Goals, Race, Women Empowerment

Thank You, First Lady Michelle Obama

I recently penned an article for Ebony magazine celebrating Michelle Obama’s service as the First Lady of the United States. Below is the article in its entirety as well as the link: Thank You, First Lady Michelle Obama

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As his historic presidency draws to a close, there’s much to reflect on the legacy of President Obama. And just as importantly, there’s much to reflect on the legacy of First Lady Michelle Obama. In her sista-friend interview with Oprah Winfrey at the recent United State of Women summit, Mrs. Obama looked back on her journey to the White House and how she initially approached her future role as First Lady of the United States: “I specifically did not read other First Ladies’ books, because I didn’t want to be influenced by how they defined the role,” she said. “I knew that I would have to find this role very uniquely and specifically to me and who I was.”

Sage advice that, unfortunately, prospective FLOTUS-in-training Melania Trump failed to heed. Mrs. Trump, who made her long awaited public debut Monday night at the Republican National Convention, delivered a riveting speech that thrilled the packed arena of “Make America Great Again” supporters. Motivating statements such as, We want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them,” prompted the crowd to erupt in cheers. Many likely thinking, finally, a First Lady who genuinely cares about the future of America; something that could never be said of Michelle Obama.

Oh, but it could. In fact, at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, Mrs. Obama practically gave the same speech. A speech that she more than lived up to in her eight years of service to this country. Sadly, no one told Mrs. Trump that you can plagiarize words but not the genuine sentiments behind them.

Mrs. Obama, as a person and as First Lady, resonates with many because of her authenticity. This has been echoed in countless conversations I’ve had with others over the last eight years and the recent formal survey of about 60 Black women across the country. As 34-year-old Michelle J., of Austin, TX stated, “She was open about her real life experiences in a world of politics where everyone pretends that their lives are without flaws.”

The survey gave voice to women ranging in age from 20s to 60s, and with educational attainment of high school diploma/GED to PhD. With such vast differences in demographics, it was interesting to see the trends that emerged: optimism, relatability, and “realness.”

When asked to rate (on a scale of ‘strongly disagree’ to ‘strongly agree’) various statements about the First Lady and why they relate to her, the following were the most consistently agreed or strongly agreed upon:

·       88% said she has made them (more) optimistic about the future of Black/African-American women.

·       82% said that because of her, other races/nationalities perceive Black/African-American women in a more favorable light.

They relate to her because:

·       92% – she’s Black.

·       96% – she’s stylish.

·       98% – she’s no-nonsense.

·       98% – she’s not afraid to speak her mind.

·       98% – she can go from the White House to a cookout and not miss a step.

·       96% – in her they see all the things that are possible for themselves.

·       96% – in her they see all the things that are possible for Black/African-American girls and teens.

·       90% – in her they see all the things that are possible for Black/African-American women.

In the words of 37-year-old Nikki F. from Chicago, Il (Mrs. Obama’s hometown), “She represents everything our [Black girls] parents taught us that we could be.”

It’s not easy being the first, however. It’s harder still to be the first in a role that you wouldn’t have chosen for yourself. As the First Lady has stated, “When Barack was talking about running, I was like, are you crazy? I mean, would you just, like, chill out and do something else with your life?” Clearly, the woman was not clamoring for the limelight. Given the choice, she would have lived a fulfilling life tirelessly working to encourage and bring attention to the need for all Americans – especially our youth – to dedicate time to volunteerism and public service.

Thankfully for us, she changed her mind and joined her husband in bringing a “change we can believe in” dream to America. So, in 2009, when her husband was sworn in as the country’s 44th President, we welcomed her with open arms because she presented her authentic self. And because of the connection to her authenticity, we invited her to make us proud; she did not disappoint.

As the first and only (and if we’re being realistic – likely last . . . for a very long time) Black woman to hold this post, Mrs. Obama has exemplified excellence both in words and action. While many love her, there’s a special kinship most Black women feel toward her. It’s not just because she looks like us (although it’s clearly a meaningful fact, according to the survey); it goes so much deeper than that. It’s that she’s made no apologies for the fact that we matter to her. An anomaly in a country where being Black and female has historically meant being discounted, marginalized, and defeated.

As recently as the 2015 Black Women in the United States report, statistics show that the current state of Black American women remain grim:

·       Women’s unemployment fell to a six-year low (4.9%) and white women’s unemployment hit a seven-year low (4.2%). Completely counter to that trend, Black women’s unemployment actually ticked up, reaching 8.9%.

