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Power Women: Kenyona Thomas On How To Successfully Navigate Work, Love and Life As A Powerful Woman

An Interview With Ming Zhao

A packed suitcase. My grandmother always packs for trips weeks in advance, while I choose to pack the night before. However, how can we be ready for the world and its opportunities if we’re not ready to hop on the next flight! Stay ready, so you don’t have to get ready.

How does a successful, strong, and powerful woman navigate work, employee relationships, love, and life in a world that still feels uncomfortable with strong women? In this interview series, called “Power Women” we are talking to accomplished women leaders who share their stories and experiences navigating work, love, and life as a powerful woman.

As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Kenyona Thomas.

Kenyona’s dreams are her reality. She is a first-generation college graduate, world traveler, homeowner, and wife — all before the age of 23. A graduate of Syracuse University, Kenyona currently pursues freelance marketing and is a professional model.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

Since I was a child, I’ve been a dreamer. I’ve always dreamed bigger than the average person. In the 5th grade, because of my family’s financial situation, my teacher helped me fundraise money to go on a trip to D.C. That trip marked the beginning of my many to come travels. I vividly remember the empowerment I received from being the first in my family to travel alone and to D.C. At that sweet age of 10, I put on my big girl “panties” and made something of myself and for my family’s legacy.

I’ve pushed past every barrier to set myself up for success to attend college in New York, travel to Paris, purchase a home, a new car, and more. D.C. not only helped me find my passion to travel but my ambition to never let life’s situation stop what God has for me. That experience led to my early pivot in life… to not only be a dreamer but to turn my dreams into a reality.

Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?

I believe in signs! I started a debate team at my high school because of my love for representing others. I knew how to say things others were thinking. During my senior year, my teacher asked me to narrow down a career path and I landed on public relations. I literally searched for the “top PR schools in America” and Syracuse University was top on the list and the rest is history. I got in.. and excelled beyond my wildest dreams.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

As I grow, I believe in bringing others along for the ride. In 2019, I had the opportunity to take my mother and godmother to The Wendy Williams Show. My mom is a HUGE Wendy fan and had always wanted to get a “diva fan.” In order to get a diva fan, Wendy (or Wendy’s team) would choose the “best dressed” audience member. The morning of the show, I let my mom style my outfit for the taping and I won a diva fan! The production team showed me where to stand, what to say, and to just smile! However, all I kept thinking was, “be sure to shout out Tina for styling you!” and I did just that! Tina (my mom) got her few seconds of tv-fame and her diva fan!

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

My three values in life are:

  • Knowledge

I love to learn. During my last job, I learned the ins and outs of the entire business within a few months. This allowed me to excel at the job and manage multiple roles.

  • Vision

You can’t have vision without execution. I dreamed of giving back to my family and making a legacy at a very young age. On May 15, 2022, I was able to help my mother host her own fashion show, A Black Mosaic Fashion Show. We had over 200 attendees, several sponsors, vendors, and we gave away six scholarships! We turned her dream into a reality.

  • Honesty

It took a lot of honesty to quit my full-time job. Of course, vision played a role, but I had to be honest with myself about who I was, my worth, and what I wanted in life. Taking flight was scary and taking flight at such a young age was even scarier. I took a leap of faith quitting to become an entrepreneur and don’t regret a thing.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. The premise of this series assumes that our society still feels uncomfortable with strong women. Why do you think this is so?

I think everyone would be intimated if the Hulk casually walked into a room. Strong women are like the hulk. Strong women have a resilience that society isn’t used to seeing unless it’s related to childbirth. Our poise, our intelligence, our grit, and our grind in the midst of a storm or obstacle confuses others. They want to know “how we do it” and meanwhile we’re still… doing it.

Without saying any names, can you share a story from your own experience that illustrates this idea?

Earlier this year, I worked a full-time and part-time job to help provide for my family. I was also consistently working for personal marketing clients, planning my mother’s large-scale fashion show, and developing my personal brand. When it came to client and team meetings, I was pretty straightforward with everyone and didn’t crack many smiles or showed much emotion. This made others feel uncomfortable — I’ve had people tell me they “don’t like me” and that I “was mean” and “too aggressive.” However, I didn’t let any of it stop me or interfere with my workload. In order to better manage, I had to draw boundaries of how much I gave of myself.

What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her?

Take 4,932 and Action! Start your inner affirmations. Think of the reason you’re in that room making those decisions. Remind yourself of why you’re a powerful woman and how hard you worked to get to where you are. Similar to how actors imagine everyone in their underwear. Create narratives about those around you, and entertain yourself to keep the drive and confidence going. You should never have to dim your light for others to shine.

What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?

Show up and support. Women are displayed with the gift of giving life. So when one powerful woman is born, they work to spread their strengths to others regardless of gender, so that everyone can shine. Let’s reciprocate this effort to women around us… let’s give to the givers! Whether it be emotional support or support for their business venture, take the time to invest in a powerful woman so she can further her investments.

