Author: Loren Leath

Giving Tuesday

The much anticipated holiday season is finally upon us! Going into Thanksgiving this week, we move into a time of reflection and giving thanks despite the unexpected year 2020 has brought us. While many people look forward to the spread of food on the table on Thursday, and the chaotic shopping Black Friday and Cyber Monday bring, here at Momentum we look forward to Giving Tuesday. If you aren’t familiar with Giving Tuesday, it’s a global generosity movement and a day of giving to the organizations that work towards transforming their communities.

One way you can support Momentum Leaders this #GivingTuesday is to make a contribution to support women in leadership. Momentum relies on community support in order to continue our premier leadership programs and offer events within the community. Without this support, we would not be able to operate as a resource for women in leadership in the Birmingham area.

Another way you can support Momentum is to volunteer. Momentum is always looking for volunteers to help with our various events and programs. If you are interested in serving the Birmingham community by partnering with Momentum, be sure to check out our volunteer interest page on our website for more information.

Please consider supporting Momentum during Giving Tuesday 2020. Your gift will help us to continue to advance women in leadership as they continue to make an impact in their own communities.

Madam Vice President

Kamala Harris walking alongside a young Ruby Bridges. Photo by artist Bria Goeller.

The glass ceiling was shattered last Saturday as Kamala Harris was announced as the first female vice president-elect in U.S. history. Not only is she the first woman, but also the first Black and South Asian American that will hold the position. All politics aside, it’s important to recognize the history being made right before our eyes. The representation and diversity Harris will bring to the White House alone is reason enough to celebrate this historic win no matter your beliefs, gender, background, or political alignment. She’s broken through the barricade that women have been stuck behind for centuries, along with those women that paved the way before her like Harriet Tubman, Ruby Bridges, Shirley Chisholm, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg to name a few. 

This election year happens to fall on the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which established American women’s right to vote when it was ratified on August, 18th 1920. While the ratification of the 19th Amendment was a huge step for women, it has proved to be only the beginning of a long-winded fight for equality that we are still fighting for today, 100 years later. During her acceptance speech, Kamala Harris stepped out onto the stage in an all white suit. Her suit was much more than a fashion statement — it was a deliberate choice, standing as a recognition to those women who came before her and those who will come after. White has long been recognized as a color of purity and hope and is associated with the suffrage movement dating back to 1913 when 8,000 women wore white to march in Washington D.C. the day before President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. They did this to protest and demand an amendment allowing women the right to vote. Since then, there have been numerous occasions where women holding political positions wore white as a nod to those suffragettes who came before them and essentially paved the way to where they are today. 

While Harris recognized the ones that came before her, she also brings a new hope to the future generations of leaders to come. By having diversity — not only with gender, but race — well-represented in leadership positions within our country, inspiration is created for younger generations to know that their voice can be heard; they are more than capable of achieving their goals, whether that be running for president of their 8th grade class, or running for President of the United States. During her speech she stated, “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last – because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.” Harris did not become the first female vice president-elect without continuing the legacy of the women before her, and now the little girls who dream of being a leader can use Harris as a stepping stone on their own ladder to success. 

Women should not still have to fight for equality in this country, especially 100 years after we were granted the right to vote. However, we will continue the fight until everyone recognizes the capability and power a woman holds.  As the Notorious RBG said herself, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made,” and that is exactly where we will be from now on.

Meet Alumna LaKisha Mack

Momentum would like to congratulate LaKisha on her recent promotion to Senior Associate Dean for Finance and Administration in the School of Medicine.

LaKisha joined the School of Medicine (SOM) Dean’s office in 2014 as the Associate Dean for Finance and Administration to ensure organizational alignment in the areas of Finance, Human Resources and Facilities. Since then, she has worked with countless faculty and staff across the SOM, allocating and approving budgets, conducting financial forecasting, interpreting policies, and managing federal regulations regarding funded research. She collaborates with our health system colleagues and SOM department administrators and plays an integral role in SOM leadership recruitments and retentions.

