After Rodney and Sharron McDuffie retired from long and successful careers that included both the U.S. Armed Forces and the U.S. Government, the Raymore couple was looking for an attractive business opportunity to bolster their pension income.
So on April 15, Rodney, “61 years young,” and Sharron, “59 years younger,” as they note, officially opened for business as franchise owners with Floor Coverings International, whose representatives visit customers’ homes in a Mobile Flooring Showroom stocked with thousands of flooring samples from top manufacturers. Floor Coverings International Lee’s Summit serves customers throughout greater Kansas City.
Sharron retired after 30 years with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), where she was a Technological Hazards Specialist assigned to several nuclear power plants throughout Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa. Rodney retired from the U.S. Navy with 25 years as a Yeoman Administrator before joining the Department of Immigration, where he spent more than a decade before retiring as an Immigration Supervisor this past February. “We had started talking about what we would be doing in life with retirement approaching and looking forward to living the lifestyle we were comfortable in after more than 30 years working for the government,” Sharron said. “And we were not sure that once we retired on a government pension, if it would be enough. We are still pretty young and in good health, so we started looking for a business we could purchase that also offered plenty of flexibility, such as being able to work from home when we wanted to.”
In Floor Coverings International, the McDuffies found a company that has tripled in size since 2005 by putting a laser focus on consumer buying habits and expressed desires, its impressive operating model, growth ability, marketing, advertising and merchandising. Floor Coverings International further separates itself from the competition through its customer experience, made up of several simple and integrated steps that exceed customers’ expectations.
The McDuffies are also very excited about having the opportunity for their children to play a role in the business. Their oldest son, who just earned his master’s degree in Public Affairs, is “more excited than my husband and myself,” said Sharron, while their youngest son, who just graduated from high school, is looking forward to joining one of their flooring installation teams where he will gain the necessary experience to later become a Project Manager or Design Associate. A daughter, currently a middle school biology teacher, might join the business as an office manager or Design Associate while her husband is assisting with local marketing. “Since we have been up and running, the whole family is seeing what a great opportunity it is by joining or just participating in this family business,” Sharron said.
ABOUT FLOOR COVERINGS INTERNATIONAL
Floor Coverings International is the #1 Mobile Flooring Franchise in North America. Utilizing a unique in-home experience, the mobile showroom comes directly to the customer’s door with more than 3,000 flooring choices. Floor Coverings International has 150-plus locations throughout the U.S. and Canada with plenty of opportunity for continued expansion in 2019. For franchise information, please visit flooring-franchise.comand to find your closest location, floorcoveringsinternational.com.
Originally posted on Axios by Lachlan Markay, Alayna Treene, Jonathan Swan
Former Olympic decathlete and reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner has filed her initial paperwork to run for governor of California and will officially announce her bid later today, her campaign tells Axios.
The big picture: Jenner, a longtime Republican, is seeking to replace Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in a recall election, hoping her celebrity status and name recognition can yield an upset in the nation’s most populous state.
But in deep-blue California, she’s decidedly not branding herself as a Trump Republican even as she’s counting on some of the former president’s advisers to drive her strategy.
She’s assembled a team of prominent GOP operatives including Tony Fabrizio, the top pollster on Donald Trump’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns, Ryan Erwin, founder of RedRock Strategies, and Tyler Deaton, president of Allegiance Strategies.
She’s also hired Steven Cheung, a former Trump White House and campaign communications hand who worked on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s successful 2003 recall campaign. Trump’s former campaign manager Brad Parscale, a personal friend of Jenner’s, has helped her assemble her team but doesn’t plan to take an official title on the campaign.The campaign’s website and WinRed donation page are set to go live today.
Jenner said in a statement that “Sacramento needs an honest leader with a clear vision” and that “for the past decade, we have seen the glimmer of the Golden State reduced by one-party rule that places politics over progress and special interests over people.” The statement decries California’s taxes as “too high” and criticizes an “over-restrictive lockdown” response to the COVID pandemic including on in-person schooling.
“This is Gavin Newsom’s California, where he orders us to stay home but goes out to dinner with his lobbyist friends.”
A campaign adviser tells Axios that Jenner has greater name ID than Newsom and can command the kind of earned media that “will go to every possible demographic you could think of.”
Jenner, a trans woman, “is very socially liberal,” the adviser said. “She’s running as someone that’s socially liberal and fiscally conservative.”
Don’t forget: Jenner publicly voiced support for Trump until 2018, when he rolled back federal guidelines allowing transgender students to use bathrooms of their choice. “My hope in him … was misplaced,” she wrote.
“Certainly she has not seen eye-to-eye with [Trump] on a lot of things,” the adviser said. “I think that Caitlyn will talk to anyone, Democrat or Republican. Donald Trump is not going to be the deciding factor for the state of California.”
The big picture: Jenner’s team is convinced that the race is “totally winnable,” but recent polling shows the scale of the challenge.
President Biden will nominate Christine Wormuth to be the next secretary of the Army, the White House announced Monday. She would be the first woman to serve in that role if confirmed by the Senate.
Wormuth has an extensive background in foreign policy and national security, and notably served as undersecretary of defense for policy — the third most senior civilian position in the Department of Defense — during the Obama administration.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin described her in a statement as a “true patriot with a dedicated career in service to America and our nation’s security.”
“As the former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Christine advanced the department’s counter-ISIS campaign and the rebalance to Asia, and her deep expertise will be critical in addressing and deterring today’s global threats, including the pacing challenge from China and nation-state threats emanating from Russia, Iran, and North Korea,” Austin said. “I have no doubt that, if confirmed, she will lead our soldiers and represent their families with honor and integrity as the Secretary of the Army.”
Wormuth joined the Obama administration in 2009 as the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and civil support, and also served as the senior director for defense policy on the National Security Council.
Currently, she is the director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the Rand Corp., a nonprofit think tank, and teaches as an adjunct professor in Georgetown University’s graduate program in security studies.
Wormuth led the Biden-Harris Defense Agency Review team during the presidential transition in January, the White House noted, and is a two-time recipient of the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service.
She also serves on the honorary advisory board of the Leadership Council for Women in National Security, a coalition established in 2019 to “promote concrete solutions to the national security gender gap.”
Wormuth’s nomination is being cheered by many as a milestone in the notoriously male-dominated field.
Since last February, over 2.3 million women have dropped out of the workforce, compared to just 1.8 million men who left the labor force between February 2020 and 2021, according to data compiled by the National Women’s Law Center. And many of those women are still unemployed because they are caring for children who are not in school or daycare.
New research from Columbia University and the National Women’s Law Center finds that a universal child-care system — one that provides affordable, reliable child care from birth to age 13 — would not only help many of those out-of-work employees get back into the workforce, but would also dramatically increase the lifetime earnings and security of women across the country.
An average woman with two children could see a $97,000 increase in her lifetime earnings under universal child care, according to the report. Collectively, about 1.3 million women in the U.S. could experience about a $130 billion boost in income over their lifetimes.
Overall, the number of women working full-time would increase by 17% if the U.S. expanded access to stable and consistent child care. The number of women working without a college degree would jump by about 31%.
“When there’s an increased investment in child care, there’s a measured increase in women’s labor force participation,” says Melissa Boteach, vice president of income security and child care/early learning at the National Women’s Law Center. The highest gains can be seen for women in their 30s and 40s, since those are the decades when women are most likely to raise children, she adds.
This increase in workforce participation and lifetime earnings could also lead to a significant impact on women’s retirement situations, the report finds. Women would have an additional $20,000 in private savings on average and about $10,000 more in Social Security benefits. That adds up to about $160 per month in additional funding in retirement, the report finds.
Those extra earnings could especially help improve the financial situations of older women, who are more likely to experience poverty later in life than men. “Senior women have significantly higher poverty rates than senior men because of all the discrimination and all of the financial challenges that compound over their lives [and] stick with them in retirement,” Boteach adds.
Jill Johnson is the CEO at the Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership (IFEL) and Women of Color Connecting. Both organizations champion small business growth and development, with Women of Color Connecting targeting inclusion.
Professional WOMAN’s Magazine (PWM) spoke with Johnson about her goals and career journey.
PWM: Can you tell us about your career journey?
Johnson: My career journey started as a child working with my parents at their Amway business, and later when they started their newspaper publishing company. I saw what owning a small business was like and learned about the impact of access to capital and cash flow early. Working with them was the only job I had until getting an internship at Goldman Sachs during my junior summer in college. Upon graduation, I entered the Goldman Sachs financial analyst program in mergers and acquisitions. During the three years in that program, I saw an entirely different approach to and outcome of building a business. I saw clients who built sizable businesses that they were able to sell for nearly $100 million. These clients used business ownership to build wealth; this was a different approach from my parents and their business owner peer group, who were focused on earning a living. Not seeing a viable career path for myself at Goldman, I returned to work with my parents for several years. During the dot com boom, I stumbled into writing business plans after a friend asked for help for a dot com she had started. There I got a first-hand look at the different experiences that people had raising capital based on any of a number of factors, with race and gender seeming to be a key determinant. That experience led me to question where business owners like my parents or tech founders who were not highly networked white men would go to get help raising equity capital or figure out how to successfully exit their business. The answer to that question eventually led to the launch of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership, which my father and I co-founded together.
PWM: How can people/organizations champion small businesses inclusion and empower women of color?
