You Don’t Have to Be Intentional: Women Executives Outline What Leadership Looks Like Now at Women of Power

These women made it to the main stage!

Black women have been making remarkable strides in the C-suite and last Friday, BLACK ENTERPRISE once again celebrated their significance in the workplace during its 17th Women of Power Summit, sponsored by ADP.

Moderated by Richelle Parham, president of global eCommerce and business development at Universal Music Group, women professionals and aspiring entrepreneurs gathered for “Conversations That Count: What Leadership Looks Like Now.”

“It’s time to demand more from work. It’s time to claim your power,” CEO Earl “Butch Graves Jr. said at the top of the session, hosted by Dell.

The audience was enlightened from the stories of two women who have made history and broken ceilings in their professions. Tracey T. Travis, EVP and CFO at The Estee Lauder Companies joined American Express director Lisa Wardell to discuss their journeys to the C-suite.

“I don’t think there’s a magic or secret sauce in terms of career progression,” Travis said, describing her career shift from engineering to finance. “I think I was incredibly intentional about the roles I wanted.”

The Legacy Award honoree shared the significance of reaching out to successful coworkers and learning what they did. It was all about building up the skill set that made her attractive.

Wardell, BLACK ENTERPRISE‘s 2023 Barbara Graves honoree, was not at all intentional in her journey to the C-suite. The audience laughed with the executive, who seemed to offer relief to some of the women.


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“I took opportunities and had exposure, and just got to do lots of different opportunities.” Wardell said, extending her nuggets about getting to the main stage. “I really took feedback and took it to heart, and took it as something that was meant to better me.”

Constructive feedback is a gift and nothing to be defensive about, she added. Travis circled back on Wardell’s comment later, stating the importance of recognizing constructive vs. destructive feedback.

The conversation went deeper as the women explained the lessons they learned along the way of using the skills and strategies that helped them make it to the top of the corporate ladder.

“When I think about the choices that I made, as a CFO…I chose roles that really were more strategic,” Travis said, sharing the times she was at Pepsi and would go to grocery stores with her daughters and merchandise the shelves. “That was bit concerning when I was at The Limited and Victoria’s Secret and my daughters were a little too interested in some of the tables in the store.”

On a more serious note, she told the room of women how she aligned herself with the CEO’s objectives and made sure her organization was always prepared to deliver, important things Wardell agreed with on moving business forward.

The road, of course wasn’t easy for either executive—rose petals are not thrown at the feet of Black women when climbing the corporate ladder.

Who are the people making your life easier and who’s making your life harder? Wardell posed the question that got the room thinking.

Raise your hand if you’ve heard this before: “Your colleagues find you a little bit intimidating,” Travis brought up.

“The day you step into the CEO role, your relationship with everyone around you changes. You no longer have peers,” she shared, noting the importance of maintaining your inner authentic self and understanding what parts to leave at the door.

Parham knew the conversation wouldn’t feel complete without having a conversation about Black women executives ensuring there is equitable representation at the most senior levels of corporate leadership.

“We have got to do a better job of networking amongst ourselves, but then also broadening our network to those folk who make decisions,” which Wardell explained are not Black women in lots of cases.

“We’re not at top of mind for some of these positions,” Travis followed, noting Black women are capable of helping help each other tremendously by contributing once they’ve make it in corporate rooms.


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The women in attendance were challenged to do that networking in the WPS rooms.