In her new role as Senior Associate Dean for Finance and Administration she will ensure policy compliance for the SOM and the university, participate in strategic planning and collaborate with the university and health system on all administrative and financial activities. She will continue to oversee the development of the SOM Dean’s Office budget, and will also lead implementation of the University’s Resource Centered Management (RCM) budget allocation model within the SOM and coordinate the Academic Enrichment Fund (AEF) funding and approval process

LaKisha’s UAB career began more than 20 years ago, in the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center, where she was a financial assistant in the Center’s clinical studies unit.  Following that, she spent more than 10 years working in various roles across Central Administration, the School of Health Professions, and the Department of Medicine, both in the Division of Gastroenterology & Hepatology and the Chair’s office.

In the Department of Medicine, LaKisha was the Division Administrator and Director of Operations, building an infrastructure to support faculty growth and operational leadership across all three-mission areas – clinical, research and education.

A native of Long Beach, California, LaKisha attended Samford University where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business. She and her husband Donald have one daughter, Morgan.

What made you move to Birmingham?

I grew up and spent all of my time in California. I never really had the opportunity to travel much so when it was time for me to select a college I wanted to go out of state. At the time my grandparents lived in Birmingham, so I decided to migrate there for college. I always had the intent of going back home to California after I finished my degree, but then I met my husband and have been in Birmingham since. 

Why did you want to go through Momentum?

I actually did not know that I wanted to go through Momentum — it was recommended to me by my immediate supervisor and I really didn’t know what to expect. Therefore, while I did not originally seek out Momentum, I am glad I agreed to the recommendation because it certainly has offered me the opportunity to become much more self-aware of my areas of strengths and development both professionally and personally. 

What stood out to you the most about your Momentum experience?

The camaraderie amongst all of the women really stood out to me. We were a group of 30 women who started the program without knowing each other at all. Throughout the process, we really got close as a cohort. It was very profound for me to be in a room with women who were all going through similar situations as me both personally and professionally. 

How do you think your experience with Momentum prepared you for your new role?

First and foremost, it helped me build the self-confidence needed to know my self-worth. I now I know that I am just as capable, qualified, experienced and knowledgeable  to seek opportunities for which I would not have gone after before. I am just as competitive as anyone else with the same level of experience. Going through the Momentum experience has put me in the position to know my self-worth and that I have the ability to be able to speak and toot my own horn which I would not have done before. 

What advice would you like to give to women aspiring for leadership roles?

Go after what you want and do not let anything hold you back. If you feel like you have the tools for leadership positions, don’t let anything get in the way of accomplishing your goals. If there are areas of development within yourself then work on those and be self-aware, but know that you as a woman are just as capable to go after leadership positions as anyone.

National Women’s Small Business Month

October is National Women’s Small Business Month! Here at Momentum, celebrating women is a priority and what better way to do that than by supporting women owned small businesses. Here are a few small businesses owned by women in the Birmingham area that you can support now.

Photo by Magic City Nutrition

Magic City Nutrition

Who knew milkshakes could be so healthy? Magic City Nutrition specializes in serving protein shakes and energy teas ranging in flavors from chocolate to birthday cake to monster cookie. Each shake has 24 grams of protein and is a 200 calorie meal replacement. The teas are metabolism boosting and are packed with vitamins all while having flavors like lemon berry or cranberry limeade. To make things even sweeter, Magic City Nutrition was founded by two women entrepreneurs, Faith Hurtado and Britni Liberton. Whichever flavor you choose, you’ll walk out the door feeling happier and healthier! 

Instagram | Facebook 

Forge

Photo by Eric & Jamie Gay of Eric & Jamie Photography

Founded by Kim Lee, Forge is a coworking space that strives to be more than just your typical office. Forge works to provide a community for like-minded professionals in Birmingham. During COVID-19, they have been able to provide a clean, safe, working space that allows you to get out of the house while your office may be closed. They offer month to month memberships for those wanting to join their coworking space but also have meeting and event spaces as well. You can easily book a room online on their website and join the Forge movement today!

