Navigating the business world as an African American female CEO who owns multi-million dollar businesses, means channeling grit, determination, and leadership. The Black Enterprise BE 100s list has boasted some of the most influential and baddest female entrepreneurs in the country, and in “Sisters Inc: Strategies from the C-Suite” hosted by Cigna Corporation, the ladies get candid about their lessons on decision-making, risk-taking, leadership development and influence.
Moderated by Alisa Gumbs, executive managing editor for Black Enterprise, the esteemed panel included: Monica Walker, CPA, chief executive officer and chief investment officer for Holland Capital Management; Rumia Ambrose-Burbank, CEO for VMS365; and Fay Ferguson, Co-CEO for Burrell Communications. Rosanna Durruthy, chief diversity officer for Cigna Corporation, gave remarks.
The executives freely shared their perspectives on being a female CEO and entrepreneur. “Sometimes it can be lonely when you are the one responsible for the vision and well-being of the company. What if I make a mistake? But having said that, it’s also exhilarating,” said Ferguson. Below are a few takeaways from the C-Suite:
1. Always continue to learn.
Burbank shared, “Don’t turn down an opportunity to learn something about your company or gain a new skill set. You never know when you will need to use it.”
2. Never turn down an opportunity.
“We can be scared, but don’t turn down opportunities. Anytime it looks like something that can propel you forward, take it,” said Burbank “Women need to be more upfront and vocal about their career ambitions. Men are not afraid to be up front and say, ‘I want your job.’ Not enough women do that.”
3. Corporate life can prepare you for entrepreneurship. Pay attention.
Walker said, “Being in a male-dominated environment doesn’t scare me. I worked for a company for 13 years in a number of areas. I gained the skills in a structured environment that prepared me for entrepreneurship.”
4. Mentorship can be experienced in a number of ways.
“Mentorship is something you experience in a number of ways, and not necessarily from just a single person. As you meet people along the course of your career, there are many opportunities for mentorship experiences along the way,” Walker shared.
5. Failures can yield the best lessons.
“Failures are very healthy. They are the best learning ground possible,” said Ferguson. Burbank added, “The mistakes are more valuable than the things you do right. They help you navigate and figure out how to get to the the next level.”
On leveraging power as a female leader, Ferguson stated, “Being a woman CEO makes me more inclusive; being a mom makes me much more sensitive [than most male CEOs]. As CEOs, we need to relate to, understand, empathize and sympathize with our employees to the extent that we can.”