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10 Tips for Aspiring Executive Women of Color

The percentage of women in leadership and executive positions within the United States is quite low. Within the C-Suite, only 21 percent of those positions are held by women; of those, women of color make up only 4 percent.

With a lack of role models at the executive level, it is difficult for aspiring executive women (and to an even greater degree, women of color) to find living, breathing examples of success within their own industries. Women who have aspired to and suceeded in securing positions at the executive level bring valuable insight and unique experiences to the industry in which they work, the organization that they serve, and the women who hope to follow in their shoes.

Although not necessarily representative of an entire demographic, executive women of color help aspiring leaders along their journey to secure executive-level positions by providing valuable insight into the unique challenges that can be expected from within that industry as an underrepresented group. I talked to ten different executive women of color, and asked them to answer the following question:

What advice would you give to women of color aspiring to leadership and executive-level positions within their organizations?

Without hesitation, they willingly shared thoughtful, actionable recommendations for women like us who aspire to become leaders, executives, and change-makers.

10 Key Recommendations

Lead with confidence. Trust you are the right person for the mission and are fully capable.
There’s a reason you’re at the table. Especially as a minority female, if you’re at that table, you have earned that space.
– African-American CEO

Be proud of your identity and exercise your voice even when you question its value.

I would tell them that their voice, even though they doubt it, even though they may question it, even though at times they may even feel it, their voice is important. They need to continue to put themselves at a table where no one looks like them. That’s how I think real change happens.
– Puerto Rican CEO

Be prepared for the emotional rollercoaster.
It’s rough, and expect it to be rough. It’s not going to be a cakewalk, and you’re gonna have days that are great and days that are really, really bad. Do not internalize that.
– Puerto Rican CEO

Mistakes are a part of being human. Do your best to make the most of these learning opportunities.
Own your mistakes. When you make a mistake, admit it….for minority women in leadership, when we do make mistakes we are scrutinized at a much higher level than others. When that does happen, we have to be strong in terms of knowing who we are and understanding that yes, this happened…and we learned something from it.
– Native American ED

Assess the boundaries you have created.
I think for a lot of women of color, we’re so used to creating boundaries. Our power comes from saying no. Maybe just learn to find power in saying yes.
– Asian ED

Your support system should include advocates as well.
Advocates I think are the most important because advocates are in places where you are not.
– African American CEO

Take time to capitalize on opportunities for personal and professional development.
Since I mentor and work with a lot of my team members, I really encourage them to do a lot of development of their knowledge and to take advantage of opportunities….I encourage people to take advantage of professional and personal development opportunities, work/life balance.
– Native American CEO

Don’t forget to take care of yourself, too.
Definitely take time for [yourself]. I’ve gotten better about not working longer. I do have to leave it alone at times. I do, on occasion, shut off my phone….try to do your very best to also take care of yourself.
– Puerto Rican CEO

When you do experience discrimination, acknowledge it, process it, and attend to it.
Sometimes we don’t give ourselves permission, as native women especially to say, yeah, I’m experiencing this.
– Native American CEO

Create a support system. Each person you have near you has something different to offer.
One of the things I am trying to do is develop a kitchen cabinet of people I can go to for advice or talk about just this issue.
– Black COO

I encourage people to check in with somebody that they might trust, to ask if their perception is in fact correct.
– Native American CEO

Melissa Álvarez Mangual, Ed.D

Dr. Álvarez Mangual is the founder and executive coach of Thriven Partners, LLC. She has over 20 years of workforce and talent development experience that has intentionally centered inclusion, equity, and justice.

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