I went to a private, all girls school, The Winsor School, and I was one of 5 women of color in a class of 60. I came from a single parent household in the inner city of Boston. Our class took a trip to the Boston Ballet—this was my first ballet—and I noticed that there were no black ballerinas. I was seething.
Afterwards, we had an assignment to “draw what you want to be someday.” I decided to draw an ad. It was a picture of a black ballerina and it said “Join today.” I failed the assignment. But when I went back to my class reunion, my art teacher pulled me aside and told me, “You didn’t fail the assignment.” I was essentially doing a diversity ad for the Boston Ballet.
Sometimes kids manifest their dreams in different ways – it was a reaffirmation and full – circle moment for me.
BE: What tips do you have for establishing yourself in the industry?
I mentor 126 young people, and from that focus group, the ones who have been the most successful are humble and have humility early on. They also work extremely hard, they want autonomy, and they appreciate when they get it. They’re also two-fers. They have their day job and a non-profit or cause they are passionate about.
As far as tips I would give: you have to understand that the important thing is to build quality relationships, you need to develop your interpersonal skills to the nth degree. Now it’s important to have a mutually beneficial mentorship (as opposed to the way old mentoring relationships worked). And the last thing is, don’t pursue awards; pursue rewards. Develop your skillset to get to the next level, but remember the journey to get there. Understand everything—including your failures—are a part of your journey to get to where you want to be in your chosen field.
I’ve accomplished a lot of things that I’m proud of, but now my whole thing is helping others accomplish what they can be proud of. I’m so at peace and so content with what I’ve accomplished with ADCOLOR. It grows every year. Now I want more for my mentees than they want for themselves. And to reach that point you have to be confident and calm enough in your career to help people accomplish their own goals.
As a black woman, how do you navigate?
Being a woman of color adds a special dimension to this job. It’s been a unique path to be a woman of color and to be on the board of directors as an executive member [of such a large organization]. But at the core of it, I had an incredible educational platform to be able to succeed in any path that I chose. I also have a millennial sensibility—I don’t see any limits.
I feel like part of my job is to help people bring 100 percent of who they are to work. I am a woman sitting in a very high level in a holding company rocking a natural [hairstyle]. I think when you are deluged with a lot of images, you get mired down and pay too much attention to that instead of spending your time developing yourself. I spent time developing Tiffany.
What do people of color who want to make a place for themselves in the ad industry need to know?
We’ve had pioneers, but the baton is still being passed so we have to create opportunities for people we don’t even know. [Once you become successful], you still have an obligation to reach back and help others along. If we do that we can increase diversity in the industry. To not reach back to help is what stymies progress. As you climb the corporate ladder, you have to make it longer for the people behind you.