Johnson: This is a lot simpler than people think. The answer is to be a champion and work to become an ally. This means that you take every opportunity you can make to buy from a small business, you go out of your way to purchase from black-owned businesses, and if you are in the position to hire vendors, make sure women of color are included in your vendor pool. This all starts with making the effort to identify entrepreneurs of color and then doing whatever you can to open doors for them. I believe that empowerment comes from within. To believe that we can empower others is to assume a level of power or control over others, an attitude which is actually part of the problem. The way to help women of color feel empowered is to see them, to acknowledge them, buy from them, and open doors to opportunity for them.
PWM: Tell us about your organizations, what you’ve accomplished, and what you hope to accomplish.
Johnson: The Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership (IFEL) is an independent, not‐for‐profit organization that supports economic development through entrepreneurship. We are experts in creating and implementing small business programming in support of larger economic development objectives. Our mission is to eradicate the systemic barriers that prevent people of color from creating wealth through entrepreneurship. We focus a lot on leveraging the power of relationship capital. We have developed three brands around our core programmatic focus areas: Women of Color Connecting, The Making of Black Angels, and Small Businesses Need Us. We have helped thousands of entrepreneurs navigate the pitfalls of business ownership, giving them the runway they need to get to a successful outcome. The longer your runway, the more time you have to figure things out. Helping undercapitalized entrepreneurs figure out how to extend their runway is one of our core strengths. Our focus now is on helping more entrepreneurs create and execute a plan to get to an exit and build wealth. People of color and women who are able to do this often recycle capital and other resources back into people of color and women. Expanding this cycle is what will lead to greater inclusion in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. We hope to significantly increase our volunteer community so that we have the capacity to help more entrepreneurs.
PWM: What are your Top 7 Predictions and Pitfalls to Look out for in 2021 on Capital Inclusion?
Johnson: I can’t say that I have any predictions for capital inclusion in 2021. I don’t really think that the situation will improve dramatically. I think there will be more companies that engage in activity for which they seek publicity and recognition, but at a fundamental level, they will still not be buying from a more diverse pool of vendors, they will not be parking their dollars with a more diverse pool of fund managers, nor will they be hiring a more diverse pool of talent into positions with P&L responsibility. It is likely that companies will announce big programs to dole out small dollar amounts to small business owners as grants.
I think we will continue to see an acceleration in the market for black and Latinx-led VC funds. I hope that the limited partner community will entrust these fund managers with larger amounts of capital. Getting more money into the hands of black and brown people and women of color especially is going to require more people who look like them being in control of the capital. This is the path to clearing the blind spots that currently exist in the capital markets.
If you are a high growth potential Women of Color entrepreneur or an ally who supports Women of Color entrepreneurs, we invite you to join our community. Inclusion must be intentional and change starts with you. Visit www.woccon.org to join the Women of Color Connecting community today. Follow us on Facebook or Instagram at W O C Connecting.
Photo Credit: Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership
Want to develop new work skills that will open up more job opportunities? Or upgrade qualifications in your current career? This can be a great time to update your skills, and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time.
There are lots of ways to develop skills online, and in your community.
Start with a Clear Focus
A practical place to start is by exploring what employers are looking for.
Scan job postings for the type of job you want to work in – your targeted field – on the Job Finder. Focus on the skills and qualifications section of job postings and make a note of the most mentioned.
Find a professional association in your targeted field. Go to their website to read about trends. The association is likely to publish articles about new developments, offer webinars, online conferences, and training. Associations can also be a great source of contacts to reach out to for recommendations on meaningful credentials in your local area.
Visit Certification Finder to search for certifications in your targeted field. Note that certifications marked with a chili pepper (“hot certifications”) indicate those that are frequently mentioned in job postings.
Search the Tools & Technology Finder to look up the most common tools or types of technology used in your targeted occupation.
Quick Ways to Gain Skills
Once you’ve identified the types of skills and knowledge you’d like to focus on, there are some very accessible ways to get training quickly. The websites on this list offer classes that are either free or very low cost.
Code Academy offers free online coding instruction for a variety of computer programs.
Coursera, edX, and Academic Earth offer free online college classes through video lecture, quizzes, and readings.
GCF Learn Free emphasizes basic digital and software skills and job search topics.
Khan Academy offers free online learning in school subjects at levels from middle school through college.
LINCS Learner Center from the U.S. Department of Education connects you to free online resources to reach your life goals, including job skills, math and English proficiency, and more.
Major universities, such as Stanford, Harvard, MIT, and Yale offer free online courses to the public. Find listings by searching the name of the institution and “free online classes.”
The OSHA Outreach Training Program provides workers with basic and more advanced training about common safety and health hazards on the job.
