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Because Leaning in Doesn’t Work for Black Women: An Interview with Minda Harts

Our BlackHer Shero of the Week is Minda Harts.  Harts is the CEO of The Memo, a career development platform for women of color. Harts is an assistant professor of public service at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service, and she has been featured in ForbesFast Company, The Guardian, and more. Harts frequently speaks on Leadership, Diversity, and Entrepreneurship. She lives in New York City. Her upcoming book The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table is available for pre-order.

Jocelyn: Minda, it is great to meet you!  Congratulations on your recent piece in Forbes.  Several BlackHer subscribers and friends forwarded your article to me because it aligns with what we’ve been talking about at BlackHer.  Leaning-in doesn’t work for Black women.  What were you thinking about when you wrote the article and why did you start The Memo?

Minda: At the end of 2015, I began my journey to becoming a “career revolutionary.”  We were seeing these inequality gaps for Black and Brown women.  We were talking about it in pockets but not nationally.

I felt like there needed to be a bigger conversation about what it will really take for Black and Brown women to be represented at the highest ranks of industry – at the top of the corporate ladder.  So, I launched The Memo.  The idea is that they didn’t get the Memo on us!

Jocelyn: That’s great!

Minda: The Memo is a career platform to prepare Black women for a seat at the table.  Other career platforms don’t address our unique challenges and strengths. The Memo aims to do that.

Jocelyn: So, what is the secret sauce for us?  What do you recommend?

Minda: We provide women with the tools and resources we need to climb the corporate ladder.  In addition, we invite women to be a part of our community.  We don’t have to thrive or survive in isolation.  I want to be sure women have a community they can turn to for support.

Jocelyn: I really like that.  There are so few of us at the top that even when we are doing well it can feel isolating.  What are the tools you offer to women?

Minda: When I was working in corporate spaces, I realized that other folks had career coaches.  I assumed that career coaching was out of reach for me, but it’s not.  Career coaching is an important tool and it is accessible to Black women.  We provide women with coaching.  In addition, we help women to become better public speakers.  This is essential.  You must become comfortable with public speaking if you want a seat at the table.  We help women flex that muscle.

Next, we teach women to build strategic alliances to move forward within their organizations. Women tell me, “I don’t want to go to Happy Hour with them.” And I get it.  Networking is not easy but let’s do it with purpose so that we can build key relationships.

Jocelyn: One of the things that I liked so much about your article is that you talked about knowing when to leave a toxic environment.  Can you say more about that?

Minda: Many of us are very ambitious and have fought very hard to get to a certain place.  And when we arrive it means so much.  Because the “seat” is not just for us, it is for our families, it’s for our communities.   It can be devastating then when we realize that we are still being treated unfairly.

We must ask ourselves.  Do I want to keep bucking this system?  That is an option, you can try to change a culture from within.  But we can also choose to find a better situation.  We can prioritize ourselves.  We can also redefine success.

Jocelyn: I think that is sage advice.  I found myself in a situation like this.  I was in a job that excited me but a workplace that was toxic.  I was lucky that I had the privilege to leave – quickly!

Minda: That’s right. If you have the privilege you can leave.  But as we know, many of us have responsibilities and must strategically plan our exits.  It’s like Maslow’s Hierarchy.  Basic needs come from a paycheck and come first.  You must prioritize that.

But it’s also important to get clear.  If you are not happy even if you’ve “made it” and if you know it’s not going to get better, try to reimagine what success looks like for you.  It might take a year for you to leave but you’ll know that you’ve done your part.

Jocelyn: Minda, we’ve talked a lot about what women can do to achieve career success.  But what about the institutions that we work for?  How can they do better by us?

Minda: Companies have a responsibility to change.  The onus is on them, especially if Black and Brown folks are leaving.

I tell corporate leaders to ask this simple question.

“What are you doing today to make your organization a place where women of color would want to stay and grow?”  “How are you preparing a space for a Black woman to be successful?”

Jocelyn: Amen.

Minda: Leaders must also look around the room, see who is missing, and bring them in.  Another great step is to simply ask folks who are underrepresented in your organization what they want and need to succeed and then believe them!

Finally, for companies to truly change their approach to equity, they must start at the top.  A good example is Salesforce. Once Marc Benioff, their CEO, saw the data on diversity, equity, and inclusion at his company, he said, “Let’s fix it.”

Unfortunately, the Salesforce story is unique.  It’s rare that C-suite members are in the rooms for conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

For DEI initiatives to truly succeed, it has to be all hands on deck. DEI can’t be delegated to the Human Resources Department.

I teach at NYU and always tell my students that talent development isn’t just one person’s responsibility.  All people (this includes them!) need to be invested in building an equitable workforce.

Jocelyn:  What do you want BlackHer readers to know about The Memo?

Minda: The Memo is here to support you in moving forward in your career.  Join us!

Jocelyn: Minda, who are your BlackHer Sheroes?

Minda: My mother and grandmother and my aunt are my sheroes.  They turned water into wine!  Also, my shero is every Black woman who is still leaning into her dreams, and who knows that her dreams matter.  She gets up every day not knowing if she’ll have a seat or voice at the table and does the work anyway.

Jocelyn: Let me ask you the Miracle Question.  You go to sleep tonight and wake up tomorrow and it’s April 2020 and the miracle has occurred for Black women.  What happened?

Minda: Our voices and experiences matter to everyone!

Jocelyn

 

 

 

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