Be Who You Are: BossBride Founder Offers Strategies for Successful Women

BossBride founder and Essence editor Charreah Jackson dreams big to make the most of her opportunities.

BossBride founder and Essence editor Charreah Jackson dreams big to make the most of her opportunities.

Her nickname in high school was “Boss Lady.” And now at 32, Charreah Jackson is making her ambition work for her—and for anyone else who seeks her advice.

As author and founder of BossBride; senior editor of lifestyle and relationships at Essence; career coach with an international speaking business as well as a mentor to many, Jackson is living up to her lifetime motto of, “I’ve got things to do.”

The dynamic role model for successful women has manifested her personal and professional dreams with intention and can help other women do the same. Jackson has experience with changing her path.

At 19, Jackson was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, and spent her second semester of college at Howard University in treatment with chemotherapy and radiation. Fully recovered now, she says, “A life-threatening illness at a young age made me driven; I did not want to take anything for granted.”

After graduating from Howard, she went to work in editorial for Essence magazine, where she had earlier interned while an undergraduate. Four days after graduation in 2007, she was a web editor. Jackson laughs now that she accepted the first offer, “and did not ask for a dollar more.”

Two years later, the web staff was laid off and she lost her dream job three months shy of her 25th birthday. “It was a reminder not to lose myself in things, but to have pride in who I was as a person, not  as a job title.”

After working in public relations for two years, Jackson went back to Essence and later launched her side hustle of a speaking and coaching business. She has learned many strategies that she shares in her workshops, as well as in her new book out later this year, “Boss Bride: How Powerful Women Survive The Intersection of Love and Career.”

Like many women in the workplace– and women of color especially– disguising or hiding your authentic self seems the way to “fit in,” Jackson says.

Research supports this notion. A new survey from Culture Amp and Paradigm of 7,000 responses found that “black employees are the least engaged demographic in the workplace,” according to CultureAmp.

One of the key factors is a sense of belonging—or not. Both the recent disrespect on Fox News of the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, a California representative; in addition to the incident of the White House’s Sean Spicerdiscounting broadcast journalist April Ryan in a press conference, punctuate the urgent need for a conversation about treatment and inclusion of women of color.

These issues are shared in the popular hashtag #BlackWomenAtWork.

There’s an urgent need for conversation about treatment & inclusion of WOC #BlackWomenAtWork.

A new round of lawsuits brought against Fox recently pointed to a hostile, racist work environment for black female employees. “Allegations of misconduct by senior staff continue to dog Fox News after three women filed a lawsuit claiming they were subject to ‘appalling discrimination’ and ‘years-long relentless racial animus’ at the hands of a former executive at the news company,” according to ABC.

From the more subtle to the illegal, women of color in the workplace face many levels of challenges.

“We succumb to pressure to be a certain way and mute ourselves. Anytime you are muted, you are not in your power,” says Jackson, who admits early in her career that she was self-conscious about being so young so she lied about her age. “And my power was in being the young person on the team.”

Similarly, she said while she was often the only woman of color in the room, she had to learn that hers “was a perspective that was needed.” She added, “If I can’t be myself in this space, why am I here?”

From subtle to illegal, WOC in the workplace face levels of challenges #BlackWomenAtWork

For black women in the workplace, Jackson says, “They feel the pressure to be like what they see. But if you talk to black women who make it to the C-suite, it its because they are their authentic selves and feel comfortable with who they are,” Jackson says. “It takes a certain level of self-confidence and self worth to know what you bring to the table.”

According to a recent Catalyst study, of all the Standard and Poor 500 companies just 29 have CEOs who are women. “Not one of the CEOs in that index has a black woman at the helm,” according to MarketWatch.

“That ambitious black women feel stuck and stalled speaks to this larger problem of identity siloes within the workplace, which is often the one place in America where we consistently rub shoulders with people unlike ourselves,” write Melinda Marshall  and Tai Wingfield in Harvard Business Review.

The authors of Ambition in Black and White: The Feminist Narrative Revised, write, “At the intersections of race and gender, both then and now, black women have labored unseen, even to those lobbying for their advancement.”

Advancing yourself can be a choice, Jackson says. And to that end, style is a form of self-expression that can reflect ambition, she says.

Style is a form of self-expression that can reflect ambition @Charreah @Essencemag #bossbride #WomenLeaders

As someone who has always liked to dress up, Jackson advises to choose how you look and what you wear, considering that you never know who may be watching. “Take the effort to be conscious of what you are communicating. From a career perspective, it does make a difference.”

She adds that even when she first started at Essence, she dressed up. “I did not come here to look like an intern. How I dress has impacted my career,” Jackson says. “For any under-represented community whether by religion, race or sexuality, you need to be the person who you are authentically and not just blend in.”

Volunteering her time for Dress For Success, as well as for her alma mater, Howard University, Jackson serves as a mentor to many young people. With all that she does, Jackson acknowledges she leads an extremely busy life.

The creator of the webinar series in what she calls the love and success school, “Happily Ever Now,”  Jackson launched these additional businesses of speaking, coaching and writing books all while working full-time. What she found was the paradox that the more she did, the more she got done. “When I wasn’t doing more, I wasn’t as effective,” Jackson says. “I stayed late and achieved less. I had to be willing to dream bigger, access more and dream more.”

Having accomplished so much in her career after an early life shift, Jackson says she works to keep everything in perspective. “I live a very, very fortunate life and it is not lost on me. I did not get here by myself. It keeps me connected to the woman I hope to be and the girl I was. So often we have been conditioned as women to make do. My grandmothers make do,” Jackson says.

“It’s irresponsible to have talent and not figure out how to package my brilliance and be of service and maximize my contributions.”

About the Author

Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon