As a millennial black woman in a senior-level management position, I have always been enamored by black women who show up and own their spaces in any industry. There is such an inspiring feeling to step into a room and know that another black woman has been holding it down and waiting for your arrival. Don’t get it twisted, the responsibility is not immediately given because you are a black woman. These women who have paved the way know that it takes more than cute pumps to assume the position. It takes ability, grit, and grace to become a black woman in leadership and I’m here to share with you five lessons that I’ve learned from black women who have paved the way.
I dedicate this article to ten amazing black women who have shaped my professionalism: Aaja Corinne Magee, Bonita Jordan Parker, Michele Taylor-Howard, Kris Christian, LeeAndra Khan, Dr. Rhea Bush, Sharon Eskridge, Dyanna Knight Lewis, Myetie Hamilton and Rev. Dr. Stacy Edwards-Dunn. From each of you I have learned the impeccable value of what it means to own the room, bring the table and above all know your worth. And to my mother and grandmother, your foundation is my standard. Each of you serves as a mentor and guide on my journey.
Lesson One: Be Authentic
This is my favorite lesson. The mastery of authenticity has landed me every position I’ve embarked on in the last six years. Where people fumble this bag is when they confuse authenticity with transparency. To be authentic doesn’t necessarily mean to be open. To be authentic is to simply be yourself. Oftentimes, it’s the authenticity that lands you the job, not your skillset. They could honestly hire anyone to fulfill the role, but what they can never find is a YOU. By owning your authenticity, it means believing that you have the capability and capacity to deliver by just being you!
Lesson Two: Own Your Skill Set
To take ownership of something means to take charge. With ownership comes power, but power isn’t to be confused with dictatorship. In many cases, when black women step into leadership roles they are pre-judged and have to work twice as hard for respect and overdeliver for results. Can black women really show up as themselves in the workplace? Is there room for authenticity? Yes, when you know you belong in that space. As a black woman in leadership, belonging also means that you are making space for the emerging black woman coming after you.
When I walk into a space or apply for positions that are meant to grow me, I often ask myself the following: How well do I do what I do? Do I market myself well through my work and online presence? Does my network validate my skill set? Owning my skill set means holding mastery in my ability and adding a hint of razzle dazzle (because that’s what makes me, me).
Lesson Three: Dress How You Want To Be Addressed
Honestly, I’m still learning this one. I have learned through observation that a well dressed woman demands respect. A respect that opens the door to conversations, partnerships and tables. When it comes to leadership, your attire speaks before you open your mouth.
I didn’t always understand the value of attire in the workplace because my focus was always tied to doing the work. It wasn’t until recently that I realized how much the two walk together. A well dressed black woman is expressive, creative, and imaginative enough to add sauce and swag to her wardrobe. A well dressed black woman in leadership sets the tone and standard and I love that for us!
Lesson Four: Your Gift Can Impact The World
To quote my favorite poem by Useni Eugene Perkins, “Hey black child, do you know who you are? Who you really are?” When we were formed, each of us were gifted with special talents and abilities. Success comes from knowing how to operate in our gifts. That makes all the difference.
What good are you to this world if you aren’t operating to your full ability? When you realize the significance of what being a black woman in leadership means, you speak with clarity and purpose. You seek to provide opportunity through your impact. You seek to inform those who are unqualified to speak on the issues that affect your daily work as a woman of color. Most importantly, you seek out ways to ensure that your legacy is one of purpose and influence.
Being influential is the ultimate power play. Being influential means your voice is invaluable. Being influential is found in the moments of validation where instead of tearing down she chooses to build.
Lesson Five: Deliver
Be impeccable. Do quality work. Show Up. Be accountable for yourself and the tasks you are given. In my opinion, delivery is the most important lesson. Delivery is synonymous with results. Your presentation may get you in the room but the results keep you in the room.
For those of us that work tirelessly to land in power positions, it is the ability to deliver that sustains. Do not under-estimate delivery. That is your secret sauce toward the leadership you ultimately desire to attain. You’ve got this, sis!
In conclusion, I hope these five lessons I’ve learned from black women in leadership inspire you on your journey to the top. Above all, my hope is that you understand that your presence is not only needed but necessary.
That being said, I encourage us all to be impactful, courageous and light. The workplace needs it and so does the next generation of emerging black women in leadership!