Don’t outrun your coverage
February 7, 2024
Did you know that each Black History Month has a theme?
This year’s theme is ‘African Americans and the Arts,’ and as soon as I heard this, I couldn’t help but think about the recent viral discussion about Black women in Hollywood. In case you missed it, the internet recently lit up with conversation about pay disparity for Black women in the entertainment industry. Now to be clear, this is not a new conversation. This is a conversation that has been going on for ages. But most recently, it was sparked by some comments that Taraji P. Henson made during her press tour for the Color Purple.
Taraji called out the industry – and for good reason – because as successful as she is, she’s still found herself having to negotiate just to get the same pay she received on a previous project when she is a well-respected and exceptionally experienced actress.
And this issue is not unique to Taraji. Her comments resonated with lots of women, in arts and entertainment and across other industries. Like I said, this is not a new conversation. The numbers back this up. High achieving Black women are still finding themselves fighting just to get the pay they deserve. In fact, a recent study found that black women with doctorate degrees lose an average of 2.1 million dollars over their lifetime.
So, what does all of this mean for Black women? I think about a comment that Issa Rae, another high achieving Black woman, made a number of years ago that still rings true. At the time, Issa was talking about building laterally, rather than just building up. Networking across, as she called it, was the key to creating success. Why? Because it ensures that you’ve got the support that you need around you to move forward.
Which brings me to this week’s DEI Don’t:
Don’t outrun your coverage.
This is a piece of advice I received many years ago that has stuck with me ever since. The idea here is similar in concept to Ms. Rae in that as you build, you should bring people along with you. If you’re the type of person who is all about their own success, focused on what others can do for you in their position and how far along they can pull you, you’ll one day find yourself all alone on an island with the sharks circling and no way to reach back for help. Now that may sound a little dramatic, but any woman or person of color who has been the ‘only’ in their role or department knows what I’m talking about. You have to build a coalition.
I know we get taught to move up – even The Jeffersons understood the concept, but that doesn’t always work well for those in the minority.
So, what can you do instead? Here are my recommendations:
Lead With Inclusion
The key to making sure that you don’t outrun your coverage is making sure that you have support around you every step of the way. What does this look like? I’d recommend you start thinking about who in your network you can rely on most and start building what we used to call your own personal board of directors. This isn’t a literal board that you have to hire, but more of a metaphorical one. No matter what you call it, it’s important to make sure that you’ve got a support system of peers that you can count on. And as you grow, your personal board of directors can grow with you. Bring them along for the ride. That way, even as you elevate, you’ve still got the support you need. As I was drafting this, I had a conversation with a team member who was frustrated by an incident that happened in an external meeting and in that moment, she really wished she had someone who understood what she goes through at her stage of her career. She didn’t need advice from a more experienced professional, but someone she could commiserate with and act as a means of comfort when you feel like giving up.
Be an Inclusive Leader
If you’re an organizational leader, who is going to replace you when you leave or retire? Leaders can’t only be concerned with their current direct reports. You also have a responsibility to create a succession plan. Build a network of professionals who can not only learn from you, but with you. Don’t select one individual “high potential” to mentor. This is your opportunity to build a bench and model this behavior for others so they can do the same. Networking across isn’t only for professionals attempting to ascend the corporate ladder, it also works for those willing to build pathways for others.
If you’ve ever wondered why some leaders are memorable and others aren’t, this is part of the equation. Without a culture of inclusion, you can’t create a legacy. Without a culture of inclusion, your efforts won’t be remembered and individually, you’ll be left all alone on that proverbial island.
Liked this ‘DEI Don’t’? Then check back next week for the next installment. In the meantime, though I’m broadly categorizing ‘arts’ as anything creative, if you want to support African Americans and the Arts for Black History Month, head over to our Book Nook and try a book by a Black author. Support a movie with a Black cast or maybe, just maybe, ensure pay equity for your employees in the arts (and in every industry).