Do you have any idea what it is like to be the first, one of a few or the only your entire life? From my earliest memories, I have been just that in most situations. From attending a small, Lutheran primary school where I was one of two African-Americans to being the only person of color in business meetings and the Board room, I have always been the first, one of a few or the only.
As I entered the workforce, the experiences continued. I was both the first and only person of color employed at my first agency. I was the second African-American president of PRSA Georgia. I was the first African-American on the leadership team of a global food brand. And I was the first and only African-American managing director of two global agencies.
But this week, I was reminded that my experiences are not unique. As I walked into the 4th Annual ColorComm conference in Miami, I was surrounded by 399+ amazing women of color in the communications field; women who have also experienced being the first, one of a few or the only.
These women of all ages, ethnicities and geographies reminded me that I have not and do not have to walk this journey alone. We shared stories, we cried together and we committed to each other that we will continue to inspire, teach, mentor and live our purpose. These women reminded me that we owe it to those that trail blazed before us and those that are following in the paths that we are creating.
These women – my sisters – also reminded me of the lessons my “first, one of a few and only” experiences have taught me:
- To be comfortable in my own skin
- To let my voice be heard
- To never speak on behalf of the entire African-American community
- To find a very diverse group of mentors, sponsors and “fairy godmothers”
- To be a cultural informant…to educate others on both the unique similarities and differences between us
- And most importantly, to be true to myself, to always be authentically me and to bring my various experiences to every encounter
The importance of hearing and sharing our stories lies in the underlying tenets of diversity in our communities and the workplace. I am so proud to work at a firm like Porter Novelli that desires to embrace the totality of who we each are, developing a culture that, through our combined knowledge, experiences, styles and perspectives, helps us achieve greatness.
Yes, my experiences are not unique, but they often felt that way because I didn’t see many faces that look like mine along the journey. ColorComm connected and reconnected me with many of my fellow journeywomen and it was powerful!