During a recent business trip, I stopped in to visit my god-daughter who was attending one of the local universities. As we sat and talked about her life at school, her classes, and her friends, I became excited for her and the opportunities that lie ahead of her.
I was also anxious for her. I remember how I felt at that stage of my life. I was excited, optimistic, and sometimes a bit overwhelmed, but I looked forward to my career and the life that stretched out in front of me. When I stepped into corporate America, it was very different than it is today. Young women of color were few and far between in the C-Suites and in upper management levels. I didn’t have close family members to talk to or to guide me through the inner workings of corporations. I set out perhaps a bit naively on my path early on in the corporate world. I made mistakes—which I tried to learn from—and kept going, learning lessons along the way.
There is a clear difference between my experience and that of my goddaughter; she has family that she can reach out to for advice because the landscape has changed and today there are more women of color in managerial and leadership positions than there were when I was coming out of school.
So what would I tell my goddaughter – and any other young person starting out on their journey?
1. Be authentic.
Look for a career and a path that will enable you to be your true self. When I was young in my career, I remember being told how I should behave while in the workplace, what I should say and how I should say it, and who to emulate. At times, I felt there were many different versions of myself and some of them were not really me. As I matured, I realized that I needed to be true to myself. There is a lot of truth to the quote from Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “this above all, to thine own self be true.”
2. Don’t limit yourself.
This generation’s women of color have opportunities that were not available to many in my generation or the one before that. The world literally is their oyster. In today’s global economy and technological advances, young women of color can aspire to be and do things in not just traditional roles, but those that have been primarily held by men over the years. You don’t have to be type-casted, stereotyped, or forced into a career or role that doesn’t suit you. You have many opportunities, take advantage of them.
3. Find your voice.
The evolution of the women’s rights movement is one in which we should all be aware. And, the evolution of the civil rights of persons of color is one in which we should all be aware, but it is an evolution, it is consistently evolving, stretching, twisting, and turning. Things will not be static; they will not be flat, black and white nor cut and dry. It will be important for women of color to speak for themselves to ensure that their voices, rights, passions, thoughts, and desires are heard and respected.
I know that this next generation of young aspiring women of color will be a powerful force in shaping our ever-changing global landscape. I look forward to watching my god-daughter and all these young women of color flourish and grow!