I am sitting in a swanky boardroom with windows surrounding the walls. With the push of a button, shades drop down from the ceiling blocking the sun and a large projector screen appears at the front of the room. I watch as chair after chair is filled with body after body, but interestingly enough none of the bodies resembled my own. I’m dressed in a black suit, closed toed black shoes, with a bulky pearl necklace draped around my neck. My hair is straight because that has always been a more appealing and less threatening style versus my faux locs or natural curls. There are butterflies in my stomach as the CEO and other executives enter the room.
I am up first.
I speak confidently but not too cocky. I answer questions looking my audience directly in their eyes. Every few moments I clear my throat to release the tension that is starting to build. You’d think after thirteen years I would no longer get nervous but in this moment, I am. It’s an intimidating feeling to be the only black woman in the room. Whenever I am placed in a situation such as this I feel as if I have to represent for my entire race for fear that if I mess up or look bad we [black women] will be placed back into the checkbox from which we came.
Back to my presentation. I know the material, I have followed up with my team members, the financials look good, and the status details are concise. I’m not necessarily reporting good news but I present it in such a way that has my onlookers in awe. I continue to speak and slowly the butterflies disappear. Nearing the end of my report, I gaze around the large table waiting for questions…none came.
I sit back, and get comfortable.
My seat at the table is still secure, but I can’t exhale.
I can’t exhale because I don’t understand why God chose me to be here. I’m just a girl from a small town in Louisiana. A girl who spent most of her youth tucked away in her room feeling like I wasn’t enough. I wore glasses, needed braces badly, was teased often about my thick thighs and general awkwardness but somehow all these years later I’m sitting here at this table. The only brown face in the room, and one of only three females.
What makes me so unique?
How did I get here?
Why aren’t there more people of color and more women present?
Don’t we all deserve a seat at the table?
I have asked myself these questions over and over again throughout my career. I earned my seat at the table by working hard and believing that I would be successful no matter what obstacle was placed in front of me.
Growing up I didn’t know a lot of black women holding down C-suite positions. Being a manager or an executive was never something that I wrote down in my high school diary. I watched my parents struggle financially throughout my childhood and after graduating from college I sought out a career path that would guarantee a sense of financial security. I believe this is what most young black women think about today. We think about family. We think about security. We think about finding opportunities where we can make a difference as well as allow us to travel, save for the future, and enjoy life. This wasn’t the case for my mother’s generation. Raising a family and having a steady job was the number one priority which could be a reason for the lack of women of color in executive positions.
There is a lack of women or women of color not just apparent in Corporate America but also throughout the Entertainment Industry. Oftentimes women, specifically black women, have to work twice as hard for a particular role. In the Entertainment Industry there aren’t many roles or leading roles that specifically call for a black female. Although most employers are equal opportunity, the faces around the boardrooms don’t necessarily reflect this fact. I believe the tides are changing for women in the Entertainment industry as well as in Corporate America. Slowly but surely.
In order to get more women around the swanky boardroom tables it is important to reach back, inspire, and motivate. Those of us who have our seats and who have climbed the corporate ladder have a responsibility to those that are coming behind us. We need to visit universities, acquire mentees, and find every opportunity to share our stories.
My road to becoming a skilled corporate Project Manager was bumpy, confusing, bloody and cold. I started off strong during college completing two internships and eventually landed a full-time position at one of the top retailers in the U.S. Being an intern was easy, however, I wasn’t prepared for the politics, the games, and all the ups and downs that the corporate world would bring. I learned very early on that in order to be successful at any level I needed to have a mentor, but not just any mentor. I needed to align myself with people who pushed me towards greatness. Secondly, I needed to set realistic goals. I needed to identify the steps that it would take for me to climb the ladder from entry level to advanced team member. Next, I needed to understand what I was passionate about. It wasn’t enough for me to go to a job everyday simply to secure a check at the end of the week.
I wanted to make a difference.
I needed to change lives.
There is no secret that the field of technology needs more diversity. After thirteen years and three companies, I’ve noticed a trend, a missing piece at most boardroom tables. There is a shortage of women and people of color in middle management to C-suite positions. I secured my seat at the table but that wasn’t enough. I needed to bring others with me. My opportunity was cut short this past January when my entire Project Management team was relieved of our duties. I had the option to look for other opportunities within the company but Project Management is my passion. I’ve used the past nine months speaking to college students at my Alma Mater, Grambling State University. I shared tips with them on how to be successful in college and beyond.
My seat at the table was not given to me. My seat came with great sacrifice. I spent countless hours reading programming books, project management books, and leaderships books to understand more about not only the position that I held at the time but the positions that I would hold in the future. I built relationships with professionals from other companies. I took advantage of courses and trainings that would help me to be the best that I could possibly be. I stayed up late and arrived to work before the sun came up to ensure that I was overprepared for the day in front of me. When I was invited to the boardroom I didn’t take it lightly.
When I pulled back my seat at the table, I took with me the strength of my mother, the courage of my grandmother, and the determination of Queen Esther. The most important gem that I can share with other female professionals is to pray. My faith has been made stronger over the years. There were times when I felt completely alone. I felt as if everyone was against me. I felt that I wasn’t enough. There were times when I wanted to quit. After all, who had ever heard of a black girl from Grambling, Louisiana who attended a Historically Black College and University ever speaking in front of CEOs and leading teams of hundreds? It no longer mattered what had been done before.
I was enough.
I was excellent at my job.
I was loved.
I was a child of God.
When I realized how awesome I was, nothing, I mean nothing could stand in my way!
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