I recently had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion with a group of diverse college students. Hosted by some new friends at Elivade — a networking platform for diverse professionals — and Dyversifi, the purpose of this panel was to discuss the lack of resources for people of color in the workplace, share experiences as minorities in the corporate world, and promote best practices for dealing with adversity.
We had over 60 students attend, with representation from the likes of Harvard, UT-Austin, NYU, and more! I loved sharing my experience as a Black woman in corporate America with so many promising, young adults, especially as many of them are starting to pave their own paths for professional success.
I was also pleasantly surprised to be sharing the “stage” with four other women of color. My fellow panelists spanned across several industries — from technology to venture capital — and each had such powerful experiences and advice to share. Although this event was geared towards the students, I took so much away from this group of phenomenal women, and I’d like to share their words with you.
“I had a bit of an untraditional start to my professional career. No one really made it seem like it was important for me to have a job by the end of my senior year. I graduated without a job, but I knew that I wanted to work in microfinance. I ended up taking a banking job at Bank of America that didn’t require a college degree and lived with my mom and also worked as a hostess at night. I was doing these random jobs, trying to get a job in microfinance, and I think the big takeaway for me is that persistence pays off. I was the annoying person calling companies going “I see the job posting is still online.” And then finally I was annoying enough to where someone finally offered me an internship, and I packed up my bags and moved to Miami. I get there and within a week or two, I had a full-time job.”
“Networking is so powerful, and that is also the story of how I began my career. When I graduated college, I immediately joined Teach for America. That was really strategic on my part, because as many of you are saying, I recognized the need for a strong network to be able to guide me through my career and present those open doors for me. At that time the TFA network was really strong in doing that and served as a stepping stone for other careers.”
“[As the only black woman,] I want to do more and say more because I am the only one who can vocalize the needs of this group. I always went straight to my manager and told them exactly what I needed to feel confident. My voice is important, and I need to know you’re going to create space for it”
“I’ve been in many spaces where I’ve been the only black woman and because black don’t crack, I look particularly young. I remember one time I made the conscious decision to never be the one to offer male colleagues who were visiting our office coffee or tea. I realized that would not serve me and the space I want to hold in the room.”
“I feel like I’m in a double-bind because I get conflicting feedback. Oftentimes, people tell me to be more assertive and have a stronger opinion, but when I have that opinion they often push back and don’t accept it. I’ve had to figure out how to have candid conversations and speak up for myself which has been crucial.”
“Relationships are hands down the most important resources you can have in a job. Hard stop.”
“When I think of networking, I think that people often start too late. It’s not only when you need something or are applying to a job. It has to be a continual process.”
“We all know that software engineering is the whitest, most male dominated, industry. There’s a certain amount of elitism in software engineering that makes young, Black girls from the hood not think that it’s for them. And then visually you don’t see it as well.”
“As minorities, a lot of times we’re coming for underprivileged backgrounds. So, when we’re looking for a job, we’re not just supporting ourselves, we’re supporting our parents, siblings, grandparents back home, so there’s a lot of pressure to just take the job that pays as much as possible. I’m in a job now that isn’t what I’m necessarily interested in, but as soon as I started, I took the opportunity to help with minority recruiting at my alma mater, and volunteer with a youth basketball program in NYC.”
– Toby Egbuna, Co-Founder of Dyversifi (not on the panel, but couldn’t help himself)
“There are also jobs where you can do both. I will say that the key to finding those jobs is wearing your heart on your sleeve and making sure everyone knows what you’re passionate about. The leads and the opportunities start coming inbound much more easily.”
Looking back on the Secrets to Success event, one thing is for sure: the future is bright. It was such a pleasure being able to help these bright students navigate their career searches. I hope that they came out of the event feeling refreshed and inspired; I know that I did.
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