One of my absolute favorite quotes that I find a way to weave into everything is “With great power comes great responsibility.” Now, I don’t think Uncle Ben meant this as the guiding force behind this dive into mentorship amongst women of color but just follow me here.
While the world of PR may be one of the few fields heavily dominated by women (shoutout to girls that run the world), only 10% of PR management roles are held by Black or African Americans. Given this harsh reality, it's not uncommon to be the only woman of color at the table and in many instances, one of maybe five in the entire company.
This brings me back to Uncle Ben's insightful words. It took some years in the game to gain this mindset but what I found is there's power in being the minority. In a conference room full of non-people of color, not only does your unique experience stand out, but you inadvertently gain the power to pave the way for others that look just like you - and there lies the responsibility. During my career, I've experienced a handful of different sized PR agencies and, after over eight years, have only crossed paths with two Black women in leadership positions. I vividly remember calling my mom after interviewing for a position at Citizen and sharing how excited I was to have met with not one but TWO women of color in mid and senior-level positions. Although Black and Latinx experiences are different, the thought of learning the ropes from women that likely had to overcome similar barriers was like hitting the diversity jackpot.
It wasn't until I started working with other women of color that I realized - it's much easier to thrive in white spaces when you can learn from and have a community with someone with shared experiences. While I can't fix the diversity disparity within the industry I can make myself available as a resource for current and future generations of Black (and BIPOC) PR professionals. With so few women of color in leadership positions, mentorship opportunities come far and few between. As a Black woman, I've made it my responsibility - see what I did there - to show up as a mentor, confidant, and an advocate for women of color whenever possible. Mentors are often seen as someone who is significantly more advanced in their career but I’ve learned that guidance can also come from your peers and even colleagues that are only slightly more advanced than you. To remix what the late great Aaliyah said years of experience ain't nothin' but a number.
I like to tell myself that I walked so that they could run, but the reality is I was just figuring things out by myself - one self-help article and even a good cry at a time because I didn’t have a mentor for so long. Here are some things that I picked up along the way and make it my business to share with my mentees:
- Don't be afraid to negotiate: the wage gap is already big enough, don't undervalue yourself to seem friendly. Work with your mentor on the best verbiage but let's not leave money on the table out of fear.
- Show up as your full self: We spend more time at work than we do anywhere else, no need to hide parts of you. More often than not it's your distinctive flair that might put you ahead
- Share your ideas: Sitting at the big kids' table (aka brainstorms and status calls) can be daunting but don't let that stop you from sharing your big, small, and outrageous ideas. The smallest idea can morph into an award-winning campaign
- Asking for help is OK: Flagging that you need help doesn't equate to an inability to do your job. It takes great strength to recognize and ask when help is needed
There's still so much for me to learn, accomplish and pass down but as long as I can be at least an honorable mention in someone else's growth trajectory then it's safe to say that I fulfilled my sista'ly responsibilities.
About The Author:
With over 8 years of experience, Stephanie is a publicist and influencer strategist that has connected the dots for major brands across industries such as Olay Body, Courvoisier, Champion, Old Spice, Chapstick, and more. Her impressive experience spans across campaign development and execution, media relations, copywriting, influencer strategy, and talent engagement. Originally from New Jersey, Stephanie headed across the bridge to St. John’s University, where she gained her undergraduate degree in public relations with a minor in business administration. Stephanie prides herself on being well-connected, well-respected, and passionate about representation and inclusion in all aspects of life and was awarded PRovoke Media's Young Changemaker award in 2023 for her work in the industry.