Language apps provide foreign language instruction in Spanish, Swahili, Japanese, Hindi, Russian, Mandarin, and more. Explore popular apps such as: Duolingo, Babbel, Busuu, or Memrise.
Community-based training sources
Resources in your local area are another good prospect for immediate training. Some options include:
Take an online class or find free introductory classes through public libraries or American Job Centers.
School districts and local not-for-profit organizations often offer free training for the public. Contact those in your area to ask about training.
Volunteer at an organization that uses the kind of skills you need to develop or refresh. Many provide training.
Short-Term Training Options to Earn a Credential
Earning a certification can help you qualify for a job, advance in your career, or give an extra boost to your resume. Generally, you need to pass a test to earn a certification, and earning one shows that you have specific skills and knowledge.
Training to prepare for certification exams is usually available through the certification sponsors, such as professional associations or technology companies, or from a local community college. The time required varies a lot.
Some certifications could be earned in several days if you can dedicate all your time to studying and passing the exam. Some certifications have multiple levels and could require months or even years to complete all the elements. Look up certifications in your targeted field.
A certificate can pay off by helping you qualify for a job, get a promotion, or earn more money. Many certificate programs offered at community or technical college programs last from six months to two years.
Look for short-term training programs near you at Local Training Finder. Get started with these steps:
Enter a keyword for the type of job or training you’re looking for.
Enter your location to view a list of programs near you.
Use the “Program Length” filter on the left-hand side of your results to limit your results by how long it typically takes to complete the program.
CareerOneStop offers more training resources, including information for adults interested in starting or returning to college or learning about how to pay for training.
During Black History Month, the Atlanta Hawks highlighted two Black-owned businesses who played a pivotal role in the launch of the MLK Nike City Edition uniforms. With March being Women’s History Month and wanting to continue to celebrate Black-owned businesses in Atlanta, the Hawks partnered with Chase to tell Kelly Beaty English’s story and how she created SelfE Box.
What started as an idea that came from English’s own experiences growing up as young Black teen turned into helping Black girls feel loved and validated through each month’s curated subscription box. Cassidy Allen Chubb spoke with English about her journey and how she created a self-esteem box that’s delivered to girl’s doorsteps each month.
Tell me about how you got the idea to create SelfE Box.
The idea for SelfE Box was planted in my mind as a tween girl. My parents used to subscribe to tween and teen magazines for me and I remember reading them and thinking “none of these girls in here really look like me, their experiences don’t reflect mine.” They were just talking about things that culturally, I couldn’t relate to. The beauty and grooming advice didn’t necessarily work for me, for my hair texture and things as fundamental as washing your hair every day.
Black girls don’t wash their hair every day and so through things like that, I just felt very othered.
And so, there was that part of me that kind of wished that I could see more Black girls get hair and beauty advice that actually applied to our own lives.
I remember thinking about it like “gosh, if I could just go door to door and just give girls self-esteem.” And then at the time when I first had the idea, subscription boxes had kind of just come onto the scene. I paired the two ideas together and it was like, “Oh, we need a self-esteem box!”
What can girls and parents expect to receive in each box?
very month we pick a theme. Overall, we try to gear the boxes towards health, wellness and growing because that’s such an important topic for girls in that age group. For many of them, it’s the first time they’re starting to have to use products, their grooming habits are changing. We wanted to create a safe space to talk about what’s happening and coach them through that period. The overall theme is about health, wellness and grooming, but we pick a different topic every month. One month we did the move out of your comfort zone issue and we talked about the importance of physical movement and how it’s important to get up and going.
It could also be a theme related to mental health. In one issue we talked about anxiety and being at home and how that has that changed our world. We also have a career profile from a Black woman in every issue. We just try to find a woman who speaks to the topic for that month. We don’t want any particular type of career. We feature everything from women in sports, to women in business, to women in the arts.
Where did you grow up and were you exposed to Black entrepreneurs at a young age?
I’m from Atlanta. I lived in Southwest Atlanta for the first half of my childhood. And then we moved out to the suburbs for the other half of my childhood. My father was an entrepreneur. So it was right here in my household. One great thing about the city of Atlanta and growing up as a Black child here, you have the benefit of seeing Black professionals in all walks of life. My pediatrician was a Black woman who ran her own practice. My dentist was a Black woman who ran her own practice. My parents were very intentional about putting me around Black people where I could see myself in their stories.
What would you say is the most challenging part of being a black business owner?
It takes a crazy amount of self-belief to be an entrepreneur and specifically to be a Black female. I remember going to business summits and business conferences for women and they would have panelists from all of these very well-known brands. The women would be talking about, “Oh, I started this in college” or “I just had this idea and I was able to reach out to my dad’s network and we were able to raise a million dollars” just to test the idea, and for most black people, that’s just not our experience.
I’m an HBCU graduate. I have an incredible network. I’m very blessed to have friends who are doing literally probably anything that you can think of, but we as a people moving through our American journey do not have, for the most part, generations of wealth. So, we don’t just pass down homes and portfolios to our children. When we as Black people go to college and get our first offer letter, we are at the starting point, right? We are just then getting started, but so many of our peers are already years ahead of us, even at the starting line.
How do you continue to overcome those challenges and what keeps you going?
When I get the reaction photos from our SelfE girls and when I get the messages from moms who say their daughters wait at the mailbox at the end of the month and when that package is not there, she’s like, “Where’s my box?” that keeps me going. The impact that it’s made on girls’ lives so early and already….we’re not even a year old at this point. When I get those messages it gives me the fuel to go on. I have to do a whole lot of talking and a whole lot of selling, unfortunately, to get brands to partner with us, but I believe it will come. Because the impact that we’re making in these girl’s individual lives is great and it’s real.
What is something you would tell your younger self knowing where you are today?
I would say, keep going, raise your hand. Don’t question yourself. Don’t doubt. Don’t mask. Don’t try to blend in because everybody that you want to blend in with, is also trying to blend in with you. One of the things that we do as, as girls, and I think, well, until we become young women, is we look to the left and we look to the right. Instead, we need to continue to look straight ahead and look into that mirror and look into our own eyes, looking back at us, in our reflection and concentrate on her. Love her, give to her because everything that is unique about you was created specifically for you. If your hair is big or it’s curly, or it won’t lay down like the other girls, or maybe your body type is different, or your clothes fit differently–
All of the things that you’re trying to hide from people are the very things that are going to make you unstoppable in this world. It’s the very thing that is going to make people seek you out. It’s the very thing that’s going to make you successful. Keep your hand up, keep asking questions, keep not being afraid to be seen, because when you do that, all you’re doing is slowing down your progress later. There’s going to come a moment you’ll go, “you know what? I am great, and I can do this.” And the faster you get to that moment, the faster you get to everything that the world has to offer for you. Be you, be you without apology. You were born here just the way that you were supposed to be, to do all the things that you’re going to do.
It’s 2021, it’s Spring, and don’t you feel like we can finally take a breath of fresh air? Although we still have a long road ahead of us in getting the pandemic under control and healing our nation, there’s more optimism; a renewed sense of spirit and hope. We are turning a corner for the better and changes are happening!
We have had our own share of changes here at Professional WOMAN’s Magazine (PWM). We have brought Tawanah Reeves-Ligon onboard as Editor of PWM. Ligon is a Southern gal from Atlanta, Georgia, currently residing in South Carolina — quite a way from our California base — and has over nine of years of experience in writing and editing, working with magazines, blogs as well as on poetry and novels.
We have also promoted Kat Castagnoli to Managing Editor. Castagnoli, who has been with PWM for almost two years now, will oversee all editorial for the publication. Her goal is to keep it fresh and modern; chock full of relevant content for today’s 21st century woman.
Take this issue’s cover story on Tracee Ellis Ross. Actor, director, producer, philanthropist, fashion icon, social activist and entrepreneur are just a few of the titles this female powerhouse holds. Ross urges others to own their power and to never to accept status-quo. “It takes a lot of courage to advocate for yourself,” she says. “As a woman, and as a Black woman, advocating for yourself is actually a form of resistance. It is how each of us push the world, to make sure that the real estate matches the reality of who we are and what we deserve.” Read more about Ross’ inspiring story here.
Looking for that ever-elusive thing we call “balance?” Find out more here. If you’re job searching right now, check out eight ways to boost your confidence just minutes before your interview (page 32), as well as how to stay optimistic while searching for a job here. If you’re looking to refresh your workforce, check out the unconventional ways some companies are finding superstar talent here.
We here at PWM are refreshed and ready to help you reach your goals in 2021 and beyond!
The Senate voted Wednesday to confirm Dr. Rachel Levine as assistant secretary for health in the Department of Health and Human Services. The vote is a history-making one: Levine is the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the Senate.
The vote was 52-48 in favor of her confirmation.
Levine was previously Pennsylvania’s secretary of health, where she led the commonwealth’s COVID-19 response.
Before the vote, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., urged her colleagues to support Levine’s nomination, calling her a “trusted voice” for Pennsylvanians on matters, including opioid prescribing guidelines, health equity and LGBTQ health care.
Murray also noted the significance of the vote.
“I’ve always said the people in our government should reflect the people it serves, and today we will take a new historic step towards making that a reality. I’m proud to vote for Dr. Levine and incredibly proud of the progress this confirmation will represent, for our country and for transgender people all across it who are watching today,” she said.
