It’s that time of year when we all start contemplating big career changes, and a common one is transitioning from a regular job to entrepreneurship. It’s the most common advice I’m ever asked for. Should I do it? What’s it like? Will I survive? Well here I am all smiles even though I’ve been in the office all week. Much as I’d love to be somewhere glamorous and sun drenched, that just isn’t in the cards for me right now. I have to hit the ground running in January and I see that as a good problem. And by the way, the office building was packed with fellow founders working away, recognizing the sacrifice that comes with working for yourself but fully appreciative of the autonomy and flexibility that also brings. Although this has been far from an easy road I would recommend this life to anyone toying with going out on their own. Why not put all your hard earned experience and relationships towards something you fully own. Think of the possibilities. I’ve personally never looked back.
They say when one door doesn’t open, find a new door. Instead of trying to change the system, many people are discovering, it’s time to create your own. What are alternative ways people are creating their own path to funding and founding and what can we learn from them? That was the focus of a panel I spoke at this weekend at Forbes 30 under 30 summit, alongside Anarghya Vardhana partner at Maveron; Cindy Gallop founder of Make Love Not Porn and Rica (Modjossorica) Elysee founder of Beautylynk.
Cindy had every door closed in her face and is now raising a $200m fund to support other founders; Anarghya left her job at Google, found part time work with a VC and is now a venture partner, and Modjossorica Elysee bypassed conventional investors and raised money through a syndicate of female doctors and her church. Meanwhile, I’ve been rejected more times than I care to remember but I still keep going, around the system, over the system, building new systems. This is how we open our own doors. . #Forbes #under30summit #womenatforbes
Congratulations to this amazing lady, Catalina Cruz who won her primary for the New York State Assembly seat in Queens' District 39 and is now on track to become first DREAMer to hold office in New York State. And thank you to all the candidates who stepped up and pushed a positive inclusive agenda designed to make New York a better place for all, not just a select few.
Labor Day exists to celebrate the contributions of working men and women so let’s talk about so called ‘women's work’. Women undertake 90% of all childcare and domestic chores, and of the two million domestic workers in America, the majority are immigrants and women of color. They lack the basic legal protections and employee rights, and work long hours with little to no pay. Today is a reminder that not all labor is rewarded equally.
by Alice Walker
They were women then
My mama's generation
Husky of voice stout of
With fists as well as
How they battered down
How they led
To discover books
A place for us
How they knew what we
Without knowing a page
Edward Enninful, the talented and progressive new editor in chief of British Vogue continues to make great strides. This time, it's with the prestigious September issue of the magazine. The new cover features Rihanna, making her the first black woman to grace the cover of British Vogue in its history. Why did it take so long? That's for another post. For now, I'm just glad it finally happened. Representation matters.
I'm so saddened and angered by the death of Nia Wilson and the stabbing of her sister Letifah by a suspected white supremacist. Although black women make up 13% of the U.S. population, they are the victims of half of the homicides against women in America. It goes without saying that no woman should live in fear of attack simply because of the color of her skin. Nia had just graduated from high school and has been described by her sister as "the most sweetest person on the earth". I truly hope justice is served.
Women often think an easy yes is better than a difficult no but in the long term we just end up over committed, and disappointing everyone, especially ourselves. At the latest installment of our dinner discussion series, A Dinner For Ladies which was hosted by Marie Claire's Editor in Chief, Anne Fulenwider, our theme was "Stay Focused: Tried And Tested Ways To Say No". The rich conversation produced some great insights (see below). Thank you to chef Sarah Barberio for the delicious food and WelleCo for our generous gifts.
How To Say No
Schedule non essential requests for meetings up to six months in the future and ask for questions in advance. It weeds out all but the most serious.
Try grouping mentees into quarterly meetings. They’re likely have the same questions.
Rather than focus on what you missed out on, hone in on what you gained instead.
Deputize yourself - ensure you have a strong number two.
