The Glow Up: Advancing to Senior Leadership

by Tionna Wilson-Pierce, Full Stack Web Developer & Courtney Lett, UX Designer at Verizon

In the words of Courtney

Black Tech Women NYC, in partnership with Samsung, created a panel of four phenomenal black women who have advanced to senior leadership. Our host, Brittney Gwynn, Black Tech Women NYC City Lead, kicked off the event by highlighting how unique it was to have a room full of black women working in the technology field, which transitioned into learning more about the panelists for the evening.

“Sometimes opportunities seem odd and out of place, but those will give you the attention you need.” — Janice Innis-Thompson, VP of Compliance at Samsung

Moderated by Eden Zeilo, Head of Operations at Black Tech Women, the panel included Victoria Anderson, Digital Marketing Director at WME, Audrey Cochran, Senior Director of Research at TV One, Isata Yansaneh, Strategy Director-23 Stories at Conde Nast, and Janice Innis-Thompson, VP of Compliance at Samsung Electronics America. Each of these women shared their unique experiences and essential advice about climbing the corporate ladder, including taking advantage of opportunities outside of your comfort zone, seeking sponsors invested in your success, and knowing your value.

Evolving from Individual Contributors to Middle Management

Specific moments in corporate career can change one’s trajectory and value in the workplace. Each person’s journey will be different, but this moment can ultimately mark the point where people at your company see your ability to lead meaningful work. For Janice, that moment came while she was pregnant with her first child. Her boss asked her to run a diversity council at her company after being hit with a lawsuit for lack of diverse employees. Isata’s moment came when she was able to show off resourcefulness, using her unique skillset to create a compelling story for an important client’s needs when no one else was able. Victoria took charge of the strategy for a project that she saw lacked direction, leading and presenting in meetings with executives. Audrey launched internal initiatives centered around professional development of black employees at her company, matching C-Suite executives with junior employees to create authentic connections.

Seizing opportunities is the common theme among each of these women. Janice stated, “Sometimes opportunities seem odd and out of place. But those will give you the attention you need.” It’s essential to take advantage of every opportunity in the workplace, though it may seem intimidating. Each woman stressed the importance of venturing outside of your comfort zone and being confident in your skills.

“Share the way you shine [at work] to build relationships, so they can advocate for you.” — Isata Yansaneh, Strategy Director at Conde Nast

Sponsorship vs. Mentorship

Good work is vital, but not the only component of moving up in the workplace. Sponsors and mentors are necessary to your success. There’s a distinct difference between sponsors and mentors — mentors are good for advice and guidance, while sponsors are your advocates that are invested in your success. These people can come from anywhere. Audrey’s sponsor is a white man that she values because he challenges her and reminds her of her worth. Isata explained her distinction between the two; she feels you don’t have to personally know a mentor, but you do need to have a real relationship with your sponsor. For example, she considers Oprah a mentor (Don’t we all) but her sponsor is her boss that she’s known for 8 years. To find a sponsor, Isata says it’s important to, “Share the way you shine [at work] to build relationship so they can advocate for you.” In a similar vein, Janice shared that it is important to seek out sponsors and mentors whether that’s through an email or in person conversation.

Know your Value

For a while, Victoria would constantly receive performance reviews that she felt were inconsistent with her work and abilities. “They never fit what I thought,” she admitted. She knew in order for people at work to see what she knew about herself, she had to, “find ways to be promotional about her value.”

The other three panelists echoed this sentiment, emphasizing the need to know and showcase what you can do. This is definitely easier said than done. Early in Isata and Audrey’s careers, they would never speak up in meetings, assuming it was not their place to do so, until their bosses pushed them to be more vocal. Both women fell into a pattern where they would share their ideas in smaller groups or one on ones, which actually disserviced the team. Audrey encouraged women in the audience to find their voice at work, saying, “People in the room aren’t smarter than you. Share ideas.”