Levine began her medical career as a pediatrician at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, and she is a professor at the Penn State College of Medicine, where she teaches on topics such as adolescent medicine, eating disorders and transgender medicine. She is a graduate of Harvard College and the Tulane University School of Medicine.
In a statement in January about the nomination, President Biden said Levine “will bring the steady leadership and essential expertise we need to get people through this pandemic — no matter their ZIP code, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability — and meet the public health needs of our country in this critical moment and beyond.”
Last month’s confirmation hearing for Levine included combative questioning by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., in which the lawmaker demanded to know if Levine believes minors are capable of making “such a life-changing decision as changing one’s sex,” comparing sex reassignment procedures to “genital mutilation.”
Levine replied, “Transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care that have been developed and, if I am fortunate enough to be confirmed as the assistant secretary of health, I will look forward to working with you and your office and coming to your office and discussing the particulars of the standards of care for transgender medicine.”
Continue to NPR to read the full article
Photo by CAROLINE BREHMAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
That’s why she stepped away from roughly 15 years of hard work at Target in 2020 to tackle a new obstacle: helping a half-century-old Black media brand reinvent itself.
When Wanga joined Essence in June, the Black culture mainstay was a little under two years out from a buyout by African-American entrepreneur Richelieu Dennis, founder of Sundial Brands, a beauty company — now part of Unilever — that creates products for Black consumers. After nearly two decades under the ownership of Time Inc., it was back to being Black-owned for an Essence in the midst of an identity shift.
Photo : Richard Bord | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images
For Wanga, who easily gets bored with the status quo and says she works at her best when things are “falling off the rails,” it was the perfect project.
“I like to go to the problem when the fires are there,” says Wanga. “Throw me in when things are impossible and it’s the end of the world.”
Over the course of her decades-long career, Wanga has defied boundaries, working her way up the corporate ladder at Target from an intern to positions including vice president of human resources and chief culture, diversity and inclusion officer. As a Black woman, single mother at 17 and Kenyan immigrant, Wanga hasn’t let stereotypes define her. Now, she’s running one of the largest media ventures in the world that caters to underrepresented communities, and she is leading with authenticity.
A self-described oversharer, Wanga prides herself on being unapologetically open with employees, so that they can feel welcome. She says her approach to leadership and life helped overcome negativity and succeed in corporate America, and she has several lessons to offer those just starting out.
1. Don’t let unexpected events derail success
Wanga started at Target in the “most non-strategic way possible.”
After getting pregnant at age 17, she dropped out of college to raise her daughter Cadence. It was the first major disruption in her life, especially troublesome for her parents, who both have doctorates, but it was far from a life-altering setback.
“That particular moment is actually the theme of my life in a very interesting way,” Wanga says. “After that happened, I became indignant that this wasn’t going to end my plan to success.”
Back at home in Minnesota, Wanga — who moved to the U.S. from Kenya as a tween — attempted several hybrid school programs before quitting to work a series of jobs in the nonprofit sector. In 2003, she enrolled in a business program at Texas College at the age of 25.
“The barrier to the degree was not the program,” Wanga says. “It was my life. I had this little girl and I was not going to ask for help because I’m going to prove I could do this on my own.”
2. Set a destination, be flexible on the path
When she joined Target in 2005 after attending a career fair, Wanga says she didn’t have a passion for improving supply chains, nor was she thinking about the end-goal. It paid well and she wouldn’t have to worry about taking care of her daughter. While at Target, Wanga hopped between roles and worked her way up the human resources chain from a distribution center intern. But human resources was a path Wanga admits she never thought she would take.
She eventually set her sights on director of diversity and inclusion, a position she jokes is the “closest you get to a soul in corporate America.”
Wanga planned on attaining that by 2018, but she leapfrogged her mission years ahead of schedule and worked her way up to chief diversity and inclusion officer by 2015. Her lesson: agree on the destination, negotiate the path to get there.
When Wanga joined Essence as chief growth officer in June 2020, she saw it as an opportunity to give back to an institution integral to her identity and that of many other Black women. At the time, Wanga had reached a crossroads at Target and was looking for the next project to add to her portfolio.
It was a new brand, a new workplace, and while difficult to walk away from Target, it’s what Wanga calls the “next role I didn’t know I wanted.”
Within a month, Wanga was promoted to interim chief executive officer at Essence, before taking on the CEO title full-time this February.
“You don’t have to have all the answers, the path can be different,” Wanga says. “If I had waited to define the job I wanted and waited for the perfect job, I’d still be an intern.”
3. Your story is as important as the business strategy
Over the years, Wanga says one of the biggest drivers of her success is authenticity. Often known to overshare her personal life experiences, Wanga told CNBC’s Inclusion in Action forum last September this is foundational to being a good leader. Telling the story of who you are is as important as explaining the strategy of the business you are running.