Outsource everything you possibly can!
Decide on the one thing you want to happen that day - schedule everything else around it.
If you have kids, decline early cocktails and schedule dinners after 7.30pm - that way you’re home for their bedtime.
Every month, look back at your diary and review how you’re spending your time
Say no nicely. Never ghost. People always remember the nice no.
Your body is a blessing.
Where it curves,
where it was
all of this is a map of your life.
Your body is memory,
but memory nonetheless.
Your soul is living in a house of stories,
Your body is memory.
~ Upile Chisala, Soft Magic
Forbes Self Made Women
Today, Forbes published its annual list of America’s richest self-made women. It featured many of the usual subjects, some welcome reminders, a few surprises and a plethora of inspiring stories about some of the smartest and most tenacious women in the world.
Highlights include the self-made originator Oprah Winfrey, who transcended poverty and abuse to become the most powerful woman in media; Jin Sook Chang, the co-founder of Forever 21 who emigrated to California penniless, with little education and scant English; Carolyn Rafaelian who was inspired by her Armenian grandfather’s journey through Ellis Island to found Alex and Ani; Spanx’s Sara Blakely who went from selling fax machines door to door to starting her own company with $5000; Theresa Gouw Of Aspect Ventures who emigrated from Indonesia age three and was one of the few in her high school to go on to higher education and Sheila Johnson, a violin teacher who went on to co-found BET.
Whenever I’m tempted to give up, reading their stories reminds me that anything is possible.
A Woman's Right to Choose
We all know someone who’s had an abortion. One in four women in America have one before the age of 45 and it cuts across every demographic. I fundamentally believe in a woman’s right to choose when or whether to have children and when the time is right. There’s no such thing as banning abortions, just banning safe abortions. The soon to be announced nominee for the Supreme Court could by a single vote overturn and gut Roe v. Wade. We cannot let that happen. Speak out, and ask your Senator to protect #RoevWade. We cannot go backwards.
Tarana Burke talks women and leadership
On a recent panel discussion, #MeToo founder Tarana Burke was asked why sometimes, even when women reach positions of positions of power, they still don’t necessarily push for or create a more diverse workforce. Her answer - it’s not just about any woman, we have to have the right women at the top. Women are also victims of years of patriarchy and we sometimes have to unlearn a lifetime of pre-conceived ideas.
I would add to this that it’s very tough for one woman alone to effect change. When there’s no safety net and she’s on the front line alone, the default is to protect her position by maintaining the status quo.
It takes a village to make a difference.
Speaking at Cannes Lions
There’s a new generation coming up who are already fighting to defend their rights and redefine the workplace and who have no interest in brands who don’t share their values. I loved talking the power of millennial and Gen Z voices on a panel at the Girls Lounge, with designer Rebecca Minkoff, Berlin Cameron President Jennifer DaSilva and Girlboss founder Sophia Amoruso.
Gender equal governments are rare around the world let alone cabinets where women form the majority. Rwanda has led the way recently, with 64% of its lower house made up of women followed by Sweden and Bolivia with 54% and 53% respectively. And Canada has also made strides under Justin Trudeau a with gender equal cabinet.
But Spain's new leader, Pedro Sanchez just made history by forming a majority female government - 11 women to 6 men to be precise. “All are highly qualified and bring a vocation for public service and reflect the best of Spain. (The new cabinet) is pro-gender equality, cross-generational, open to the world but anchored in the European Union,' Sanchez told reporters.
Think of the possibilities if all governments were truly diverse, and issues affecting women, from affordable childcare to parental leave to reproductive rights to flexible workdays weren’t relegated to the sidelines.
