Uber didn’t tap Bozoma Saint John to be their new Chief Brand Officer just because. She is a certified boss, an unstoppable force of nature and a true trailblazer for women of color in corporate America. Saint John has receipts for days.
The former Apple marketing executive helped to orchestrate Beyoncé’s Emmy-winning 2013 Super Bowl performance and brought us the legendary Blak Girl Magic moment that was the Apple Music commercial starring Kerry Washington, Mary J. Blige and Taraji P. Henson and directed by Ava DuVernay.
Her personal triumphs are just as powerful as her professional ones. After her husband, Peter, lost his battle with cancer in 2013, the strong, fearless mother of one pushed through the pain, continued to publicly share her journey and remained a true role model for women of color navigating “work-life balance” and success.
Saint John recently stopped by to chat with the ESSENCE Yes, Girl! podcast co-hosts Charli Penn and Cori Murray and spoke candidly with the editors on what she’s learned about being a boldly talented Black woman in corporate America. Of course, gems were dropped.
You can listen to the full conversation on the podcast, but here are four meaningful takeaways every Black woman should read.
1. You have to embrace your authentic self, even in the office.
“Why should you hide, ever? We should be celebrating all of the time in every single moment. You know when people tell you that, like, you have too much color or there’s too much going on, or you have too much jewelry? No! Put more on! I do feel like you should bring your whole self to work all of the time, even when your whole self is the captain of team too much…I feel great when I look great and I know I look great.”
2. Embrace being unique and boast your confidence at work.
“What happens when you are the odd man out, when you’re a kid, and you walk into a room and people turn to stare at you, you get used to that feeling. And therefore you can conquer it because it just is your norm. So it’s not strange to me when I walk into a room now or walk down the hallway and people turn and crane their necks and look around and stop traffic because that’s what I’ve been dealing with my whole life. That’s like baseline. If I walk down the hallway and no one cranes their neck, I think something’s wrong,”
“As Black women, [we] feel like [we’re] on stage anyway in our corporate environment; you’re on stage because people are always watching or we feel like people are always judging. We think that’s in our head but it’s not. It’s not in our heads, it’s a real thing. For me, all of that has helped because it is my baseline….since that has been experience my whole life, I just live it. I don’t try to temper it.”
3. Stop trying to do the impossible. It can be okay to take things one step at a time.
“I don’t like the phrase ‘work-life balance’ because it adds pressure to what we’re trying to do. There’s some impossible standard that we’re trying to achieve that someone else has set who doesn’t know your life or the things that you have to go through. The balance is every day. I’ve made jokes about this before, about not having a 5-year plan, not because I don’t think it’s worth it or that other people shouldn’t do it, but because it doesn’t work in my life. I can barely plan for next week. Sometimes I take it day by day.”
4. Evolution is key.
“When you start seeing the signs [that it’s time to leave a job or relationship], start making the plan. Maybe as women, this is a trait [that we have] but we just want it to work, you’re going to spend all your energy trying to make it work even when you know for sure that it’s not going to work. So why are you staying there? We think about that sometimes in a relationship but no, it also applies to work. Why are you beating yourself up to try and fit in? Just get out…there is a thought that there must be failure when you decide to leave. There isn’t; it’s not failure, it’s just growth.”