In my own experience, I have observed that often women have to endure ridiculous or uncomfortable situations to achieve the success that men don’t have to endure. Do you have a story like this from your own experience? Can you share it with us?

I can vividly remember going to class after my grandfather passed away. Backstory: I loved this class because it was about entrepreneurship and I would always participate when I could. However, this day, I was crying during the entire lecture while a male student — who was my friend — sat, next to me, on his phone. Backstory: He sat on his phone during every lecture. The professor proposed a question to the class. They looked around the entire room, gazed past my friend’s phone, stared into my bawling eyes and called on my name to answer the question. It was at that moment I realized that none of this even matters. No one cares if I’m sick, grieving or in pain… the race continues. I didn’t give an excuse. I sniffed and answered the question.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women leaders that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

  • We have to show facts for everything we present.
  • We are not taken seriously in professional settings.
  • It takes longer to be promoted.
  • We need more credentials, degrees, and experience.

The list goes on…

Let’s now shift our discussion to a slightly different direction. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your personal and family life into your business and career? For the benefit of our readers, can you articulate precisely what the struggle was?

I know some would disagree, but being young allows me to shape my personal and business life. I’m figuring out things while having fun. Using this time for trial and error to perfect my master plan. My struggle lies in thinking that I’m running out of time to accomplish goals. Yes, a 23-year-old thinks she’s running out of time!! This struggle comes from my business side and ultimately affects my personal side. I tend to push my husband and myself a little too hard so that we can keep up with a standard that I’ve set in my head. I’m sure it comes from my persistent upbringing, but I’m learning to manage it by stopping and smelling the roses. I’m grateful to be blessed with amazing opportunities and I’m always taking advantage of things such as this interview to help excel my career and my family forward. However, once the interview is over, I’ll remind myself to spend time doing something that grounds me and allows me to be present.

What was a tipping point that helped you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal life? What did you do to reach this equilibrium?

As I stated before, I always give my all. However, often that time wasn’t reciprocated and I had to give an extra percentage to make up for others’ shortcomings. I’ve cycled anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and more because I overextended myself. There were many nights of crying in my husband’s arms that soon helped me realize that although I’m powerful, I’m not superwoman. I couldn’t do everything and come home to peace of mind. I had to set clear boundaries with those I worked with in order to achieve a greater equilibrium. This included: not taking on additional tasks, closing my laptop at night, spending time with family and friends, and even taking deep breaths.

I have gotten overwhelmed but our values helped me to get through those moments.

I work in the beauty tech industry, so I am very interested to hear your philosophy or perspective about beauty. In your role as a powerful woman and leader, how much of an emphasis do you place on your appearance? Do you see beauty as something that is superficial, or is it something that has inherent value for a leader in a public context? Can you explain what you mean?

Although I model and place a considerate amount of attention on my appearance, I believe beauty is natural. I love the superficial aspects of beauty, but I find joy in embracing my hair, acne, and missing eyebrow hairs. You’ve mastered life when you’re able to naturally present yourself to a crowd of peers, execs, etc., and still be called “beautiful.”

Leaders are still human, and humans have choices. What standard do you want to set for your employees or your team? To be real? Superficial? Embrace what they love? Be the example you want to see.

How is this similar or different for men?

It’s different for men because men aren’t in the male gaze, women are. Men aren’t expected to place an emphasis on their appearance and are accepted both naturally and superficially. Generally, men don’t subscribe to beauty standards, have a skincare routine, or think about what to wear to an interview or conference. Women think about all the details — who’s going to be there, the dress code, the weather, and even the time of the month.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Powerful Woman?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. A support system. Find someone to listen to your highs and lows — whether it be your cat, therapist, spouse, or friend. It truly will make a difference in how you perceive a situation.
  2. A personal story. No one can beat you being you. Keep your story and experiences close to remain humble and to share with others where you started.
  3. A stylist. Hire someone to showcase your style and personality before you even speak. When you walk into a room, people should know you’re that girl just by your outfit!
  4. A coloring book. Yes, a coloring book. Find something that helps you decompress from your day or job! For me, it’s a coloring book. For you, it may be something else. Find it, keep it close, and don’t be afraid to use it!
  5. A packed suitcase. My grandmother always packs for trips weeks in advance, while I choose to pack the night before. However, how can we be ready for the world and its opportunities if we’re not ready to hop on the next flight! Stay ready, so you don’t have to get ready.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Tyra Banks! I grew up adoring everything about Tyra! Sometimes I even use the alias, Tyra, when I’m out with friends (lol). She embodied — and still embodies — everything I wanted to be as a model and entrepreneur. She makes it happen for herself and I’m grateful for her being a powerful woman to aspiring powerful women, like me.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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Ming S. Zhao

Ming S. Zhao

Co-founder and CEO of PROVEN Skincare. Ming is an entrepreneur, business strategist, investor and podcast host.