“Because at the end of the day … you have to model what you’re saying you want them to experience and you have to be willing to go first,” Wanga says. “You cannot on the one hand talk about authenticity and wanting to have inclusion and wanting to have representation in your group … and then people only know you to be the CEO that shows up at team meetings.”
When working with a new team, Wanga shares a list of 20 slides which she refers to as her “dimensions of difference.” They cover everything from who she is, to where she is from, to what her family looks like, to being a D+ Christian and having diabetes.
“She brings her authentic self to her work,” says Minda Harts, author of “The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table.”
“From the outside looking in she has not adapted to the status quo, but has changed the norms of what leadership looks like,” Harts adds.
Tracee Ellis Ross is not new to titles or attention.
She is the second daughter of the legendary Diana Ross, a nine-time NAACP Image Award winner, a four-time Primetime Emmy nominee and a Golden-Globe recipient. She’s been recognized as a director, producer, philanthropist, social activist, fashion icon (for which she won the 2020 People’s Choice Award), founder of the haircare line, Pattern which caters to curly, coily, tight-textured hair, and, as of this past February, the Diversity and Inclusion advisor for Ulta Beauty. When it comes to owning her power, Ross has practiced what she preaches. “I am learning every day to allow the space between where I am and where I want to be to inspire me and not terrify me,” says Ross.
Diligent about Diversity in Workspaces
Due to her main career as an actress, many believed Ross would be limited in her desired business ventures. “When I told a member of my team some years ago that I wanted to start a haircare line, their idea was to start a line of wigs!” she told Fast Company this past January. She took many early rejections and was even told by another associate during her early planning stages that, since she is an actor, who would want to buy haircare products from her? Ross went on to offer some powerful advice for those encountering this type of criticism, doubt or rejection, “Be patient, and stay the course,” she counsels other entrepreneurs. “Take in the information. Take in the disappointments. They will come. They are important. They are part of the opportunity to clarify what you want to do.”
She continued to press forward despite roadblocks and inexperience. Last October, Ross talked more about this during the U.S. Bank’s Women and Wealth Summit, “I did not know how to negotiate on my behalf. I did not know how to talk about money,” which is still a common phenomenon, especially in American society. “Culturally, women are not taught to talk about money. It is thought to be gauche, to talk about money, to be ambitious,” she says. “Patriarchy, racism, sexism, all of these things, have given the very clear message that women are meant to not take up space and not rock the boat.”
Ross encourages fellow women entrepreneurs, especially BIPOC entrepreneurs, to not allow their lack of experience or outside pressures to deter them though. “No one wants to give you money; no one wants to give you all the things you should have,” Ross said during the summit. “I strongly believe in women and women of color fighting for equity, for having a stake in what they create, because historically we give up our names, we give up all these things, and we have no stake in what we make.” This sentiment is evident in how she brands her business. Pattern, available exclusively at Ulta Beauty, focuses on a celebration of Black beauty, which Ross believes is still uncommon, but necessary. “If our hair could talk, it would tell you of our legacies,” she says, “all those ways our identity pushed through spaces where it wasn’t meant to be, but is nonetheless.”
Since launching, Ross has put her naysayers to shame. On its first day, the site yielded nearly eight times the expected sales, and its Instagram following grew to 130,000 within a week. Ross saw how underpenetrated the Black haircare market still remains. According to a 2018 Nielsen report, the Black haircare industry made an estimated $2.5 billion, showcasing that there is considerable opportunity for Black-owned businesses like Pattern to enter the mainstream market. This is exactly what Ross hopes to see happen as the new Diversity and Inclusion advisor for Ulta Beauty. She told BusinessWire, “This work requires commitment and accountability from Ulta Beauty to ensure measurable goals are achieved. I am hopeful and optimistic our work together will create foundational change.” According to Ulta CEO Mary Dillon, the company is “deeply committed to leading purposefully with and for underrepresented voices across retail and beauty on our D&I journey.”
It’s Ross’s goal to support and uplift current and future brands, suppliers and companies created by and for people of color sold at Ulta as well as to assist the company in developing diverse and inclusive leadership as well as in their supply chain. They are committed to joining executive diversity and inclusion council summits quarterly. “For so many years, there had not been products for women who wanted to wear their hair naturally and didn’t want to put heat on it or hold themselves up to a white standard of beauty,” shared Ross with InStyle.
She also told them, “I walked into my relationship with Ulta as a person who always was looking to create a more equitable space for women, for Black people, for people of color across the board. It’s something that is my guiding force and mission in my acting career and my producing. That is how I move through the world, so it was no different in the beauty industry. And it’s one of the reasons I decided to go with Ulta. Mary Dillon has been focused on and fighting for inclusion and diversity at Ulta from when I started my relationship with them, and none of that has changed through all of this.”
