Women of color under 35 need to take risks, negotiate and recognize toxic work environments.
That was the biggest takeaway during a panel called “Got what it takes?” at Friday’s ColorComm Next Generation Summit. The panel in New York City featured a group successful women who shared their personal experiences and best career advice.
That included Know Your Value millennial contributor Daniela Pierre-Bravo; GQ’s deputy fashion director Nikki Ogunnaike; Conde Nast’s director of inclusion and diversity Erica Lovett; Sen.Elizabeth Warren’s campaign director of public engagement Alencia Johnson; Instagram’s product marketing manager Brooke Ozaydinli; and The Wing’s senior director of strategic communications Zara Rahim. The panel was moderated by ColorComm CEO Lauren Wesley Wilson.
Panelists spoke to the crowd of about 300 young women about how to overcome the unique challenges faced by young women of color today.
1. Ask for Help.
Rahim said that asking for help has been critical for her success at The Wing, in addition to her previous job as communications director for Vogue and on President Barack Obama’s campaign.
“It’s so okay to ask for help. I am here on the shoulders of every single person who helped me along the way,” Rahim said. “...I have so many people in my own life who are really frustrated by how stagnant things can be, and it’s because they are afraid to ask for help. I know that it’s a lot of work to send cold emails or to reach out to that person you haven’t heard from in a while — and of course there’s obviously a decorum to how you do that — but I think that really especially as women of color we have to help each other.”
Identifying allies is a great way to get help, according to Ogunnaike, no matter their color or gender.
“If you can identify white people that will be on your side, do it,” said Ogunnaike. “...Of you can find and identify those men and women where you’re working, latch onto them.”
2. Take risks.
Pierre-Bravo shared her harrowing experience as an undocumented immigrant living in Ohio trying to find a job after college. She lied on her resume by writing that she lived in New York City, saying she didn’t want to give anyone “excuses” not to hire her. She sent her resume to about 20 places.
P. Diddy’s Bad Boy Entertainment asked her to come in for an interview the next day for an unpaid internship, so Pierre-Bravo took an 18-hour bus ride to New York, freshened up and landed the gig.
“I nailed that interview because I didn’t sleep that night,” she said.
In 2012, President Obama passed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), enabling Pierre-Bravo to get a work permit and follow her dreams without fear. However, she credited her early risks for her successful career.
“Don’t wait for permission,” said Pierre Bravo. “I think so many of us wait for someone else to open up that door for us. Find a side door if that front door isn’t available…Do an internal gut check, and then go for it.”
Pierre-Bravo’s story is in her new book “Earn It!” which she co-wrote with Know Your Value founder and “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski.
3. Recognize if you’re working in a toxic environment.
Ozaydinli advised guests to be wary of toxic work environments and to stand up for themselves.
“I’ve been in toxic work environments. Sometimes it’s not always the company, sometimes it might just be the manager who’s not supporting you. And I think I made the mistake in thinking it will get better, or that maybe if I work really, really hard they’ll see me in a different light. But if any of you have been in that situation you know that it’s not going to change,” said Ozaydinli. ‘You have to be the one to take control of that situation and find a way out. That comes with being vocal and comfortable with communicating your feelings...for your manager’s manager and HR, and sitting down and thinking: where do you want to be?”
Rahim noted that this reality check can be difficult, particularly for women of color, where the workplace is so frequently toxic.
“It’s hard to work in a place where you feel like you have to manage up constantly but we have to do that because as women of color, especially black women, we are being layered by mediocre white people, knowing that we can do the job better,” said Rahim. “There’s a certain point where you have to decide for yourself alright, I did everything I could. I did everything that was truthful to my expertise and moral compass, and make sure you’re working with folks that value that.”
4. Negotiate like a pro.
Johnson said that, before she negotiates, she talks to friends and people in her industry about salaries. She advised young people to talk explicitly about salary amounts.
“Your friends and the people in your same age group are going for the same thing,” Johnson said. “I wish there were conversations we were having at age 21 or 22 that now I’m more comfortable with having with my friends...It requires you to be transparent and vulnerable.”
Pierre-Bravo advised the guests to broadcast their accomplishments throughout the year, not just during evaluation season. That way, you’ll be prepared for the negotiation table.
“If the first time you’re advocating for yourself is at the negotiating table, it’s already too late,” said Pierre-Bravo. “We need to continuously let people know what we’re doing. They don’t know…If you’re just sitting with your boss, brag about the project you just did. We don’t need to wait until the time when we’re talking about money.”