Target’s Laysha Ward Can’t Rest Until Systemic Racism Is Dismantled

Featuring a broad cross-section of women who have distinguished themselves across a rich variety of careers, our Portraits of Power series is a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Black Enterprise, and of black women. It’s a place for today’s businesswomen to share their own favorite images and their own stories, in their own words. Today’s portrait is Target EVP/Chief External Engagement Officer Laysha Ward.

Laysha Ward

Executive Vice President and Chief External Engagement Officer at Target

Growing up in rural Indiana, my first unpaid job was as a farm worker in our large garden and doing household chores. My first paying jobs, which I had simultaneously, were cleaning offices and a rural paper route, which helped me decide I didn’t want to do either of those things the rest of my life.

I’ve had a lot of big breaks throughout my life and career, but the big break that was most foundational was when my mom and dad made the decision to move from Richmond, Indiana, where the high school was considered a drop out factory, to a rural Indiana town of 700 people, where they knew we’d get a better education and open doors for future opportunities. I was the only Black kid in my class from first grade through graduating high school which was one of the most difficult experiences of my life and yet created one of my superpowers of being able to successfully navigate environments where I was the first, only, or different one. My parents continued to make endless sacrifices like this and worked multiple jobs and side hustles to disrupt systemic racism, structures, and policies that were barriers for Black people.

There’s so much in my life I never would’ve imagined happening. I never imagined working in a Fortune 50 company or being in the C-suite. I had never been on an airplane until after college, so I never imagined that I would visit every continent. But I did imagine being of service to Black people, women, and other underrepresented communities, and that’s the journey I’m still on.

I wish I’d learned sooner it’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help and that I didn’t have to have all the answers.  We all get better together.

Much to people’s surprise, I’ve been a night owl my entire life. My parents had multiple jobs, and those hustles included second shift, overnight third shifts, weekends, and holidays. And so, the rhythm and flow in our household was not a traditional 9 to 5, which kept me up at nights a lot. What keeps me up at night now is that not much has changed for the average Black family or other poor families in America today. Income/jobs, education, housing, health care inequality, and the need for criminal justice reform keeps me up at night. So, until systemic racism is dismantled, I can’t rest. None of us can rest.

When I’m struggling, I say to myself, “From the roots of remarkable ancestry we flow.”

I am unapologetically Black, unapologetically female, unapologetically me.

Portraits of Power is a yearlong series of candid insights from exceptional women leaders. It is brought to you by ADP.