Over the course of the past year we’ve had the privilege of interviewing talented black women working in academia, fashion, science, accounting, social enterprises, technology, media, nonprofits, engineering, marketing, television, human resources and music.
Here are their nuggets of wisdom based on the best career advice they received.
Don’t try, just do
“The best advice that I act on every day came from my older brother, who was this incredible track athlete. His sport was the high jump. He’s only 5′ 11” and he would compete against guys who were over six feet tall. I remember my brother was going to a track meet and I said, “are you going to try to beat those tall guys?” He looks at me and he goes, “I’m not going to try. I’m going to go out there, I’m going to crush it, I’m going to win.” He set state and regional records. I think there’s something about willing things into existence that you have to do when you’re a woman, and when you’re black. I believe that trying is giving up before you lean into whatever it is you have to do. Don’t try, just do.”
Promise Phelon, CEO of TapInfluence in Boulder, Colorado.
Always take the meeting
“If it doesn’t impact you contractually, always take the meeting. I almost didn’t take a meeting that changed my career. I took a meeting at a production company that resulted in a role I stayed at for four years. That role opened doors for a position at Warner Bros that I may never have secured otherwise.”
Channing Dungey, President of ABC Entertainment in Los Angeles.
Own your success
“The best career advice I ever received is your success is your responsibility, from Jorn Lyseggen the CEO of Meltwater Group. Also,if you want something done right, do it yourself, which was told to me by my mother. Knowing that succeeding or failing depends solely on me has helped me focus and work hard.”
Linda Ansong, Executive Director and Co-Founder of STEMbees Organization in Accra, Ghana.
Don’t take just any job
“My aunt Daph used to continually drill into me the idea of pursuing a career, opposed to simply getting a job. I was only a young girl at the time when she first uttered these words and wasn’t sure what the difference was, but after embarking on a series of tedious Saturday jobs I began to understand exactly what she meant. I’m forever grateful to my aunt for planting the seeds of ambition at such a tender age.”
Keysha Davis, Editor of Blackhair magazine in London
Believe in what you’re good at
“I’ve received so much advice but the one that has stuck with me was from an employer who I mutually agreed with that recruitment was not for me. The manager said in these words: “You are a creative, a good writer and passionate about music. Do what you’re good at and follow your path. YOU ARE AN ARTIST.”Those words stuck with me. I respect him so much for that. He could’ve just escorted me out of the office but he took the time to outline my qualities and told me to pursue my dreams. To be honest I wanted out, so I think he sensed it too. However, what employer does that? It was such a profound moment. Since then, I haven’t looked back.”
Akua Afram aka DJ Aries, Creative Music Director and DJ in Dubai.
Just go for it
“The best career advice I ever received is to just go for it. For the first internship I had I wasn’t even going to send my resume. My best friend’s mom, who is like a second mother to me, encouraged me to go for it and that internship accelerated my love for software development.”
Kaya Thomas, Developer of the We Read Too app in New York.
Don’t live someone else’s life
“I am a sucker for inspiration quotes. The one that I try to live by is from the late, great, Steve Jobs: your time is limited so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. I always try to make the best out of every situation and opportunity presented to me. I am always working with the bigger picture in mind and that’s getting one step closer to my dreams.”
Susan Younis-Khobane, Executive Producer at Viacom International Media Networks Africa in Johannesburg.
Find your balance
“When I went back to work full-time after my maternity leave, it was difficult to juggle work, family, projects and myself. I had too much going on and was toying with the idea of going part-time. My manager said ‘You need to balance things out. Whatever you decide, you’ll be supported.’ I acknowledge that I’m very lucky to be valued by my employer, and thankful that I could have that open conversation with my manager about my concerns. The advice she gave was applicable to many aspects of life, not just my career, and once I realised that everything became less of a struggle.”
Charlene Edwards, Apparel Graphic Designer at Watermelon in London.
Know your worth
“Know your worth, and don’t allow anyone else to define that for you.”
Kristena D. Hatcher, HR Executive at Creative Artists Agency (CAA) in Los Angeles.