·       Black women with Bachelor’s degrees, on average, earn about $10,000 less than White men with an Associate’s degree ($49,882 vs. $59,014). In fact, it would take nearly two Black women college graduates to earn what the average White male college graduate earns by himself ($55,804 vs. $100, 620).

·       In spite of consistently leading all women in labor market participation, Black women are among the most likely in America to be poor. In fact, the poverty rate of Black women (25.1%) more than doubles that of White women (10.3%) and Asian women (11.5%), and slightly eclipses that of Latinas (24.8%).

In the face of harsh statistics and the personal challenges experienced by Black women, is it any wonder that we “beam with pride” for one who encourages her daughters, mentees, and other women of color “not to live by the limited box and definition that we are put in.” Because she knows that expectations for Black girls – whether they grow up on Chicago’s South Side or in a remote village in Nigeria – are limited, Mrs. Obama created initiatives such as “Let Girls Learn” to provide educational opportunities that change lives.

FLOTUS dancing

During her tenure, Mrs. Obama has shown a willingness to leveraged her platform of power and influence to make it possible to aim and achieve our potential, which is why we say thank you.

Below are sample voices of Black women sharing the importance of the First Lady to them:

“She represents everything I can be that the world doesn’t want me to be.” – Lauren W., 27, New Orleans, La

“Michelle matters to me because she breaks the stereotypical views of African-American women in not only America but the world! For 8 years, she has held the position of First Lady, while also wearing so many other hats – a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend, a philanthropist, an educator and so much more. She’s held her composure at all times with poise, class and humility. She’s addressed issues that most women in her position wouldn’t or know how to. It makes me proud to say the First Lady of America is Michelle Obama, an African American woman.” – Anon, 28, Valley Stream, NY

“First Lady Michelle Obama matters to me because she is great role model for me as an African American woman but also just as a person in general. My being young may have something to do with it, but I’ve never known a First Lady who was so involved issues that are affecting our youth and that inspires me to do more for my community. I also look up to her for her poise and natural confidence. Unlike a lot of celebrities, Michelle Obama provides a healthy and attainable example of what hard work can accomplish.” – Anon, 29

“Michelle Obama matters to me because she has proven to be everything that I expected her to be. She is a woman of stature, grace, beauty, brains and a mother. She has shown that she isn’t just a First Lady, she is an everyday woman who we of all ages can look up to and strive to be more like.” –  Kimberley T., 29, Bronx, NY

“Because she is the perfect example of a Black woman. We are not only what the media and society portrays (uneducated, loud, ratchet) she is someone that i can point out to my 

daughter to inspire to one day be.” – Tanaya G., 33, Cleveland, OH

“Michelle Obama matters to me because of her intersections: Black woman, mother, lawyer, advocate, wife. She is also sensitive, outspoken, loving and unafraid to me vulnerable.” – Erica C., 34, Queens, NY

“The First Lady matters to me in so many ways. The strongest strength I draw from her though is her ability to pull through authenticity and genuineness and whatever she does. Often African-American women are put in tough, precarious even soul sucking positions to grow professionally. Watching Mrs. Obama deal with the ridicule while staying true to who she is has taught me so much about how I can also do the same and still feel good about myself.” – Allison R., 34, New York, NY

“Because she gets it. The experience of a Black woman in America. I don’t know if anyone with that level of power and access to power in the US has ever understood that experience.” – Rachel H., 34, New York, NY

“The FLOTUS matters to me because I admire her strength in a position where she has constantly been criticized, belittled, and stereotyped. Never, not even for one second, has she stumbled or lost her composure. She has remained the classy, sophisticated, honest, and down to earth woman who stepped onto the campaign trail so many years ago. As we well know, beside every great man is an equally great woman and First Lady Obama has been a shining example of what black excellence looks like. I beam with pride when I see her. She makes me feel like so many things are possible that I once wasn’t sure were. She’s a hope and a dream set to a smooth beat.” – Shamela B., 36, Tupelo, MS

“Simply put: she represents hope.” – Kimberly T., 39, Indianapolis, IN

“She is a role model that our daughters can actually relate to. My worry is not so much for my peers as it is for our future young leaders. I am the mother to one teenage daughter and aunt to 8 young girls. As Black women we need more than a village to prepare our young women for their futures.” – Elita Celeste H, 41, Bronx, NY

“FLOTUS means a great deal to me because she showed how elegant and sophisticated one can be without coming from a pedigree background. She did it her way! She did not conform to any set of rules or standards but presented a new level of exceptional quality that will be very hard for the next First Lady to achieve. FLOTUS is my SHERO!!” – Alfreda M., 45, Dallas, TX

“Michelle has dispelled the media’s portrayal of the Black woman as being uneducated, jobless, hopeless, worthless, baby-mommas that mooch off of the government and give birth to criminals and gangster rappers.” – Lee H.

