Get The Memo: Author Minda Harts' 6 Ways Women Of Color Can Get To The Table
“Success is not a solo sport,” says Minda Harts, CEO of The Memo, a career development platform for women of color and author of the new bestselling book, The Memo: What Women of Color Need To Know To Secure A Seat At The Table.
Harts, who also hosts the podcast, “Secure The Seat,” proved that point clearly in Chicago as part of her 16-city national book tour. Before a crowd of about 100 fans, colleagues and supporters, Harts discussed her new book that is receiving rave reviews and wide reach, rocketing to the top 10 on Amazon’s business bestseller list.
“It takes little acts of courage,” Harts says, “to put ourselves out there. The power of networking and social capital is getting out of your cubicle, being seen and having a strategy behind being seen.”
Harts demonstrated the power of social capital in conversation with Deena McKay, SCRUM Master at Solstice and host of the podcast, Black Tech Unplugged, who helped Harts arrange the Chicago event. Harts was later joined by a panel she moderated with Leslie McKinney, Chicago Director at Black Women in Science and Engineering, Apprecia D. Faulkner, founder and CEO at Global Strategists Association, and Karlene Davis, Principal Delivery Consultant at Solstice.
After spending several years climbing the ranks in corporate America, Harts set out to write the book that she says publishers told her there was no audience for.
“What if we got to tell our stories? I don’t think we are going through these things in isolation,” says Harts, who was named one of 25 Emerging Innovators in 2018 by American Express, and is an assistant professor of public service at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service.
Harts says women of color in the workplace have been “leaning in, showing up early, staying late and are not seen, they are invisible.” She adds, “In order to be at the table, you have to be seen.”
Invisibility is reflected not just in the absence from board rooms and leadership roles, but also in the pay gap for black women.
“If current wage trends continue, it might take until 2059 for pay parity to be achieved, according to the Institute for Women's Policy Research. But this isn't the whole story for all women. When equal pay is measured for women of color, the outlook is even bleaker. Hispanic or Latinx women might have to wait until 2224, and black women's equal pay might arrive at 2119, when measured against their white male coworkers,” writes Tanya Tarr in Forbes.
Harts’ new book is part of the solution, Tarr writes.
“The entire book is a learning experience. As Harts shares her experiences, she also suggests concrete tactics that women of color can deploy to protect themselves...She’s honest about the physical, mental and emotional toll these experiences had on her wellbeing...In fact, one clear theme Harts comes back to is the power in walking away and reclaiming self-worth, an important fact to note in today’s tight labor market.”
In Essence, Chastity Copper writes that Harts’ new book puts the role of black women in leadership in perspective, with a game plan.
“According to the 2018 Women in the Workplace study by McKinsey and LeanIn.org, it was found that Black women receive the least support from their managers ‘in navigating organizational politics and balancing work and personal lives, and managers are less likely to promote their accomplishments,’” Cooper writes.
“While working in the corporate space in 2012, Harts experienced some ugly truths in the workplace that were new to her, such as negotiating a higher salary, navigating workplace politics, and other career-related things that became rather frustrating. After reading Lean In by Sandberg, she realized that we as Black women needed our own version, and decided to work toward equality for women of color in the workplace,” Cooper writes.
And so she set out to write this book.
“We need to fix these problems now,” says McKinney of BWISE. “A lot of people think STEM is the answer,” for black women to advance, McKinney says. “But it’s a farce, black women experience the same things, and it is rare for a black woman to make it to chief engineer.” She adds, “You need to network inside and outside.”
Faulkner, of Global Strategists Association, says, “Even those of us who have done the work need to be reminded we deserve to be at those tables.” She adds, “If you feel a little timid, get around a group of women who feel confident and sometimes you can see how it is manifested. I try to be strategic and intentional about people in my space.”
Davis, principal delivery consultant at Solstice says, “I use my network not to just to help myself, but to help others.”
Indeed, more black women are launching businesses as entrepreneurs—or creating their own tables instead of waiting to be given a seat at the table—but this can also mean they feel they have no other choice.
“Over the past 20 years, businesses owned by African-American women have increased by 259 per day,” according to Small Biz Genius. “Women of color have been forced to turn to entrepreneurship as a source of income. Starting in 2018, women of color account for 47% of women-owned businesses. They generate more than $386 billion in revenues each year and employ 2,230,600 people.”
According to Small Biz Genius, “Still, women of color face a real and widening revenue gap. The average revenue for businesses owned by women of color is dropping: in 2007, the average revenue for a women-of-color owned business was $84,100; by 2018 it was $66,400. On the other hand, the success women in business achieve in more privileged demographic populations is on the rise. The monthly average revenue for a non-minority-owned business was $181,000; by 2018 it had risen to $212,300.”
But what if more women of color knew specific strategies to make their career dreams come to fruition, whether in the corporate space or entrepreneurial world?
Here are six key pieces of advice Harts shares on how to dream big and know it’s your time.
Let your curiosity be larger than your fear. “I wasn’t dreaming big enough,” Harts says. Acknowledging the structural barriers to advancement for women of color, the deliberate blocks put in place by some white women in leadership to deter women of color, Harts says, “We are sometimes our own biggest barriers.”
Heal the workplace heartbreaks. Episodes of racism and overt bias, as well as continuous patterns of belittling in language, microaggressions and actions, contribute to feelings of heartbreak at work, Harts says. “There is life on the other side. We are told we are not enough so you start to believe these narratives and question your worth.”
Choose to partner on the road to success. Harts suggests reaching out to colleagues at work and networking with others authentically both in and outside of work. “Then they can vouch for you,” Harts says.
Do not leave your career in the hands of someone else. “I believed if I checked all the boxes, I would be seen,” Harts says. “But I needed to articulate my worth. You need to find your voice and tell them what you want. You have an agenda. Dream bigger.”
Keep your head up. “We are always told to keep your head down,” Harts says. “But you haver to do these small acts of courage so future generations don’t have to bear it.”
Know your options. If the idea of working up to a seat at the table of a company or organization is not for you, you can also consider entrepreneurship, or “making your own table.” Harts says, “Just because you create the table doesn’t mean you don’t have problems. There are options. Allow yourself to dream bigger with side hustles, but know that you’re preparing tables for other people.”
Harts is encouraging to all women of color to seek allyships and to dream as big as they dare.
“I did make it to the C-suite,” Harts says, “but not without some scars. Once you get to the table, well, that’s a whole other book.”