Black women make up 59% of the labor force compared to other women, but make 63 cents for every dollar earned by a White man, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Being a woman of color in the corporate world can be a challenge, but women continue to change the business landscape through leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship.
This is the sentiment that the four-woman panel spoke to throughout the 2023 Women’s History Month Breakfast, which took place on Wednesday morning at Edward Jones.
The panelists for the grounded, inspirational discussion included Bernie Frazier, SPHR, President, CAREERCompass LLC, and author of “Your Success is in YOU!: Empowering and Equipping You to Create Your Best Career Ever!”; Cabanne Howard, CEO, Kaleidoscope Management Group; Melissa “Missy” Kelley, Director of Client Experience, Shapiro Metals, and co-author of “FULL: Overcoming Our Eating Disorders to Fully Live”; and Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano, Executive Director, Center for Emerging Technologies; Director of Entrepreneurship, Cortex Innovation Community; and creator of Auténtico and We Live Here Auténtico podcasts.
Topics for the panelists included exploring how these leaders got to where they are in their careers, their tips for navigating power structures and achieving change, and how they lead in community and civic spaces.
Frazier talked about her corporate experiences and how she made two distinct shifts in her career: the first time was when she took a risk and quit her job in the middle of a recession; her second time was in her last corporate job where everything was fine, she made great money, worked well with her colleagues, but had a boss change.
“It was all fine, but I just did not want it anymore and I had been coaching for years, so I decided at that moment I said, ‘you know what, you need to do something with this,’ and I made a change,” she said. “I didn't leave, but I started my business formally and I started the process, and when I finally left, I fulfilled the quote that we all see on LinkedIn [about how] a lot people don't leave jobs, they leave bosses, because I had a boss change and the one that came in was my catalyst to leave and I left and I have not looked back and don't regret it.”
Cabanne Howard, CEO of Kaleidoscope Management Group, talked about how she earned her MBA at Washington University in St. Louis and worked at a corporate office for five years before she realized she could pursue her professional goals a different way.
“Translating your skills and your interests into what job you want to go for, I think that's definitely worth pursuing, if you can get the job that you know you want versus the one that maybe your resume says you're built for,” Howard said. “The pandemic has done so much for us in the way that we don't necessarily have to drag ourselves five days a week to the workplace and sit in a white sterile cubicle. Thank God because that was not the life for me, but I did it for five years because I thought that that was what work and career and making money looked like.”
When burnout is setting in and a person finds themselves unmotivated with their current work situation, Howard’s advice is to use your experiences and network to your advantage to achieve your goals in life.
“Figure out how much of your dues you're willing to pay in working in a corporate position so you can then leap out there and use those skills,” she said. “Maybe use your skills and sell your service into a large corporation like that because you sat in that cube for a while, so figuring out what experiences you need to get that may not be your last stop, and using those to your highest advantage would be my best advice.”
"Selling into a corporation" can include consulting services in the healthcare, education, and IT industries.
Melissa Kelley, Director of Client Experience at Shapiro Metals, expounded about her professional journey as a working single mom who encouraged other women that they can have both a successful career and family.
“I had a blog and it was really helpful to me to talk about these things because I knew I wasn't the only one, but it really did appear like everyone else was doing it way better. I wrote about that and I did get a lot of feedback and that it was helpful to people, then I had the big public job and I did not feel like I could put myself out there in that way,” she said.
From this job, Kelley took a seven-year stint from working in corporate, but after that time, she co-authored “FULL: Overcoming Our Eating Disorders to Fully Live,” which was recently published.
“The reason I think that this [book] helps women in the workplace is because when I was in that public job, I would get comments from women that often said or implied that I was super confident and must have [it] together if I have that job, and the truth was for women who work and have children or have a home, or a husband or a wife, it is messy but we can still move forward or move up in whichever direction you're going and have the mess, but it's usually easier to do when you are supported and talking to others about it and helping one another through it,” she said.
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano, Executive Director, Center for Emerging Technologies, shared advice with women in the audience who may focus on climbing the corporate ladder and need help obtaining their goals.
“A lot of times, we're tied to [a] title, but we are so much more than that,” Ramírez-Arellano said. “We don't give ourselves, as women especially, enough credit to do what we could do, so I don't have like amazing advice on how to make that jump or you know, or find that sweet spot, but I will say take risks and ask for help. We don't ask for help enough. How can we help each other through the journey of looking at a new opportunity or looking at a career change?”
One resounding message across the board from the distinguished panelists was encouragement for women in the workplace to follow their passions and to bring their dreams to life.
“You are worthy of your dream,” Bernie Frazier said. “If you don’t bring your dream forward, who will.”
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