“First Lady Michelle Obama matters to me because she represents all of what any and all African American women can be. She breaks down many stereotypes and proves what can happen when one gets a good education and does not settle for just what one is given; she strives for better. She proves if we as African American women/girls put our minds to it, we can do and be anything we want. She also matters to me because she is not content with her own successes. She does her best to help other be successful as well.” – Katrina

“She defies the stereotype that Black women cannot articulate a thought or plan of action. Her actions are selfless and demonstrate a passionate desire for the children in our nation to have a great future that is limitless.” – Amika K.

It’s a powerful reflection of her legacy to see the many women she’s encouraged and motivated to hope and work for a better future for themselves and the teens and girls coming behind them.  So, thank you, Mrs. Obama, for connecting with us in a way that no other First Lady ever has before (or likely ever will).

 

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Business, Career, Economic Equality, Economic Inequality, Entrepreneurship, Equal Pay, Gender, Gender Equality, Gender Inequality, Goals, Levo League, Money, Race, Racial Equality, Racial Inequality, Socioeconomic Status, Voice, Women Empowerment, Writing

Diversity Without Power Is Still Not Enough

I recently penned an article for Jet magazine in response to a photo posted by the Huffington Post. Below is the article in its entirety as well as the link: Diversity Without Power Is Still Not Enough by M. Michelle Derosier for Jet magazine.

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If you’re a professional and a person of color in America, chances are you’ve been part of at least one meeting, a team or a department where yours was one of (if not) the only [insert race or culture] face in the crowd.

Yet, the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education reports, “In the U.S., the white portion of the working-age population (generally ages 25 to 64) is declining, while the minority portion is increasing.”

While we’d like to think that our personal experience is the exception and not the rule, the picture below tweeted recently by Liz Heron, Executive Editor at the Huffington Post, seems to spit in the face of this statistic.

HuffPost Editors Meeting Twitter Photo M Michelle Derosier

To answer Ms. Heron’s question, we notice much about this editors meeting. While we give kudos to the solid representation of women, we’re disturbed by the poor representation of people of color.

Even more disconcerting is the fact that in this room sits many who decide which stories are worth sharing and whose voices will tell them. In an organization that draws in more than 200 million unique visitors a month; she who controls whose story is told, shapes reader perception. For those who are saying that this group of women aren’t execs or CEOs and don’t move the financial needle of the company, remember that power can be just as much about who controls the narrative as about who controls the purse strings.

And that is at the heart of my issue with this photo. It’s such a vivid reminder that those climbing fastest or currently highest on the power pyramid – the key decision makers – rarely look anything like the changing American landscape. In 2014, nonwhites accounted for 38 percent of the U.S. population, but those who hold the power to shape multimillion dollar companies are barely a blip on the radar.

An article posted, ironically, on the Huffing Post found just over 4 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs in 2014 were minorities, a classification including African-Americans, Asians, and Latin-Americans.

To underscore the significance of the power of those in control of the finances as an example, according to Fortune magazine: “In total, the Fortune 500 companies account for $12.5 trillion in revenues, $945 billion in profits, $17 trillion in market value and employ 26.8 million people worldwide.”

Whether 100, 250, or 500 – whatever the Fortune ranking of companies of total revenues for their respective fiscal year – minority representation in key leadership roles is practically nonexistent.

With so few minorities governing the path of these companies, our collective power to see real change that will elevate the social economic status of the masses and not just the few, is significantly diminished.

While we should celebrate–loudly–the people of color who make it into the door; we should never be satisfied with diversity in just the cubicles. We need equal representation at the decision tables. We can start with one voice, then push for two, and continue for three. However, may we never stop until companies such as the Huffington Post are tweeting photos that represent a racially and culturally diverse group of decision makers.

 

 

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What Do You *Really* Need From Your Career?

What do you really need from your career? mmderosier.wordpress.com

Not the cursory responses that most people spit out when asked: money, health benefits, 401k. To be clear, I am not turning my nose up at these perks. On the contrary, they’re great, and should be appreciated. But when I think about the statistics below from a 2014 Gallop report, I can’t help but wonder what thought (if any) goes into deciding what one needs from a career.