Instagram | Facebook | Website

Poppy Balloon Company

Are you ready to make your party “poppin”? Look no further than Poppy Balloon Company! Susan Gray is a balloon event stylist that is taking party decor to the next level. From birthdays to weddings to Momentum graduations, she can do it all! Her use of colors, different shapes, and designs are sure to impress your guests with a visual appeal they’ve never seen before. All she needs is at least one week in advance to make your vision a reality. 

Instagram

 

Focus Creative

Photo by Focus Creative

Kassady Gibson is the creative genius behind Focus Creative, a marketing firm that provides professional photography and image consulting services for your business. Her goal is to ultimately help your business share its story through commercial photography. They can also help you strategize with the content you already have to ensure you are reaching your customers in the most effective way. “Great pictures tell great stories. Let us help you tell yours.”

Instagram | Facebook | Website 

 

ROSEWOOD

Photo by ROSEWOOD

Ann Elizabeth Stabler and Sarah Grace Featherston turned their hobby of antiquing on the weekends into a business of their own. ROSEWOOD offers an eclectic assortment that is sure to add charm to any home. From larger furniture pieces to unique lamps and handcrafted vases, ROSEWOOD caters to all styles and brings a modern twist to your average estate sale finds. Their one of a kind pieces at affordable prices cannot be beat! They offer free porch pick up for Birmingham locals or shipping to those that are outside of the area.

Instagram | Facebook | Website

Staying Active During COVID-19

Two weeks ago we discussed the importance of stimulating your brain and keeping track of your mental health during the pandemic. Not only is your mental health a vital part in staying successful in your personal and professional lives, but maintaining your physical well-being is too. Here are a few tips on how to stay active during COVID-19 while still staying socially distant. 

1. Get Outside

One of the easiest ways to stay active during COVID-19 that everyone has access to is simply going outside. Explore your neighborhood by going on a run, taking a walk, or riding your bike. If you want to get out of the neighborhood, Birmingham has plenty of parks, hiking trails, and other outdoor activities. Oak Mountain and Red Mountain state parks have great hiking and mountain biking trails that are suitable for all ages. You could even take a walk around the Birmingham Botanical Gardens which has 67.5 acres of over 25 thematic gardens with various sculptures and quiet paths. The Birmingham Zoo is also back open again with limited hours of operation. Before visiting any public outdoor space, be sure to check their websites for their COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions. 

2. Workout from Home 

Another way to stay active is to workout from the comfort of your own home. COVID-19 has forced the world to become more connected than ever which includes opportunities to try out new workouts online. Many gyms that normally operate on an in-person basis now have guided workouts available through their apps for members. One free way to attend a workout class from home is by using YouTube. YouTube has thousands of videos on different workout options ranging from a 5 minute cardio session to an hour of a full body workout. My favorite kind of workout is one that makes you feel like you aren’t working out at all. There are plenty of videos that accomplish this through dance party workouts that allow you to have fun while still working up a sweat. 

3. Look into Gyms Again

As life tries to go back to “normal”, many gyms have reopened but with new guidelines and restrictions. If you do decide to get back into the gym again stay cautious and practice good hygiene. A few ways you can do this are by washing your hands frequently, wiping down the equipment before and after you use it, wearing your mask, and spacing out away from others. It is also advised that you bring your own water as opposed to using the water fountains, and avoiding using the locker room by planning on using the bathroom at home and skipping your post-gym locker room shower. Before you go, it is important to look on the gym’s website for their specific guidelines so you can assess if you will feel comfortable or not.