Seize new opportunities
“Be willing to learn a lot and to take opportunities as they come by. Just because you don’t know something from the beginning, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn it. If you are willing to put in the time and effort into what you are doing you can be successful at something completely brand new, so go for it!”
Camille Eddy, Mechanical Engineering undergraduate at Boise State University in Idaho.
Don’t be afraid to speak up
“A former boss and mentor, Eleanore Vega at CBS News, taught me that I should never complain about being tired and to never let anyone see me cry at work. My current boss, Tiffany Smith-Anoa’i, shares nuggets of advice daily. I have learned so much from her leadership. She is relentless in her pursuit to change the entertainment Industry. She always encourages me to speak up! It’s the notion of being present in a room and speaking my truth. If I don’t open my mouth, then I’m not a part of the conversation. Without being a part of the conversation, I can’t be a part of the change—I want to be a part of the change happening in Hollywood.”
Whitney Davis, Manager of Entertainment Diversity at CBS Entertainment in Studio City, Los Angeles.
Don’t stop learning
“My mentor, Sandra Kuchler, Dean of Students at California State University San Marcos, gave me some of my first professional advice: ‘be a generalist, learn a little bit about a whole lot of things and always keep the students center to all your decisions.’ My goal has been to be a Vice President of Student Affairs. I feel that by having this array of experience in higher education and student-centered focus, Sandra Kuchler really was spot on in helping my career evolve into one I couldn’t have imagined. I’m serving one of the largest higher education systems in the world, 23 campuses and 470,000 students across the state of California doing what I love every day.”
Dr. Sabrina Sanders, Director of Student Affairs Projects and Initiatives at California State University in Long Beach, California.
Do what you love
“Do what you love, and money will chase you. Chase money, and you kill what you love.”
Lily Kudzro, Executive Director of Devio Arts Centre in Accra, Ghana.
Control your destiny
“I grew up a very shy person. Someone once told me that I smiled too much. I was like, “aren’t we supposed to smile?” What they were saying was, I comply too much, and that I’m not really going after the things that I really want. That got me thinking about my career and going after those things. It wasn’t really about the smile, it was really about being able to control my own destiny. That has actually really impacted my career.”
Davida Johnson, Managing Director of Partnerships & Practices in the Office of Information Technology at UCLA in Los Angeles
Be passionate about the pursuit of your goals
“The best career advice I received was from my dad. He explained to me that we should always have goals. Identify your goal and be specific about it. Once you have identified it, your focus should be on the action items that get you there. Not obsessing about the grade, but really throwing your effort into the work that gets you there. Showing up on time, being a reliable team member, knowing that you really put your best effort in with every work paper that you turn in. That should be what your focus is on. That has really helped me because you don’t always get the end result that you want, but when you put so much passion into the process, there’s still pride. You still have pride at the end.”
Ndonga Sagnia, Tax Senior and Certified Public Accountant at Ernst and Young LLP (EY) in New Jersey.
Script your story
“Realize you have a job because you deserve it. You’ve earned it. You have the right to create your own narrative. When it comes to your career, script your story and be proud of your accomplishments and how you present those accomplishments.”
Pearlena Igbokwe, Executive Vice President of Drama Development at NBC Entertainment in Los Angeles.
Never give up and never settle
“The best career advice I received was that your true character will come out when the hard days come, so don’t give up. I think doing what I do comes with a lot of challenges. At the beginning, I wanted to give up and settle for a job where all I had to do is just show up. But, there is something special about birthing an idea and feeding it until it grows.”
Dominique Uwase Alonga, CEO of Imagine We Rwanda, in Kigali, Rwanda.
Follow your purpose
“The best career advice for me has been, when you are walking in the extraordinary nothing else matters. When you are connected to your life’s purpose, it doesn’t matter if the rest of the world doesn’t understand how you are getting there. Walk your purpose anyway. Live extraordinary anyway. Be who you are going to be. Make the decisions that feel right for you anyway.”
Lisa Mae Brunson, Founder of the Wonder Women Tech conference in Long Beach, California.
Post by Octavia Goredema @OctaviaGoredema