Photo Courtesy of AAUW
I have seen Minda Harts on the D&I scene for a while now and have always been impressed with her speaking on issues involving black women in the workplace. As a recruiter and career coach that loves to empower all minorities—women and especially black women like me–it’s great to be in the company of someone who has taken career activism to a whole new level. Minda is small in stature, all heart, and loving of all things ‘black women.’ Minda Hart’s book, rightly titled after the name of her company, The Memo, is a love letter as well as a referendum to black women navigating through workplace drama. The most special part is that Minda can relate. As a black woman, this book is written by us and for us; it exemplifies the truth that only we can speak the true narrative of our stories and experiences. As Minda is on her book tour I got a chance to catch up with her to discuss her book. We could have spoken for hours and hours on so many issues, but here are some key takeaways and reflections from our talk I wanted to share with you today.
I began by sharing my admiration for Harts and asking her how The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table came about. Harts told me that she never wanted to write a book or be seen as an activist but instead, because of her experiences, was inevitably called to action. She said that writing of The Memo was a cathartic experience for her, as she was undergoing some health issues. She poured heart and soul into it as she draws her professional and personal experiences into all 160 pages. “Seems like a dream but I felt the need to crack the door open so publishers can take us (black women) seriously. The late great Toni Morrison said: “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it” so I did exactly that.”
There are so many business books for women, but they rarely speak directly to black women. Harts states: our careers are serious business. The solutions presented to women such as Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Leaning In’ completely leaves black women out of the equation. Sick of the umbrella of ‘women remedies’ to workplace woes and ladder to success advice, Harts felt the need to pen our experiences. She mentioned “I was going through this process where a lot of publishers and people tried to discourage me, saying there’s no audience for your book and it wouldn’t do well. I didn’t pay them any mind and kept writing away. Mind you The Memo is on Amazon’s Best Seller list which further validates that our platform is very necessary.
I then asked her about how she envisioned the setting and writing style of this book. She said that she wanted this book to be written as if she were speaking to her girls in her living room. She was intentional in her writing style in that she wanted to embrace and infuse all the things she possess which are for the culture, business and career development. Written with pop icons song quotes like Whitney Houston, Beyonce, and Bruno Mars to name a few as well as, TV show sitcoms of past and present such as Martin, Sex in the City and Games of Thrones, Harts wants black women to know you are not alone in your feelings of invisibility and being underpaid and underemployment. She is a sister and a friend seeking to empower through experience with the end goal of black women securing a seat at the table.
I then asked her to talk about the rift between black women and white women. She said she felt the need to speak on the unspoken things in the workplace black women experience, especially with white women. An empathy gap really does exist between black and white women. Harts says there is a “reckoning that needs to be done”. Of course, not all white women fall prey to this, as they have helped plenty of us along the way. But, there are plenty who need to check their bias actions when it comes to black women. Harts mentions that you cannot perpetuate the stigmas of our hairstyles, names and fashion sense and be on our side at the same time. That just can’t happen. Harts matter of fact lays out how do we have a koombia moment and create white women as an “ally shift into action” for us. Gender solidarity is in order.
I wrapped up by asking: what are the top 3 takeaways you want black women to get from your book?
1) Self advocacy and agency – you must champion yourself and Harts believes it all comes with strategy. Attend networking events outside of work and with your colleagues but bear in mind to not spoil this opportunity by getting drunk and making a fool of yourself. This is not the place for it! Also, Harts believes it’s all about workplace positioning with management that will get you noticed. She examples the persistence and timing in getting a sit down with the most senior person in the division where she worked. Understand the differences between a mentor and a sponsor: mentors give advice while sponsors invest in your success.
2) Quantifying our worth – black women are the most educated group here in the U.S. yet we sit on little to no boards and hold minimal c-suite managerial roles. This has forced plenty of us to leave and start our own firms. Harts discusses ways in which we play office politics and align ourselves strategically. Instead of buying red bottoms we invest in public speaking courses and ways in which to advance our career agenda. Only in the realization of our worth can we secure a seat at the table.
3)Building our squad – Your ultimate squad goals must be to build away and what Harts coins “social capital.” Who are your Top 8? Who are your go-to people who will help in your career advancement? Harts implores you to start building today, and then breaks it down by showing Oprah Winfrey as the icon of network strength. Oprah Winfrey, Gayle King, Iyanla Vanzant, Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz. Your squad needs to be there to promote, empower and support your greatness. They should know who’s for you and know who’s against you. Harts believes you need community advocates in both your personal and professional life.
Just in case you didn’t get The Memo, Harts provide nuggets of wisdom through experience. The real talk career guidance in this book is very necessary. Her book is further validation that our voices have a place in the career advice and business sections of your nearest bookstore. Go pick up or download your copy The Memo:What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table and use it as Harts intended, as the blueprint to get your seat at the table!
We are better together!
I AM someone who sees incredible potential in places most people don’t think to look. As an owner of a diversity staffing boutique, my team and I walk alongside our Clients in creating professional environments that are truly for ALL. I believe in our interconnectedness as a human race and strive every day to use my gifts to empower the workplace’s invisible and powerless. I rarely bet on certainty and always root for the underdog because, after all, those are the best stories to tell.
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