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It’s hard to believe that we’re already in the third quarter of 2017, but I’m excited to see what the rest of this year has in store. Recently, I’ve found myself revisiting Solange Knowles’ Grammy-award winning album A Seat At The Table and intentionally reflecting on my personal experiences as a black woman living in modern-day America.
Aside from the unapologetic celebration of blackness that Solange gives us throughout the album, I decided to listen from a different vantage point - one that surveys how the messages she offers can be applied not only personally, but professionally. As a 28-year-old woman of color who navigates the technology and business industries on a daily basis, I’m often hyper-aware of what my presence means in these very white spaces, and how I can spread my #BlackGirlMagic so that it’s meaningful and strategic.
What I love most about A Seat At The Table is that Solange created a space for black people -- black women specifically -- to celebrate their greatness, acknowledge relevant societal issues that have shaped how we think, and hold us accountable for pursuing our dreams and serving our communities simultaneously.
In re-listening to A Seat At The Table, I also considered helpful insight from Kenya Paul and Tia White, two technology leaders at Capital One, and their journeys in the world of corporate tech as black women.
Below are three songs in particular that I found offered thoughtful lessons that can be applied to navigating the tech industry as a woman of color:
“Don’t You Wait”
“Now, I don't want to bite the hand that'll show me the other side, no
But I didn't want to build the land that has fed you your whole life, no
Don't you find it funny?”
In this track, Solange recognizes the changes that she has experienced personally have also inevitably impacted her artistry. And while her changes may have struck a chord with some of her fan base, she must adhere to her growth and speak to issues that have shaped her outlook on the world.
In the world of tech, Tia White believes that it is important to determine your desired brand and ensure you stay true to it. “We often change as the people and work around us changes, which is important, but not at the expense of your own brand,” she says. “Always ensure you are representing your brand positively. If you want your brand to be the innovative, fast-learning software engineer, you may not want to get stuck on the project that never ends. Be mindful what you sign up for and who you surround yourself with.”
The lesson: As women of color in a constantly evolving industry, it’s critical that we act on our ideas and bring them to fruition -- giving ourselves the space and opportunity to change and pivot when necessary.
“F.U.B.U. (For Us By Us)”
“When you know you gotta pay the cost,
Play the game just to play the boss.”
Here, Solange recognizes that while there are barriers to entry in any field, and in order to get ahead, you have to understand the rules of the game. In the tech, diversity and inclusion remain a problem that companies are spending millions of dollars to repair. But even when certain standards and regulation are put into place, women of color still have to work twice as hard to get half of what their male counterparts receive.
For Kenya Paul, being strategic and forward thinking will be essential in keeping your seat at the tech table. ‘Put equal time into your tech skills (like certifications and trainings) as well as your business/corporate skills,” she says. Understanding how your company accomplishes its goals will not only make you better at your job, but it will help you connect with people.”
The lesson: Upward mobility professionally is a game of chess, not checkers. Make it a priority to take ownership for the work that you produce, and develop meaningful relationships along the way.
‘Interlude: No Limits”
“See, I watched the, the Avon lady in my ‘hood. She popped her trunk and sell her products. So I put all my CDs and cassettes in the back of my trunk and I hit every city, every hood. My grandfather, he said, 'Why you gon' call it "No Limit"?" I said, "Because I don't have no limit to what I could do.” - Master P
This nugget of wisdom from the No Limit Soldier himself is pretty self explanatory, but what’s important to note is that Master P never let anything or anyone stop him from making his dreams come true -- nor did he allow them to change him. As women of color, we must remain steadfast and resilient, but most importantly - true to ourselves.
“Be authentic. There is no need to change into someone or something you’re not, just to fit in,” Tia says. “The strong and successful leaders, teams or companies will appreciate and support the authentic you.”
The lesson: Invest in yourself. Network with those who don’t look like you and take notes. Build a foundation for yourself that is not only sustainable, but will provide an opportunity to diversify your thought leadership when necessary.
As I continue to move forward in my career in tech, these lessons and many others will serve as pillars of encouragement and a driving force for making a long-lasting impact on the industry.