Standing Out as a Black Woman in Business
With Jazmin Alvarez, Dafina Smith, Asiah James, and Cate Luzio
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Data shows Black women are promoted more slowly than other groups of employees and are significantly underrepresented in senior leadership. In fact, only 1% of C-suite leaders are Black women. There are also lower levels of funding for Black women business owners. Hear from these Black business builders—recorded during Yelp’s Black in Business Summit (August 25, 2021)—on their experiences, challenges, and how they’ve created a seat at the table.
Learn more about:
- How nurturing your authentic self can become a professional asset
- Overcoming business challenges, misperceptions, and unconscious bias
- The importance of building your personal and business brands separately
- How to empower communities and incorporate intersectionality in business
Founder of Pretty Well Beauty, Jazmin Alvarez has dedicated the past nine years to developing clean and sustainable beauty products with fewer and non-toxic ingredients for a happy, healthy, and holistic approach to beauty. Jazmin continues to educate and spread knowledge on what it means to encompass clean beauty and how cleaner products can drastically improve personal care and well-being.
Founder of Covet & Mane, Dafina Smith is passionate about creating thoughtful and innovative products to strengthen Black women’s connection to their hair. She has dedicated her time to developing the world’s first line of customizable, hand-tied hair extensions, lovingly referred to as “the Chanel of hair extensions.” Dafina places an emphasis on comprehensive, hands-on, peer-led education through the brand’s “Covet Collection,” which empowers stylists to invest in their own success.
Originally from Washington, D.C., Asiah James has called New York home for over 10 years. She is currently the director of emerging audiences at Condé Nast, the co-chair of the Women’s Network Resource Group, and an inaugural member of the Global D&I Employee Council at Condé Nast. Prior to joining Condé Nast, she graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology with a B.S. degree in advertising and marketing communications with a minor in economics.
Founder and CEO of Luminary, Cate Luzio’s passion for empowering women has led her to develop a premier collaboration hub dedicated to women’s professional development and network expansion in New York City. Cate currently serves on the National Board for Girls Inc. and has over 20 years of leadership experience in financial services with prestigious companies, such as HSBC and J.P. Morgan. She has been recognized on the Most Powerful Women in Banking List by American Banker and Female Founders 100 by Inc. in 2019. She has also been featured in Financial Times, Forbes, Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Fast Company, Bloomberg, WWD, Robb Report, Women’s Health, and more.
Cate: I have three truly incredible leaders that I’m happy and excited to be here with. Each of them, I get to know as well. Not just in a prep session for a panel, but actually know, and are three of the women, and only women, that I actually went out to when we decided to partner with the Yelp, and do a session on standing out as a Black woman in business.
Cate: Now, some of you may say, Cate, you’re not a Black woman. Why are you leading this panel? Why are you leading this session? Number one, it takes all of us to actually create change and actually move the numbers and create parity, and stop the inequalities that are continuing to happen. Number two, we need allies. I do consider myself as an individual, as a business owner with Luminary, an ally. Three, it can’t be an echo chamber. We have got to start getting other people into these conversations, so we not only can learn and educate ourselves, but real change does happen.
Cate: That is why I was passionate about leading the session. It was actually a session that I wanted to create. We’ve got, again, three incredible leaders you’re going to hear for the next 55 minutes. I would recommend throughout the session, if you have questions, throw them in the chat, throw them in the Q&A, I will pull those in throughout the session. I’m not just going to wait until the end. I will monitor that. Don’t be shy and doesn’t have to just be a question. It could be a comment as well.
Cate: I never read bios. I feel it’s really important for women, and in particular women of color, to be able to share their own stories. Who do we have on stage here today? Dafina Smith, CEO and founder of Covet & Mane. You’re going to learn all for journey. Jazmin Alvarez, the founder and chief curator of Pretty Well Beauty, and I have to say selfishly, a Luminary member. We love what Jazmin’s building. Asiah James, also a partner of ours and is a director of Emerging Audiences at Condé Nast.
Cate: Welcome ladies. We are going to get right into it. Dafina, I’m actually going to start with you. Each of the panelists are going to talk a little bit about your own experience in your career journey, and how you got to where you are today with founding Covet & Mane. Dafina, I’m going to turn it over to you.
Dafina: Part of me feels like I grew up behind the beauty counter when I was a freshman in high school. My family started your mom-and-pop beauty supply in Minneapolis. It’s there 30 years later, aging myself a little bit, but whatever. I went to Georgetown, I went into the fashion industry. I always had my family’s business in the back of my mind, of thinking of ways to innovate and bring that experiential retail experience to the beauty industry.
Dafina: I had a very meandering career that led me through real estate. I dabbled and I went to law school for a year. It all came back to the beauty industry. I love the transformational power that extensions can bring. My brand really, we work direct-to-professional selling hair extensions and training to salons that specialize in hand-to-head extensions. We really aim to be the Chanel of hair extensions. Our brand is going on three years, two and a half, three years. I have about 15 years’ experience within the beauty space.
Cate: It’s funny, when Dafina and I met via a mutual friend, Ali Brown, and they said, “You have to meet each other,” I was actually surprised, if you know, that your brand was so young, because I’d been hearing so much about it. You’ve had high growth. Before we go to Asiah and Jazmin, I want to go back just to a follow-on around, you built this career, you’ve got a ton of experience. You’ve started your brand. For you as a woman of color, as a Black woman, how did you throughout that career to where you are today, really stand out? How did you not shrink back and say, “I’m actually going to leverage everything that I have, I’m going to be my whole self”?