I’m proud to have had my child participate in this incredibly powerful campaign. An homage to the iconic I AM A MAN photograph from 1968, our hope is that this picture will serve as an important reminder that ALL children are human beings and deserving of our protection regardless of their immigration status. I AM A CHILD. #FamiliesBelongTogether
Some people idolize rock stars, feel faint at the sight of famous actors and even fetishize politicians. My crush is a little more low key but no less awe inducing in my humble opinion, and that's the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie. Every speech or interview Adichie gives strikes a deep chord and every book speaks to me on a visceral level. Our journeys as west Africans living between three continents - Europe, America, Africa, or Afropolitans, have many similarities and inform our opinions on so much. She has the ability to express what I'm feeling in the most intellectual, articulate yet deceptively simple way.
A in-depth New Yorker piece on Adichie kept me up way past my bedtime last night as I devoured every word and nodded and smiled in appreciation and agreement. As an African abroad, navigating race and identity on a daily basis is no small feat. A highly recommended read.
“[Dietland] is Fight Club meets Margaret Atwood” (Bustle)
There's a smart, funny and rather surreal new show launching on AMC on June 4th called Dietland. Based on the book by Sarai Walker and produced by Marti Noxon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), the show is led by an excellent cast that includes Joy Nash and Julianna Margulies. Dietland explores all the hot button issues women confront on a daily basis - fat shaming, sexual harassment, workplace inequality and thwarted career ambitions. I was glad to be included in a gathering of cast members, thought leaders and activists this morning, to discuss how women could better channel their anger and frustration at gender inequality issues, into action.
Dietland starTamara Tunie, Dee Poku
Women, Publishing & Diversity
Last night I moderated an excellent panel with Jamia Wilson, executive director and publisher of the Feminist Press, and artist, writer, educator Elise Peterson, about race and representation in storytelling. Over 80% of characters in children’s books are white, and in 2016, black, latinx and Native American authors combined wrote just 6% of all new children’s books. So how do we ensure all our kids are exposed to diverse literature that broadens their worldview?
Well, there are systemic changes that need to happen within the publishing industry. But in the meantime, there are also active steps we can all take in our daily lives, such as supporting existing writers of color, donating diverse books to our schools and youth organizations, becoming writers ourselves and even creating simple homemade storybooks for our kids. Where there’s a lack, sometimes the best solution is to start by plugging the gap ourselves rather than waiting for the system to change.
The future of everything
Do you remember how you got started in your career? I’ve never taken the easy path in life and have worked so hard for everything I have but there’s always that little demon in the corner of your brain telling you you haven’t done enough.
Giving a speech about first jobs as part of the TueNight series at The Wing, reminded me that I’ve actually come pretty far and should own it and be proud. I also loved hearing all the funny, poignant, honest and inspiring stories from public advocate Letitia James, Stacy London, Higher Heights’ Kimberly Peeler Allen, Mallory Kasdan and Robin Gelfenbien. It reminded me that social media is just smokescreen. There really are no short cuts to success. It takes hard work, persistence and perseverance.
TueNight at The Wing
With fellow speaker Stacy London
I'm feeling unstoppable today, having spent the week hearing about the heights of human achievement and the depths of human loss at my first TED conference in Vancouver. Before going, I asked TED veterans advice on how best to navigate the 2500 person event. Don't overthink it, they said. Be open. Talk to anyone and everyone. And they were right. There were brilliant biochemists in the coffee line and eminent economists at coat check, Ryan Coogler casually sitting on the steps and Steven Spielberg hidden in plain site. Impressive thinkers and doers at every turn.
On stage, speakers such as Jaron Lanier (the use of our data), Tracee Ellis Ross (sexual harassment), Kate Raworth (rethinking our economy), Yasmin Green & Dylan Marron (combatting online hate), Frances Frei (company culture), Morgan Dixon/Vanessa Garrison (black women driving movements), Robin Steinberg (mass incarceration) and Chetna Sinha (authentic social entrepreneurship) amazed, informed and inspired.
And I made some good friends. Friends I want to change the world with. This was my first time at Ted but hopefully not my last. Thank you for the unforgettable experience.