By Rockelle M. Morris for The Baltimore Sun • Published: Mar 21, 2023 at 9:58 am
I see you arriving to work an hour early. I see you asking your manager to lead higher-visibility projects to raise your profile. I see you applying for senior-level positions only to get rejected time and time again. I see you sis, because you are one of the “onlys,” the only Black woman in the room.
I hear you sis — another microaggression? What was said this time? You use your hands too much when you talk? Did someone refer to your luscious, beautiful hair as “ghetto braids,” or did you overhear everyone talking about a BBQ that you weren’t invited to?
I think about you all the time, sis. The typical headlines that cycle through the news, “Black women leaders are more ambitious but less supported at work” or “Women are advancing in the workplace, but women of color still lag behind” won’t let me forget about you because you are always on my mind.
I know you enjoy what you do and like “most of” the people you work with; however, you wonder
how to stay ahead and not let corporate America leave you behind. My advice is to start with the most important point, which is: Do your job and do it well. Act as if you are already the VP or C level executive and exude executive presence in every meeting. What’s executive presence? Executive presence is your ability to inspire and lead, especially in stressful situations. Executive presence is your knowledge, attitude, behavior and appearance. You may need to shift your priorities and not always be your authentic self to remain in corporate America.
If you decide to stay in corporate America, that’s the raw truth, sis.
Sis, don’t wait for sponsorship to knock at your door, go find it. Keep in mind that sponsorship (someone who can help to advance your career) is different for mentorship (someone who helps to guide your career). Sponsorship starts with being noticed by your executive team. Don’t wait for the higher-visibility projects to come. Rather, demonstrate your intelligence by asking
thoughtful, revenue-generating and mission-driven questions.
I know what you’re thinking: How do I know what to ask if I’m not involved in the discussions? You must do what you have always done, make a way. Reach out to other departments to understand their challenges and goals, read the annual reports, attend optional meetings (especially investor meetings), and get more comfortable with financial reporting. Sis, this may feel like a second job, but if you want to be an executive in corporate America, it is required.
Maybe there is another way. Consider this headline, “Black women are worn out from discrimination in Corporate America. They’re leaving to launch their own businesses, creating a hole for talent across industries.” Sis, were you tired of being the scapegoat when something went wrong or having to explain why you were laid-off this time? Did you forget that Black people are the last to be hired and first to be fired? I bet you were too trusting and thought you were safe.
Stay strong, sis, because surviving and recognizing those obstacles brought you to where you are today — saying goodbye to corporate America and starting your own business, which brings new challenges such as getting access to capital, making the right connections and building business
equity. However, I am confident you will do everything to increase your financial knowledge, expand your network, improve your data analytics, marketing and digital advertising skills. These skills and your lifelong learner mindset will take you from sole proprietorship to corporate CEO.
You got this sis, because you are my reflection in the mirror. You are my shadow. You are the voice in my head and what my gut tells me when something doesn’t feel right. You are the love in my heart and the spirit that guides my path. I love you sis because you are me, and I am you.
Rockelle M. Morris ([email protected]) is CEO and founder of the Flentroy Morris Group LLC, based in College Park, Maryland.