How to Manage Your Mental Health

Not only have businesses taken a hit from the challenges 2020 has brought us, but for many people their mental health has as well. The best thing you can do in order to stay successful in your career, especially in times like this, is to first take care of yourself and focus on the importance of your mental health because the most important asset to your career is you. Here are three tips on how to manage your mental health:

1. Promote Mental Stimulation

Just like your body, your brain needs exercise too! Now is the time to try new things in your spare time like learning a new language or playing an instrument. You can also increase your brainpower with puzzles, books, or playing card games with family. You should always strive to practice lifelong learning in your personal and professional life. The more you challenge your brain and keep it active throughout the day, the healthier it will be.

2. Listen to Yourself

The only person that knows you better than anyone is yourself. While it might be easy to focus on other people, or the tasks you have yet to complete, you need to first listen to yourself to best assess your needs which will help you stay productive. It’s okay to take breaks and step away for a moment when life gets too overwhelming. Remember to take a deep breath. One way you can decompress is by practicing meditation which you can learn more about here.

3. Stay Connected

Our world has never been more connected than it has been in 2020. With mandatory social distancing guidelines, people across the globe have had to place importance on staying connected virtually in order to work or maintain relationships with family members and friends. However, it’s also important to know when you need to unplug. Taking breaks from watching the news or scrolling through countless posts on social media can prevent you from having a mental burnout and allow you to have time to reflect or spend time with your loved ones. Above all else, remember that you are not alone and we will get through these times together.

Want access to more wellness tips? Join us for Wellness Wednesdays every Wednesday at 10 am where we have local experts discuss spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical health. You can register for Wellness Wednesdays here.

 

Working Moms in 2020

2020 has been nothing short of a surprise to everyone. Who would’ve thought we would be starting a new decade with a global pandemic? It has certainly brought on new challenges for everyone as we try to navigate our new “normal.” While it might be difficult to see the good in times like this, what if we made 2020 an opportunity to reset cultural norms and create a more supportive environment specifically in the workplace? Working moms for example, have had to reduce their work hours in order to juggle the sudden responsibility of not only being a mom, but a teacher for their children while many schools are still virtual. An article from The Lily explains how the pandemic could be beneficial, specifically for working moms as they transition back into the office. Here are our top 5 takeaways: 

1. “Talking about our personal lives is now less taboo, and we should keep it up.”

Prior to the pandemic, coworkers might have been more private about the challenges going on in their personal lives. However, with the majority of people working from home, they don’t have much of a choice but to welcome their coworkers into their lives. Dogs barking and children playing in the background of Zoom meetings have become the new soundtrack to their lives. The article stressed the importance of employees and managers being empathetic and maintaining open communication going forward. “Managers can respectfully learn those insights by asking open ended questions, such as, ‘Are there any ways in which I’d be helpful to you as you think about staying at this organization for the long-term?’”

2. “We should re-examine our approach to telecommuting.”

When companies began to make the switch to remote work during the pandemic back in March, many were unsure of how productivity would still be maximized without working together in the office. Months later, there is successful evidence that it might be best for some people to continue working from home going into the future. Allowing employees to work from home when they are not needed to be in the office could come with many benefits like, cutting down on traffic and improving diversity. By having more remote positions available within the company, this is an opportunity for diversity to be maximized as different people could be hired from all over the country or potentially the world if necessary.

3. “We should think about all types of flexibility options.”

Flexibility has become an important mindset for companies within the past few months. This not only applies to working remotely, but could also change the typical workweek and hours. When it comes to shifting work hours, “to better accommodate the difference between office hours and school hours,” working moms would be able to adjust their day based on not only their work priorities but their families as well. 

4.  “Management training should become more of a priority.”

2020 has been a year that has relied heavily on supporting and loving your neighbor. This can translate into the workplace as the roles of managers have changed from just being a leader within the office, to being a leader and support system in the lives of their employees. Lori Nishiura Mackenzie, co-founder of the Stanford VMware Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab and lead strategist for diversity, equity, and inclusion at Stanford Graduate School of Business, said that her and her team “have found that managers are spending more time on employee care, in response to both the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests.” Moving forward, it might be beneficial for companies to offer more managerial training in how to best support the care of their employees. 