  • The average American work week is now 47 hours
  • 21% of full-time U.S. employees work 50 to 59 in a typical week
  • Only 13 percent of workers actually enjoy going to work

Is money the highest need? It could be. But if it is, why are so many spending such a huge chunk of their lives miserable? Is it that the money is not enough? Or is the money enough but there’s nothing else about the work that brings satisfaction?

I can’t answer these questions for everyone else, but I had to answer them for me. And what I found was that my career needs generally fall into these five categories, in order of importance:

1. Glorify God. This means work that won’t ask me to compromise my morals. As Mark 8:36 says, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”

2. Impact a greater mission. Especially when my work equips others to better support those lacking opportunities. Opportunity to eat. Opportunity to be safe. Opportunity to be educated. Opportunity to seek a better future.

3. My voice is valued. Working in an environment where my input and contributions are clearly appreciated and not just tolerated.

4. Flexibility. The archaic mindset that good work can only happen when employees punch a clock in, sit in a cubicle for 8 hours, and punch a clock out, doesn’t encourage creativity and innovation. And that kind of environment is not where I will be happy for long.

5. Money. Yes, it does matter. It doesn’t rule my decision, but it is a determining factor when considering an offer. I read a great quote recently that says, “When you learn how much you’re worth, you’ll stop giving people discounts.” I learned my worth long ago and make no apologies for expecting to be compensated according to the value that I bring to the team.

To return to my original question: What do you *really* need from your career?

Maybe it’s better work-life balance. Maybe it’s a clear path towards growth. Maybe it’s a continued creative outlet. Whatever it is, take the time to think it through if you haven’t already. And once you’ve done so, let those needs be the guiding principles for seeking and choosing your career opportunities. Most of us have to work, that’s the reality of today’s economy. But we don’t have to approach it with dread. The closer we are to a job that fulfills our top career needs, the less likely we are to spend our days upset and daydreaming about quitting.

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The Randy Jackson Syndrome: 3 Tips to Determine If It’s Time for a Career Change

The fifteenth and final season of American Idol drawing to a close this year reminded me of an important career lesson that came with the departure of one of its original judges. With the announcement that he was leaving American Idol after 13 seasons, last November marked the realization of my unspoken fear: That Randy Jackson would be brave enough to make a career change before I did.

After almost a decade with my current organization, I began to see myself through the same lens of pity I viewed Randy. Randy, who was part of the original regime that included Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell, and Ryan Seacrest, saw Simon and Paula leave to pursue bigger and better dreams. While those pursuits failed to meet expectations, at least they tried. Randy, on the other hand, remained the loyal “dawg” and became less relevant with each new better-paid and better-celebrated judge wooed to the table. He became the lonely grandfather relegated to a nursing home – full of wisdom but without an audience interested in listening.

Like him, I had watched several colleagues bravely set off to chase their dreams. Start a consulting firm in Liberia? Check. Return to school to pursue an art degree? Why not! Become a guidance counselor at a boarding school in Rwanda? Indeed. Where they boldly took a leap of faith to grow their careers, I stayed cocooned in what was comfortable. Out of fear? I thought so at first. Whether of failure or of success, I wasn’t sure.

But fear didn’t paint the whole picture or tell the complete story. I discovered three other reasons that turned out to be surprisingly positive. Factors I would encourage you to consider as you decide if or when to make a career change.

1. Are you actually ready to go? Because I had spent far too much time reading expert advice and listening to well-meaning friends, I almost missed out on that truth. When I would ask myself if I should leave, my voice was rarely the loudest to answer. Everything and everyone kept telling me that I should go, but when I listened intently to my own voice I heard myself say not yet. And comfort and fear had nothing to do with my reasons. Here’s an exercise that can prove useful for you. Ask yourself: Should I leave? Assuming you answer yes, spend time writing out the whys and then close your eyes and speak those reasons out loud one by one. For example, I should leave because the work is no longer fulfilling. I should leave because I no longer bring value to my team. I should leave because there are no challenges for growth. You get the point. After speaking each reason, stop and quietly recall whose voice you heard. If yours was not the first and/or the loudest, it’s doubtful that you’re truly ready to go.

