- Insider asked 21 powerful female executives of color about their journey to the top.
- Their advice to those following in their footsteps included proactively making space for themselves.
- “Get comfortable being memorable.”
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Women of color are severely underrepresented in the upper echelons of big companies. In corporate America, for example, they were 3% of C-suite executives, research suggested.
So Insider spoke with 21 female executives of color who work at the top of big companies in Europe about the challenges they faced as they climbed the ladder. These executives, from the likes of Facebook, PwC, TikTok, Unilever, and DeepMind, gave candid answers and offered heartfelt advice for those aspiring to follow in their footsteps.
A recurring theme was how they had to make space for themselves when there wasn’t an obvious seat for them at the table. Here’s what they had to say.
Own your identity
Karen Blackett, the UK CEO of Group M, said that her immigrant parents’ advice resonated with her: “Get comfortable being memorable.”
Blackett said: “If I am going to stand out, use it to make sure I am heard and not just seen. Contribute and make a difference. Celebrate my differences. Do not try to blend in.”
The idea of establishing a personal brand was also important to Priscilla Baffour, the head of diversity and inclusion at TikTok EMEA. She advised others to “leverage the power of your personal brand and build cross-cultural relationships.”
Don’t let others define you
Mohanna Azarmandi, the chief learning officer at Microsoft Germany, said it was common for her to be ignored in meetings – until her title was announced.
She said, “I’ve learned that I won’t limit myself due to others’ limited imagination of what I or any women of color, in general, can do, or what roles we should play in an organization.”
Tania Holt, a senior partner at McKinsey & Company, shared the words of her mother: “You are here to be disruptive.” She said she kept having to remind herself: “I am here to be disruptive” – no matter how uncomfortable that can be.
She added: “In our roles as leaders, we have a true responsibility for changing outcomes. If I do not use my voice in rooms of power and take responsibility for making these places better for others, who will?”
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