5.  “We should consider how we support workers outside of the office.”

The pandemic has hit the world hard financially as many people have lost their jobs, have had a cut in their income, or lacked the resources they need to work from home. The article discussed how some companies were able to give their employees a stipend for their “…home office budget–money for a new chair or desktop monitor.” However, if they are able, companies could offer different stipends to their employees in order to help them out more in other aspects of their life. For example, the article suggested “…companies could offer a child-care budget for parents worried about offices opening back up while schools remain closed.” 

To read the entire article and others like it, click here.

Protecting Your Genius with LaConya Murray

Momentum prides itself on being a resource for empowering women in leadership. Alabama native, Attorney LaConya Murray – also known as the “Brand Attorney” – has been making waves in the legal field by “empowering high achieving professionals and creative masterminds to protect their brand and their own genius.” 

In high school, LaConya knew she wanted to one day practice corporate law, but not in the traditional corporate setting. After graduating from law school, she worked for an attorney for one year before branching out and starting her own practice. 

In the beginning, she did it all — including disability, criminal, and family law. However, her true passion was found helping entrepreneurs. During our interview she said, “I think small business owners are the backbone of our society, and when they are able to operate in their genius and create and provide, then the whole world benefits.” 

She quickly found that these entrepreneurs were faced with two main challenges: first, lawyers were unapproachable, and secondly, many didn’t understand intellectual property or the value it holds. This is when she decided to transition her practice from general law to trademarks, copyright, and business development. 

Overall, she wants to help entrepreneurs package their intellectual property and protect it. Because the work that she does is federal, she is able to help people entrepreneurs not only in Alabama, but all over the United States. 

So what exactly is intellectual property? LaConya describes it as “the product of the mind.” From individual blog posts to the name of a product or company, if it helps people identify the source of a good or a service it is intellectual property, or what she likes to refer to as your “genius.” 

Going forward, she specifically wants to see more women own their genius, which not only includes their intellectual property but encompasses a sense of self. When describing the word “genius,” LaConya went on to say that, “As women we have to own ourselves and stop retreating into what other people think that we should be.” 

LaConya’s overall mission is “always to educate, inspire, and protect.  I want to continue educating people on what it means to create, protect their brands and grow their businesses.” In an effort to take the worry of intellectual property out of launching, she offers business owners flat fee legal services. For those interested in learning more about intellectual property, she’s created a free “Protect Your Brand” mini course. You can access the course here. LaConya also offers consulting services for business owners and entrepreneurs that are ready to defeat their fear, launch legally and confidently build the brands of their dreams. On her site you will also find books, business development tools, contract templates and more to help you launch legally! If you are an entrepreneur looking for a tribe of like-minded geniuses, join her free Facebook group “The Genius Lounge™”. The Genius Lounge™ is where entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs come together to support, motivate, and encourage each other to own their genius.

You can also find her on other social media platforms linked below.

Facebook | Instagram | YouTube | Podcast | Linkedin | Twitter

Women and the Wealth Gap

 

The wage gap between men and women has been what seems to be a never-ending fight for equal pay, with women earning about 76¢ to a man’s dollar, and minorities earning even less. A problem that has not received the same recognition – but is equally damaging in the fight for equality – is the wealth gap, in which women invest only 32¢ for every dollar invested by men. I sat down with DeLynn Zell, CEO of Bridgeworth Financial, and Alice Womack, Associate Managing Director in Private Banking at Oakworth Capital Bank, to talk about the differences between the wealth and wage gap and how they are affecting women in business. 

DeLynn Zell, Bridgeworth Financial

Why do you think the wealth gap is less talked about than the wage gap? 