“People in the room aren’t smarter than you. Share ideas.” — Audrey Cochran, Senior Director at TV One

These women dropped countless gems throughout the night as they shared their experiences and got real about what it means to be a black woman in technology. The panelists stressed the importance of a strong circle, offering to speak with anyone who may need additional guidance or support. These types of spaces are food for the soul, creating safe spaces of black women helping other black women. The love and support was palpable, and I left the event feeling inspired and ready to take my career by storm!

In the words of Tionna

“If you are in the room, you are in the room for a reason”— Audrey Cochran, Senior Director at TV One

The moment I heard this, I looked behind me to see the room at Samsung had filled up so quickly. I knew this night would turn out to be something very special. Often, as women we sometimes forget that our presence alone matters in any room. And the biggest challenge we tend to face is ones the we have with ourselves. The Glow Up Panel gave us all such a powerful, genuine and heartfelt discussion that led many of us to connect afterwards on a different level. #WereGonnaNeedMoreWine

All four of the amazing panelists shared a piece of their journeys that covered important aspects like building your confidence and knowing your values, having a mentor versus a sponsor, taking the lead, letting your voice be heard and creating new relationships with other people. Here are some of my favorite highlights and lessons learned from women who inspired us all:

#1) Confidence is key.

It is important to take great pride in who you are and what it is that you do. Janice Innis-Thompson, Chief Compliance & Ethics Officer at Samsung, is a woman who strongly believes that confidence is what you need in order to thrive in your field. She said, “Be confident. You are in the role because you are the right person for the job. Get your community to remind you”.

“Be confident. You are in the role because you are the right person for the job. Get your community to remind you”. — Janice Innis-Thompson, VP of Compliance at Samsung

Janice shared that she was often criticized for being “too confident” in her previous years work in the fields of law and healthcare. After participating in a new leader assimilation training, Janice realized that there was nothing wrong with her being confident, she just needed to slow things down and remember to bring others along with her. Everyone has something unique that they can contribute, not just you.

#2) Self-doubt will ruin all the possibilities.

Making transitions in life or your career can be frustrating at times, especially if you do not have the right people to mentor or sponsor you. Black women specifically tend to be over mentored and under sponsored.

As someone who did not feel valued enough early-on in her journey, Victoria Anderson, Digital Marketing Director at WME, found that having mentors helped her in her career by making her presence extra special and known: being recognized and becoming the lead person in executive meetings. She encouraged us all to not be afraid, to be confident and find new ways to promote ourselves. For 2018, let’s make it our goal to find those people, to share our work and our personal goals, and continue building great relationships!

#3) Take the lead when no one else wants to.

Isata Yansaneh, Strategy Director at Conde Nast, is a prime example of a true trailblazer. Bringing brands to life is something that she has a true passion for but first needed to overcome some of her fears.

One of them was being shy in meetings. Isata had to recognize her voice and utilize the people around her in order bring her ideas forward. She said, “I knew that I had a different way of thinking. I took it on, and it gave me great exposure”. She found that asking different types of questions helped her understand and get to the core needs of the company and then used that understanding to lead projects and initiatives others were afraid to do.

“I knew that I had a different way of thinking. I took it on, and it gave me great exposure.” — Isata Yansaneh, Strategy Director at Conde Nast

#4) Build great relationships with those you know and those you don’t know.

Anyone who aspires to upper management has to prepare themselves to work with all types of people. Audrey Cochran, Senior Director at TV One, constantly found herself working with different people and helping them to understand the importance of the African-American perspective and experience in television.

When her company faced hardship that impacted their african-american and latino audience, she stated, “As the black girl on my floor, I thought I was best suited for this job”. It motivated her to create change and help the company make a ton of progress. She encouraged us all to be the best there is and to achieve on a level that people have never seen before!

#5) Don’t Be Afraid To Use Your Voice.

In times where women are coming forward and speaking their truth about sexual harassment in the workplace. All four women believe it was important to do the following:

  • Be vocal and hold people accountable
  • Be supportive and find circles within your organization
  • Know your rights and the language of it
  • Confront issues head on

As you can see, we all enjoyed the unique moment we shared with these amazing women and have learned so much from them. We appreciate them leading the way and making a difference in the world.

If you missed this event, you do not want to miss out on the next one. It will be epic!

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