Black Women, Here’s What You Must Do to Get to the Top

Our expert talked to five successful Black women to get their advice on careers. Here’s what they said.

Published on Apr. 02, 2024
Black Women, Here’s What You Must Do to Get to the Top
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In all industries, DEI is under attack, and Black women hoping to climb the corporate ladder will face more challenges than ever before. Black women are usually not given equal opportunities to learn, grow and, most importantly, lead the organizations we have helped prosper. 

5 Things to Remember When You’re on Your Career Journey

  1. Value yourself.
  2. Be yourself.
  3. Believe in yourself.
  4. Do for yourself.
  5. Look to your future.

Even though we are well into the 21st century, there are fewer than 10 Black CEOs at Fortune 500 companies. Only 4.4 percent of those in management are Black women, and Black women occupy only 1.4 percent of C-suite offices, according to Forbes data.

As a result, Black women are more frustrated with the workplace than ever. We are held to different standards than our white counterparts. Our achievements are almost always discounted or not recognized. 

I am a founder and CEO of a successful company and have a circle of equally successful Black women entrepreneurs and senior executives. I asked them how they have thrived in the face of adversity and how they took back control of their professional lives. Here’s what they said. It’s advice you can and should apply to your own journey.

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Value Yourself

“Being Black and a woman means a corporate career will be a challenge,” said Tomi Talabi, co-founder of The Black Beauty Club and communications lead at Pinterest. To optimize your self worth and your career, Talabi advises aligning roles with your personal passion or mission to make an impact beyond company OKRs. 

“It is also essential to equally invest in your life and career, and this means having a solid community that is not about networking while also considering a career or leadership coach,” Talabi told me. “Finally and most importantly, think less about the fact that you are Black and a woman and do what needs to be done unapologetically.”

 

Be Yourself

“Too often, getting to the top for Black women is portrayed as having to leave a part of yourself behind,” said Charell Star, executive director at Muse by Clio, a news site for advertisers and creatives. 

Star has found the opposite in her journey. “The more that I’ve embraced all the facets of my identity, the more I’ve been able to carve out a unique and authentic lane in the industry.

“By remaining true to my passions and beliefs, whether it’s my advocacy for foster care, my love of pop culture or my dedication to telling positive stories for brands and communities, I’ve not only achieved success but also paved the way for others to follow in their own authentic paths.” Star said. “True success means recognizing and embracing the person you are.” 

 

Believe in Yourself

“As a Black woman in the tech industry, I often face a heavy burden of imposter syndrome and feelings of not belonging or deserving,” said Amina Sako, founder of Kamaracare, an app for booking childcare. Sako said she has watered down her own needs at times, especially while fundraising, because she thought she was asking for too much. 

“My top tip for reaching the top is to have the audacity to believe what you are building is just as important as what everyone else is building and to ask for what you need,” she said. “Know that you are deserving and you belong.” 

 

Do for Yourself

“I’m a huge advocate for opening your own doors and aligning with those who can help you reach the next steps in the process, and sometimes that means creating your own opportunities and systems,” said Ari McDaniel, founder of Black Tech PR Society. Networks, she added, will always be invaluable on the road to success, as will building a support system.

“Also, it can get overwhelming to look at the full end game for your goals and it’s important to break things down into bite-sized pieces,” McDaniel said. “When you recognize you’re in a role that isn’t the right fit for you, always know when to pivot to avoid remaining in uncomfortable environments that dim your light. Don’t lose your uniqueness.”

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Look to Your Future 

“Every Black woman needs a clear vision for her life, a moment she’s striving to achieve,” said Tiana Tukes, lecturer in entrepreneurship at Spelman College. “This dream will be a source of inspiration during her hardest moments.” 

Tukes continued in this inspirational mode. “Secure the children. Stay vigilant in safeguarding not only the young individuals in your life, such as students or junior colleagues, but also in protecting the inner child within you. Preserve your childlike wonder and innocence. Wear your crown. The late James Baldwin said, ‘Our crown has already been bought and paid for. All we have to do is wear it.’ Govern yourself and your kingdom (life) accordingly.”

“Our crown has already been bought and paid for. All we have to do is wear it.” — James Baldwin

As for me, I left corporate America and went out on my own. It wasn’t easy, but it was my road to become successful and independent. And ultimately, as Black women, we have to discover our own paths by investing in our skills, strengths and accomplishments. Take back your power. Be the change you want to be, rather than hand over your career to an organization that will take all of your energy, time and enthusiasm.

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