DeLynn:

People have not been focused on the wealth gap because it tends to be a stereotypical subject. Some women are uncomfortable talking about wealth and some women tend to be better at saving than investing. In the older generations, most women would depend on their husbands to control their investing, but in recent years, I have seen that women have shown more interest in investing and have had to step up to take on a more active role with their finances. Women are inheriting a tremendous amount of money and the wealth gap will be closing. I don’t know why it is not talked about because it should be. In the next 10 years, I see that women are going to be controlling the majority of the wealth in this country. 

Alice:

They are both important. The wealth gap encompasses the wage gap, it encompasses a lot of things including confidence in investing, risk tolerance, and career gaps. Women tend to have more gaps in their career because they are usually the caregiver of the family regardless of income. The less time women spend working, coupled with the wage gap while they are working, means less money to be put aside for investing. The ability to take on more risk and the confidence in doing so, will reduce the wealth gap. The wealth gap is a broader subject.

Alice Womack, Oakworth Capital

How has the wealth gap affected your performance and desire to climb the corporate ladder?

DeLynn:

Early on in my career, we were on commission. However, I later learned that 2 of the guys that started when I did were being given a stipend for a year and I was not. The head of the firm didn’t think women could make it in our field but thought that by giving me a shot, he was doing me a favor. That only made me work harder to prove myself. Now, I’m fortunate enough to say that things worked out in the end.

Alice:

I took time off to be with my children and fully exited the workplace for two years. When I did go back, I spent several years in a part-time role. If I had to do it all again, I would make the same decision today, but it does affect your ability to save for retirement. Not only did I not have income to contribute to my retirement plan, I missed out on the benefit of my employer match of my personal contribution. Investing early on is critical to growing your wealth, and the caregiving years for children are typically fairly early.

 

How in your workplace do you try to combat the wealth gap among employees and clients?

DeLynn:

As a female, I am sensitive to that and have made sure that wages are based on job description and performance. Nothing is based on gender. I’ve heard older people in the past make comments like “He’s got a wife and kids at home, he should make more than a woman who is the second breadwinner in her family.” While that is something that has gone away quickly with the younger generations, I am afraid we still have some of that attitude. 

Alice:

From a client perspective, education and awareness are important. I think women are starting to feel more and more comfortable talking about finances. It is encouraging to see more advisors and financial institutions incorporate programs and make efforts to equip and educate women financially. When advising couples, we make a concerted effort to hear both spouses. Often during financial planning sessions, there is a spouse that is more comfortable talking for the couple. We are mindful to draw out the other individual to ensure that their voice is equally heard as they may have never given thought to options presented to them until they learn what is available. Research has shown that women are very comfortable with saving and bill paying, but far less comfortable than their male counterparts when it comes to investing. Our role is to encourage them to learn more about and be responsible for their individual financial health.

Do you feel like the glass ceiling is still intact or have we broken through?

DeLynn:

I think in many industries it has been broken, but there are some where it still exists. I do think it’s generational as well. I see a difference in attitude between the 30-40 year olds and 50-60 year olds I work with. The younger generation is more progressive and has grown up seeing women at work while the older generations might not be used to seeing women in the workplace. We are seeing tremendous strides as the younger generations take control. While it may not be completely broken through, there are more shatters in it than there has ever been. 

Alice:

The statistics are trending positively. There are more women in the workforce now than ever before. About half of the labor force for females are also in executive management and professional roles. However, women continue to lag pretty substantially behind men in leadership roles that include C-Suite and top management positions, political offices and Board seats.

How do you think corporate America should continue to work towards closing the wealth gap? 

DeLynn:

I think there has to be mindful attention paid to ensuring that compensation has no reflection of gender. When I was in college, it was not uncommon to see women in accounting, but I didn’t see too many in finance. I have heard it said that men seem to talk to their daughters about saving while they talk to their sons about investing. A lot has changed, but we need to make sure we are educating and encouraging women to focus on wealth accumulation. 

