What lessons can aspiring leaders—specifically, women of color and members of other underrepresented groups—take from the careers of highly successful African-American women?
What it takes to succeed can be reduced to a single capacity: resilience! To be sure, resilience has been widely celebrated as a character virtue in the past decade, and it plays a role in every success narrative, regardless of a person’s race or gender. But African-American women seemed to rely more heavily than others on that quality, because of the frequency with which they encountered obstacles and setbacks resulting from the intersecting dynamics of race, gender, and other identities. In each case, African-American women bounced back, refused to get distracted or derailed, and maintained forward progress.
Three Keys to Resilience
Let’s look at how women’s resilience was reinforced and enhanced through emotional intelligence, authenticity, and agility.
1) Emotional intelligence
A key component of this skill is the ability to manage and regulate one’s feelings. It’s easy to envision the anger and resentment a rising executive might experience at being repeatedly doubted or ignored. But resisting knee-jerk reactions that may damage one's careers and developing the wherewithal to respond in more thoughtful and constructive ways is essential!
There's a way that we Black women use our identity and craft it into interesting parts to make it feel genuine. Being candid and transparent can sometimes be hard for Black women due to our openness being used against us BUT, have no fear. There's a way to be open and candid without it being a setback. Some Black women have found that using their race, ethnicity, history, and culture to help drive their companies to the forefront.
Nelson Mandela: “There’s going to be a point in your career where someone’s going to tap you on the shoulder and ask you to do something that’s not going to make any sense. That might be your opportunity to manifest your true leadership and have a huge impact on your life and on this world.”
3) The Importance of Relationships
Sometimes we believe that working hard and being smart gets us in the door but what gives us that extra push as Black women are the relationships we build with others that become our advocate and help us climb the ladder. In Harvard's Business Review one Black woman stated, “There has to be someone at the table saying, ‘This person deserves that opportunity, that raise, that global assignment, that acknowledgment."
Black queens, let's raise a glass to ourselves and BUILD, BUILD, BUILD!