The right alignment between employee strengths and corporate strategy is critical for success. Our race, gender, age or preferences should not be a reason for failure because the way we think, when deployed most powerfully, overcomes physical nuances. I’m not saying bias in the workplace doesn’t exist, only that we have the choice to spend our time blaming it or we may help leaders focus on cognitive solutions that improve our own career while helping businesses succeed.

Having grown up in a small Kentucky town with a public-school education, I achieved the title of CEO before the age of 30 and later became the SVP of two global organizations. I share that with gratitude, not arrogance, because those experiences taught me the most important aspects of success came from relating something you’re passionate about in a way that benefits those around you. I want to help other minorities succeed in the workplace, but not just because we are minorities. We have an opportunity to look at the face of “diversity” differently. Here’s a snapshot from my personal story…

As a 22-year-old bank teller, who interviewed for a securities position at a local Kentucky bank, I was called into the president’s office for the results. The president, a well-groomed, middle-aged man, was joined by a couple other bank officers.  He told me, without mincing words, “Your test scores are the highest we’ve seen here, and interview answers were better than the other candidate. But…let’s face it, we all know that no one is going to let a young female be responsible for their money.”

Disappointed, I wasn’t sure whether to thank him for telling me how well my interview went or be angry that they gave it to someone else because I was younger and female. (It didn’t occur to me at the time that the bank needed risk-averse, long-term employees to succeed with its conservative, maintain-status-quo approach.)

Three weeks later, I went to work for another local bank—a bank with a high growth strategy that needed innovative thinkers and risk takers. With my creativity and eagerness to try new markets (a.k.a. willingness to fail, adjust, try again, repeat) this employer was a match made in heaven. Within 6 years, I’d risen to CEO of the bank’s payments division. Under my guidance, our company was chosen to transfer payments as part of the Army’s $15 billion housing revitalization program.

The irony wasn’t lost—a LOT of money would be moved through the hands of a young female. Most importantly, however, the experience changed the way I perceived career failure and success. I had the choice to blame gender bias for missing out on the securities position; or, I could realize that my strengths were out of alignment with that bank’s strategy.

This is just one of many examples as to why I think the right alignment between employee strengths and corporate strategy is critical for success. From that point on, I knew it was my thinking that counted most, and that there would be equal opportunities in organizations that were looking for the type of contributions I could offer.