No chair was left unoccupied at the 35th Annual Black Business Student Association (BBSA) Conference held at Columbia University on March 25, 2017. In fact, you could see people standing by tables in hopes of securing one of the coveted seats for receiving the million-dollar success tips given by the panelists and speakers.
Led by Columbia University BBSA Elevate Conference Chair Darius Gant and Vice Chair Antonia Hyman, the combined economic and social powers of the conference’s luminaries was enough to make this a red-carpet event. Students, alumni, and professionals conversed about “Building the Black Community from the Boardroom.”
And when you’re among the best and brightest business masterminds, anything can happen! Here are five takeaways from the conference that we need to use to advance diversity in leadership:
1. Become the CEO of Your Career
The opening keynote was delivered by Tracey T. Travis, EVP and CFO of Estée Lauder. She shared her career highlights and wisdom that every young professional should keep on hand.
“Manage your own career. Don’t wait for someone to approach you, or you will be left behind,” she said, “Have coffee with others. You need to have dialogues with people about what you want in your career.”
2. Be an Active Participant Instead of a Bystander
Moderated by Chijioke Asomugha, co-founder and managing partner at the Inkwell Group, the Finance panel discussed ways to invest in black communities for igniting social change.
So where do we start? John Rogers, founder of Ariel Investments, suggests that we find out how to gain access to more customers and be an active voice for diversity when on a leadership team.
“Service suppliers need contracts with minorities. Then, … measure the spending,” says Rogers. “We also need more people to support civil rights organizations… We have to speak out loudly and consistently about civil rights. If you’re silent, the CEO will think everything is alright.”
Panelist Steve Holman, a professional-athlete-turned-principal at Vanguard, shared stories about how his nontraditional background impacted his career confidence.
“We focus too much on differences and not on similarities,” says Holman. “We need to focus on commonalities in order to leverage relationships [in the workplace].”
If we could wave a magic wand to change the paradigm, Melissa James, vice chairman of Global Capital Markets at Morgan Stanley, wishes that we could eradicate biases and raise stakes in terms of accountability.
“We need to have targets for representation of women and more transparent goals about diversity and inclusion.”
3. Put A Massive Amount of Effort Forward
(Image: BBSA Elevate Conference)
Robert F. Smith is the chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, a private equity firm with over $28 billion in capital commitments. Conference Chair Gant asked Smith about his approach to entrepreneurship.
“Make sure you are the most skilled in the market,” says Smith, “Then find out what it takes to sustain that advantage. Get engaged in the existing industry infrastructures. Meet up on [the weekend] with like-minded people so you can become an expert.”
Do this, and “you’ll be far ahead of others in the industry. … There are wonderful things that come [from] being really good at something. With success comes invitation.”
4. Own Your Narrative
African American millennials consume more content than any other demographic, and the average black person watches more than eight hours of TV per day. How can we use this data to drive our audience to media we own?
Media entrepreneur Keith Clinkscales says that in order to be successful in media, you must “learn the audience, move quickly, get in the game, and execute.”
The founder of Blavity, Morgan DeBaun, recommends that you “fail fast” and “don’t get attached to the golden handcuffs” if you want ownership and autonomy.
George Tillman did what it took to share his authentic voice and story with the world, raising $150,000 to write and direct his first feature film in Chicago. Tillman says to figure out “how to get your films on TV and own your narrative.” One lesson he learned is not to sell all your rights to your work because you miss out on long-term benefits, which can be millions of dollars that you can’t touch.
Will Packer, an Emmy-nominated film producer, made his first million by traveling to demographically rich locations to promote his work. “We live under the same economic imperative. We have to make revenue. … The ecosystem is so big that you don’t need Hollywood now.”
5. Become a Go-to Person
The conference closed with a keynote speech delivered by Kathy Waller, EVP and CFO of The Coca-Cola Co. She talked about the importance of being a “go-to” person.
“My go-to people are subject-matter experts,” says Waller. “They are problem-solvers. When they identify a problem, they give me possible solutions instead of dropping the problem off at my feet. “
Waller gave five tips on how to become a go-to person:
- Be clear about who you are. Authenticity is key.
- Differentiate yourself. Why should someone promote you vs. someone else? What do you want to be known for?
- Be a team player.
- Know how to get things done.
- Be a good people manager. Get people to move constructively forward.