Alice:

We need to make it less of a social stigma for men to take on those caregiving roles for children and parents. Employers have to encourage men to know that it’s okay to take the time off either short or long term if it makes financial sense and encourage balance for a family. I have also witnessed the reluctance of employers to hire or promote women due to their expectation that they will leave the workplace even if that is not in their plans to do so. Hopefully over time there will be more cultural acceptance and encouraging workplace policies for those scenarios. 

Financial education among women also continues to be very important as they control more and more of the wealth in the U.S. Women tend to live longer, outliving their spouse, and need additional resources to do so. Unfortunately, fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. It is critical that women understand and take responsibility for their financial health. 

Meet Mentor/Mentee Pair Joy Carter and Coleysia Chestnut

A mentor is a valuable resource to have in your professional and personal life. I got to sit down and chat with Joy Carter and Coleysia Chestnut on their mentor/mentee relationship that they have developed over the past two years. 

Joy Carter, APR, is Communications Manager for AMERICAN Cast Iron Pipe Company, a Birmingham-based manufacturer of iron and steel pipe, fire hydrants and valves. She is a PR/communications graduate of Auburn University and is Accredited in Public Relations (APR). She serves on the executive boards of Momentum and the Literacy Council of Central Alabama and is active in the Public Relations Society of America and the Public Relations Council of Alabama.

Coleysia Chestnut is on the Engineering Workforce Management team at BBVA. She has a Master’s degree in Strategic Communication from Troy University and BS in Urban Planning from Alabama A&M University. She is a published author of The Exhale Journal and advocates for equity and inclusion of minority groups within corporations. Above all else, her most proud accolade is being the mother of her sweetest 2 year son, Randall.

How did you meet and decide to become a pair?

Coleysia:

I had completed my masters degree in Strategic Communication in 2017 and had just started my communications role shortly after. I decided to attend Birmingham Business Journal’s Mentoring Monday event, which is essentially “speed mentoring.” Individuals have the opportunity to speak with as many mentors as they want within an hour span but only have about 7 minutes with each mentor. I saw that Joy was going to be one of the mentors and I came prepared with a list of questions. I was 8 months pregnant at the time. After meeting, we went to lunch. Joy was actually one of the few who made it to the hospital when my child was born; I thought it was amazing that she came. 

Joy:

I was so impressed with Coleysia at the event. They said, “go,” and I looked up and she was making a beeline for me. She sat down with her notebook and began asking her questions. I was just immediately so impressed with her. I really enjoyed the very short conversation we had. Afterward, she called to follow up to ask“Will you be my mentor?” She was very specific in asking for the relationship. She was the catalyst. Her tenacity and drive impress me. I often tell her it is a co-mentoring relationship; I learn from her, too, in her role as a communications professional. It’s been a wonderful co-mentoring relationship. 

What have you learned from each other throughout your relationship? 

Joy:

She always comes prepared to our meetings with a question or something she wants to talk about, but it often leads to questions that I have for her. As a young professional, she is so very smart and she is so good with technology. Each time we get together it is an opportunity for me to learn from her. At our most recent get together I was most interested to talk with her about a diversity and inclusion project she is a part of at BBVA, and she shared with me some really good resources for that. Every get together is an opportunity to learn from each other. 

Coleysia:

Joy teaches me a lot about navigating the corporate arena. I remember being frustrated because I wasn’t moving up in my role and felt like I should be in a different place in my career–she reminded me that it was okay, because I was still fairly new and if I used this time to soak up as much information as I could and focus on mastering my current role, opportunities for advancement would soon follow.  There are always things that I will run by her, like “something about this does not seem fair to me, what is your opinion on it or how would you handle it?” Given her HR experience, she offers a different professional perspective outside of my network which I really do appreciate. Overall, I rely heavily on Joy for giving me advice about navigating corporate America and how to accomplish professional goals. 

How have you appreciated being a pair that isn’t exactly alike?