2. How much more do you have left to contribute? During my last performance review I questioned my Executive Director about what value she sees that I can still bring to the organization. A question I’d been pondering but one that couldn’t be answered in a vacuum. I was mainly concerned that what I had left to contribute might not be what the company needed. That conversation helped me to realize I was on the right track. That the legacy I wanted to leave would be instrumental in the growth and sustainability of the company. I’m blessed to have a boss who is approachable with a wide-open-door policy. If your boss’ door is padlocked shut, don’t fret; there’s still hope. Find a trusted co-worker who can provide objective feedback on your work, the goals you are seeking to achieve, and how they align with the company’s overall mission. You can also find your company’s strategic plan or annual report and pore over the material with special attention to how your role helps or hinders its goals. For example, if the majority of your work is focused on increasing your company’s presence in an international market yet its strategic goal for the next 3-5 years is the domestic market; there is a misalignment. However, if the work that you’re doing now, or more importantly, the work that you wish to do in the future, is in sync with your company’s vision, there’s reason to stay. You can still make a significant impact.

3. How much more do you have left to learn? I started with my organization in an entry-level position at age 24 and progressed to my current title after several promotions. Five years into this position I made it a point to regularly check in with myself about what I was learning and how I was growing. Because of the size of my organization I knew there wouldn’t be room for another promotion, but there was opportunity to gain transferable skills beyond my title. When considering whether to make a move, look past the limitations of your current position. Are there projects within the organization that are outside the traditional scope of your job title that you can spearhead? What skills do you bring to the table to lead said project and what skills will you gain from it? Consider what that can look like, draft a brief proposal, and reach out to your boss for an honest discussion. Bolted door or not, eventually you have to learn to knock – and keep knocking until it’s opened.

I admit to having panicked momentarily when I learned about Randy. But after calming down and taking these steps, I eventually decided that the best decision for me was to remain 2-3 more years to accomplish some very strategic organizational and personal career goals.

The takeaway here is not that you should stay or you should go. The takeaway is to listen to advice from trusted sources and then take time to quiet the voices that aren’t yours. Once you’ve done that, measure the advice against what your voice is saying is best.

Maybe Randy followed these same steps. And where his led him to leave, mine led me to stay. Either way, we each had to make the decision that was best for our specific situation. And so do you.



randy-jackson-american-idol-syndrome

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After College Office Hours

In my first post I referenced Levo League. For those who don’t know, Levo League is a helpful community with “tools to develop your talent, build connections with peers, mentors, and jobs, and stay inspired day in and day out as you grow and develop.” For me, the gem of Levo is Office Hours. These are live half-hour video chats with professionals representing a wide spectrum of careers. The videos are then archived for continued access.

I spent part of today’s lunch hour with Edith Cooper, EVP and Global Head of Human Capital Management at Goldman Sachs. The interview was full of helpful takeaways, but one thought in particular most resonated with me. (12:50 into the video) Someone asked her where she sees young women struggling the most when it comes to climbing the corporate ladder. Her response was not surprising, but sad. She talked about encountering young women at GS with resumes so impressive that she was in awe. These were very capable and intelligent young women hired for their their ability to be leaders in their fields, yet when she observed those same women in work situations where their leadership should have been evident, they appeared to lack confidence.

As someone who has spent years struggling with owning the power of her voice, I know exactly what she means.

Click Levo Office Hours with Edith Cooper to listen and then come back and discuss.

 



office hours with Edith Cooper

 

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Happy International Women’s Day

#HappyInternationalWomensDay

Although not planned, how fitting that I should launch my blog on #IWD2015. According to Women’s Day, IWD is an important day to celebrate women’s social, economic & political achievements while calling for greater equality.

This year’s #MakeItHappen theme is surprisingly timely and appropriate as I celebrate the decision to finally make happen my idea to become a consultant. With over 10 years experience engaging communities to empower and provide opportunities for at-risk students and adults in crisis, I am well positioned to help organizations create and/or formalize their process for employees to do good while doing well. #DoGoodDoWell #DoWellDoGood

Thanks in part to the encouragement from perfect strangers at the Levo League (NYC) #GetBigThingsDone event last month, I was able to publicly declare my goal to get this big thing done this year.

The leaders of the #GetBigThingsDone movement espouse the concept of Connectional Intelligence. As they describe it, Connectional Intelligence is the ability to combine knowledge, ambition and human capital, forging connections on a global scale that create unprecedented value and meaning.

As I embark on this journey to get this big goal done, I hope to forge connections with readers like you who are also working to achieve a professional or personal goal this year. As well as strengthen the connections with my existing support system of incredible women and men.

What “It” do you intend to make happen this year? What “BIG THING” do you intend to get done? How can I or someone else help?

 

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