Commitment to Personal & Professional Growth
The actress has had a stellar career from playing lawyer Joan Clayton in the critically-acclaimed show “Girlfriends” in the 2000s to Dr. Rainbow Johnson in the award-smashing “Black-ish” and most recently Grace Davis in her biggest film yet [that also showcased her singing debut], “The High Note.” However, it has not always been simple or easy. Ross had to find her own way in Hollywood without falling into the shadow of her famous mother. She’s also felt the challenges of being a woman (especially single and childless) in a ruthless, patriarchal industry still holding on to antiquated social ideals. As Ross explained in a past interview with Oprah, “My worth just gets diminished as I am reminded that I have ‘failed’ on the marriage and carriage counts,” adding she spent “many years waiting to be chosen” until it occurred to Ross that her power to be happy relied solely on her. “Well, here’s the thing – I’m the chooser,” she said.
Ross uses her platform and her projects to help other women feel comfortable with choosing their own power verses yielding it to others.
During her 2020 People’s Choice Award speech for Fashion Icon of the Year, she explained, “I spent years playing dress up in my closet as a way to find some freedom or some power, and the more that I discovered who I really was – the more I was able to hone my creative expression through clothing. I wear my insides on the outside, and if featuring Black designers at the American Music Awards helps someone see the power of Black artistry, or if joining the call to wear black at the Golden Globes led to solidarity with women saying time’s up on sexual harassment, then you heard me loud and clear…”
On an episode of the podcast, Can’t Stop Watching, she mentioned pushing back against outdated gender norms in her portrayal of Rainbow. “What I did speak up about from the beginning was, ‘Why am I carrying laundry?’ ‘Why am I the person in the kitchen cooking right now, when this has nothing to do with the scene?’…And I started coining them as ‘lady chores.’ ‘Why am I doing the lady chores?’ ‘Can’t Anthony [Anderson] do the lady chore?’” She was adamant that this role shouldn’t mimic the usual “sitcom wife” and that society can benefit from this kind intentionality in our programming.
“I don’t believe they’re ‘lady chores.’ I believe they’re house chores.
And I don’t believe that we should assume, because I believe every relationship is a negotiation between two people about what each of them feel comfortable doing, and I think the more that we portray that on television, the more that that becomes the reality out in the world, or matches the reality that the world actually is,” she said.
On Power, Politics & Progression
We connect to our personal power in so many ways and on varying levels. One issue that Tracee Ellis Ross advocates we should focus our power on is promoting positive social change in our government, specifically through activism and the vote. Ross was included in the 2020 Democratic National Convention lineup and spoke to Geoff Edgers, of the Washington Post, previously on what it was like when she was first asked to assist the DNC during the Obama administration as well as the relevance of her platform. “…I don’t think I knew at that time how personal politics were. They felt like something that was out of my reach. So for me, the  DNC felt like a sort of an evolution from where I already sit. The career I have is about storytelling, but I’m more than an actor. I’m a producer and a founder of a hair company and a CEO. I’m an American citizen. I’m a black woman,” shared Ross.
These different, but inclusive, identities drive her pleas to other black and women voters to harness their powers and use their voices to bring about necessary changes in this continuously discriminatory and marginalized society. “It takes a lot of courage to advocate for yourself. As a woman, and as a Black woman, advocating for yourself is actually a form of resistance. It is how each of us push the world, to make sure that the real estate matches the reality of who we are and what we deserve,” Ross said in a chat with fellow Golden Globe-winner Kerry Washington for Elle this past August.
“And every courageous act that a marginalized person takes opens up a space for somebody else,” she continued. “…The system is mirroring back a powerlessness. That’s not the truth, but we so often believe in the system—because how could you not?—and you think that’s the truth.” She went on to discuss the value of power in community. “That is one of the ways that the system keeps you powerless. The system says, you’re alone in this, it’s only you. The more that you link arms and realize the fellowship that occurs in the same feelings, the more power you have.”
As for her haircare line, Ross to InStyle she believes her company to be “inherently political, because the celebration of Blackness in the face of racism in and of itself is a political act of resistance.” Pattern supports multiple related initiatives such as the Crown Act, the African American Policy Forum and United Way Worldwide, specifically as it relates to their programs helping Black communities which have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
Ross told Yahoo Finance this past December, “Particularly during this pandemic, it was a little scary. And I think so much of what’s happened in this very unprecedented time has really reinvigorated my mission for the company, my intention and my promise of the brand.” Ross, with her tenacity and graceful perseverance, reminds us to be unapologetic with how we acknowledge and use our inner power. It is our own. Without our permission, our power cannot be taken; it cannot be shaken; it cannot be broken.