Joy:

Thinking back to our last meeting, and talking about diversity and inclusion, it was knowing I could have that conversation with her, and we were both coming from a place of respect and wanting and needing to talk and share. I wanted to listen and ask for her perspective and insight. It’s extremely beneficial to have the relationship we do, where we can have an open conversation. 

Coleysia:

I think Joy is amazing for me because a lot of times when black people–and black women in particular–when we speak up, it can sometimes come across as whining. With Joy I felt safe to talk about some of my concerns with the racism we’ve been encountering. It may come off as a “vent,” but sometimes it’s important to have someone you can talk to about racism in the workplace. Who better to talk to about that than with someone who has agreed to be your mentor? It creates a safe environment for me to talk. Across the board, Joy is my safe space where I can talk about things that matter to me as it relates to work and even things outside of work. 

Why do you think it’s important to promote diversity within professional environments and relationships?

Coleysia:

It’s important to have different perspectives. When I approached Joy, I didn’t approach her as a white woman. She was the communications manager of a pretty big company and that was something I was interested in. At the beginning of our relationship there had been some discriminatory issues with my previous company. As she helped me navigate that experience, I’m sure she got a lot of insight on roadblocks and challenges experienced by a minority female. Exposure to these injustices are critical, so when someone has the opportunity to have a voice of an organization, they can consider the impact and tone of communications to ALL employees. As we share experiences together, we learn a little bit about some of both of our cultures that may impact the work environment. Just as she may learn from some of my stories, I learn from hers by being a woman navigating through her previous roles. Granted there are injustices for black people as a race, but women are also marginalized in my opinion in the work environment. Getting her insight and guidance through that was very valuable. I can’t thank Joy enough. 

Joy:

We all bring different strengths and talents to our jobs, communities, and families. For that reason, we need to do a much better job in corporate America and in our communities of working towards more inclusion. In what we have seen in the last few months, we have a long way to go, but these conversations, which are perhaps awkward or difficult to have, are so important in moving us forward. Having relationships, like the one Coleysia and I have, provide safe places to share and learn together. We need that in our workplaces and in our communities.

One of the efforts that Coleysia is working with at BBVA, Team Talks, allows people to have these conversations. It’s really sad that decades after the Civil Rights movement we are still struggling to make more progress, as Coleysia said, for our black communities, for women in the workplace, and other groups as well. Relationships, like ours, are the basis for the conversations that we have to have to accelerate progress. It’s not enough to say, “We’re making progress.” We’ve got to move faster towards diversity in our companies and diversity at upper levels of management. There needs to be change, and it needs to happen faster. 

Do you have any advice for someone looking to get into a mentor/mentee relationship?

Coleysia:

If I could, offer advice as a mentee, because I do feel as though it is primarily the role of the mentee to promote this relationship. You need to assess yourself so you know what skills you lack and will know what to look for in a mentor. If there is an opportunity, I would first acknowledge that you realize who they are and have done your research on that person. When you do approach them, you need to be direct and communicate what you want to get out of your relationship. Be open to the answer being no. When you have someone that is in the position that you would like to be in one day, you need to understand that they are probably very busy. When I approached Joy I wasn’t arrogant in asking her to drag me along on her career journey it was more, “If you have time, I would like for you to share some of your knowledge with me.” Be prepared and be very intentional. Set expectations for yourself and know what you want from that person before you approach them. 

Joy:

The word intentional is great. And, yes, it is the responsibility of the mentee to reach out. As I said, when Coleysia and I met she was very direct in asking me to be her mentor. She is always prepared with something specific she wants to talk about. Again, that always leads to me asking questions and learning from her as well. Identify what you need from the relationship and the professional, and then identify who could best help you achieve that. I was very flattered to be asked to be her mentor. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional and to make that ask, because they should be extremely flattered they are being asked to serve in that role. With that comes the responsibility of making and sharing time, and appreciating the co-mentoring relationship that is a win-win for both of you. 

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