help. They really are.
Danna Tongate 00:32:13 Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, through the, the Way Out program and volunteering and supporting the Televerde Foundation and being a mentor and supporting other women, I have learned more from that experience than being the person that was supported or the mentee. Um, it's so important, and, and there are people out there that this is what drives them. This is their passion. They're available. People genuinely want to help that. You have to ask, you have to be brave and step outside of your comfort zone and, and ask for help. And, and rarely are you going to find someone that says, I can't help you, or I'm not willing to help you.
Michelle BB 00:32:56 Um, de is it true that you've said that prison is the best thing that happened to your career? And, and if so, how? Why? Like, what, what is it like, I'd love to understand, like yeah, what that means to you?
Danna Tongate 00:33:11 Yeah. It, and not it, I have said that, and I continue to say that, um, you know, I, I, I don't have any regrets. I wish that it would have maybe taken a different path for me to be where I, to get to where I am today. But that's not my story. My story was full of addiction and going to prison and really having to find myself there. It was not the prison system that fixed me. I wanna be super clear on that. Our justice system is broken. Um, it was the women in prison, my peers, women that were, you know, in there for drug addiction or abuse or, or whatever their story is. Um, that really helped me find myself. It was, um, it was this sense of I have to do something different, but I just don't know how to get there. Um, and, and having that, the, the tribe of people that just loved and supported me through it.
Danna Tongate 00:34:12 Um, and that's why I have no regrets. That's why I said, I say, I do not regret going to prison. I don't regret it for myself. I don't regret it for my family, because it also helped shape them as well. My children would not be who they are today. If it wasn't for the fact that I had to go to prison. I wish their story could have been different, but I also know that they're strong and independent and loving and kind and forgiving humans because of my story. Um, so yeah, I, I don't have any regrets. It, it took me going to prison to change my life if I would've never, you know, gotten the sentence that I did, I would still be living a life full of addiction and pain and, and without coping skills to be able to deal with life on life's terms.
Michelle BB 00:35:00 Dana, I I, I have to thank you for sharing your story. This has been such an incredibly powerful episode. Maybe the, the most powerful episode we've had. And, you know, as the mother of two wonderful, strong women, I can only imagine how good it feels to see where your children are. Before we wrap up, I wanna ask you the three questions that I've asked every guest who's been on the edge since we started back in 2020. And I think it will, uh, perhaps have more meaning and resonance than, um, than maybe I had originally thought when I, when I crafted these questions. So it's, it's one, it's really a three parter. Um, so you may need to write this down. Okay, <laugh>. But, um, it's <laugh>. Um, Dan, tell our audience, number one, what are you learning right now? Or what have you learned recently that's had an impact on your life? Second, how are you applying what you've learned? And third, what additional advice about learning would you share with others? So it's what are you learning, what are you applying, and what's your advice beyond everything you've already shared, which has been amazing. <laugh>,
Danna Tongate 00:36:21 Uh, <laugh>, those are pretty tough questions. I know. So what am I learning? I am learning how to fail fast and move on. So fear of failure. Well, failure has been such a huge part of my life that has created this sense of fear that, that almost freezes me in place. Um, what I've learned since then is if you are not taking risks and trying new things, you're never going to succeed. And so that is one thing that I'm learning, not just in my, my professional life mm-hmm. But also in my personal life, is, is learning how to fail fast and learn and move on and grow. Um, and, and I'm applying that by taking calculated risks in my life, right? Making data-driven decisions, even when I'm terrified that the outcome is going to be an epic failure. So, and what is my advice for listeners?
Danna Tongate 00:37:23 I would encourage you to kick down doors, right? Go out there, put yourself out there. I've been given a lot of opportunities, but they were not handed to me on a silver platter. I had to kick down doors to get them. Um, once I got them, I had to prove myself. I had to work hard for it, and, and I had to earn my place. But I did that through having a tribe of people around me that supported me and loved me, and pushed me and drove me. And so, kick down doors with a, a tribe of people around you that are, that are going to push you and drive you.
Michelle BB 00:38:07 Jenna, I, I absolutely love that. Thank you so much for that guidance. Uh, I can tell you, I am sure that I am not the only person listening to your story who's been educated, moved, and so inspired. And I, I look forward to, um, taking some of that advice myself. So thank you for that. You know, here at Skillsoft, we propel organizations and people to grow together through transformative learning experiences. And to all of you out there, I hope that you've really enjoyed and learned something from this episode of the Edge. Uh, it's been truly impactful, and I encourage you to tune in again as we unleash our edge together, because we will be bringing you more amazing stories like Dan's. I'm Michelle Bebe. Until next time, keep learning, keep growing, and go kick down some doors.
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About Our Guest
Head of Demand Generation, Televerde
Danna Tongate is the head of Demand Generation for Televerde. In this role, she oversees creating and managing marketing strategies to amplify brand visibility and stimulate lead generation. Since joining Televerde in 2005, Danna has served in integral roles in customer experience, sales, and marketing.
Embodying a commitment to continuous learning, Danna is augmenting her professional experience with formal education. She is pursuing a bachelor's degree in communications from the University of Phoenix, with an anticipated graduation in 2024.
Danna dedicates much of her free time to supporting Televerde Foundation, a non-profit organization that prepares incarcerated women for success in the workforce after release. Driven by a "pay it forward" belief, Danna mentors women transitioning out of prison and leverages her marketing and project management expertise to extend the foundation's reach. She deeply believes everyone deserves a fair shot, regardless of background or circumstance. Danna's journey of transformation and success as a second-chance hire has been recognized by FOX10 News.
About Our Host
As Chief Marketing Officer, Michelle leads a global marketing organization, focused on transforming today’s workforce for tomorrow’s economy. Since joining the company, she has been responsible for Skillsoft’s global marketing strategy, which includes generating awareness, driving preference, and building affinity for Skillsoft. Additionally – and perhaps most importantly – Michelle serves as the company's brand evangelist, helping to build a vibrant community of passionate learners.
With more than 25 years of marketing, branding, and strategy experience, Michelle has made it her personal mission to support the advancement of women in business. Prior to Skillsoft, she served as Chief Marketing Officer of IBM Watson, where she was instrumental in developing the first “Women Leaders in AI” program, which honors women who put AI to work across industries and around the globe. She also served as the global head of marketing for The Weather Company, an IBM Business, helping companies understand how to anticipate, plan for, and ultimately make better decisions – with greater confidence – in the face of weather.
Michelle is a prolific speaker on a range of topics, including the war for talent, digital transformation, and marketing in a post-pandemic world. She covers these topics and more as the host of Skillsoft's podcast, The Edge, now in its second season. She has authored countless papers covering a range of business and marketing topics, was at the center of Skillsoft’s leadership role in DEI through free “Leadercamps,” and has taught two Percipio courses on the Pink Pandemic and Public Speaking.
Michelle is also a founding member of CMO Huddles, a group dedicated to bringing together and empowering highly effective B2B CMOs to share, care, and dare each other to greatness. Michelle holds a Master’s degree from Simmons University and sits on the pro side of the Oxford comma debate.