Dafina: I think that’s a process that I am still really learning. I think a lot of us have gone through … I identified very early on that, it was very hard for me to stand up and be my authentic self in corporate America, especially in the fashion industry. I’m thankful because, had I found that place, I found it very hard to navigate being in my authentic self in my early career, in the industry.
Dafina: It led me back to more industries that I thought were more nurturing of the Black experience, which was, a lot of times for me, that enables sales, the music industry. There’s certain industries that just feel more like where we get to be our authentic self. I found myself in those industries.
Dafina: Then, as you elevate in different levels of your career, and we can talk about this more later, but I felt like, to be my authentic self, I needed to be around other women, really being in different groups. I also have done exploring meditation, visualization, therapy, really pouring into my mental health, because I do feel for a lot of us, we are the only, in a lot of spaces, or we’re overcoming a lot of unconscious or conscious bias. It does take a cumulative effect over you. It’s good to have a multi-tiered approach. That’s a very long answer, but [crosstalk 00:05:52]
Cate: No. Listen, that’s your experience. It may not be everyone’s, that’s your experience. I love that you say that you’re continuing to learn. It’s not dramatically changed overnight and you’re continuing to learn. Also I’m sure, as you’re building this business, educate others too, because your experience as a Black founder versus my experience as a white founder is probably very different. Asiah, Dafina talked about her experience in corporate America, you’re in the thick of it in corporate America, and you and I have spent a lot of time talking about this, and how you’ve not only created your own seat at the table, but made room for others.
Cate: Can you tell us a little about your journey, and certainly how you actually are creating and have created that seat for yourself?
Asiah: Of course. Thank you. Again, thank you all for having all of us, and following up with Dafina, very similar journey. I don’t know if I can even truncate a small journey or how we create the seat at the table. It’s just there. Then, you step into it. I’ll say for myself, I was born and raised in the D.C. area, in PG County. I’ve always been around Black excellence and what that means to be prideful.
Asiah: I’m also an only child. I come from a family of philanthropists and creatives and community organizers. That has always been, I would say, my baseline and foundation to be great. Coming into my own has never been a huge feat for me, but understanding that narrative of being so visual, and so loud and proud, and then also actually being heard and respected is something that I’ve always toyed with, because being a Black woman, being young, and I’m 5’8″, 5’9″, it’s easy to be seen, but it’s hard to be heard and respected.
Asiah: Making sure that I’m always prepared has been at the top of mind for me. As we talk about traveling through your journey, I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology. I’ve always loved fashion and creativity. Again, that background and family heritage of loving everyone and organizing, and being an advocate for other people, and creating seats. That is what I’m used to seeing. I’m used to my grandmother being the president of her AARP chapter. I’m used to my mother making food for the entire family and having everyone over.
Asiah: That is just my ability to maneuver conversations, and to make sure everyone’s okay, is how do you do that in a industry that was not built for me, has always been my path and my journey. Understanding where I can show up. In fashion, for me, it’s always been in media. I’ve interned at the likes of BBC America, then I worked at Ebony and Jet a while.
Asiah: I was fortunate to be around Black women and see what my path could look like, but still not feel quite right, because in media, it moves very quickly. You can be in sales. I was in edit. Then when I landed at Condé Nast, which we’ll talk about more of that later, being in a support role. Starting at the bottom again, but also again, being very seen and very visual, it has been a struggle, but it’s been a prideful situation. I’ve had a lot of love and support inside and outside, and being able to build my own role within the last nine months has been amazing to really speak about, building my seat and also opening those seats up to others.
Cate: This is such a unique part of your story, and when we first were introduced, about how you literally did create your own role at Condé Nast. Can you just walk through that experience? Because, I think for many … Women in particular, and this is not to exclude men in the audience, but certainly for women, and then obviously for people of color, it isn’t that easy to say, I’m just going to walk into a big, giant corporate and create my own role, or my own seat, and got to sit in it.
Cate: How did you create this role? Which by the way, if you could just also talk a little bit about the role, because it’s very unique.
Asiah: Yeah, totally. Even to end that segue to say, oh, and then I created a role at Condé Nast, and here I [crosstalk 00:09:40] sounds completely insane. What actually happened, I ran a bunch of different marketing roles and support roles on all of our commercial organization, with the uprising within the last year, I’ll say I’ve always been engrossed in women’s empowerment and DEI work at the company before it was on main stage for the world. Cementing my values in this company and where I stand as not only a woman in corporate, and I would say Condé Nast, we do a great job in the women department.
Asiah: We are understanding how to retain our Black women and our women of color. With me being on those stages in those voluntary rooms, when the opportunity presented itself to say, hey, how do we monetize these situations and these opportunities successfully and authentically, that is how this role opened up.
Asiah: It was no overnight draw up the job description. It was multiple meetings, HR, my CMO. I was blessed, and blessed cannot be adapted to everybody. This took a lot of faith and I would say endurance to really sit down and see what in the company we needed to really take this company to the next stage. When we talk about Condé Nast, the likes of Vogue, Allure, GQ, Glamour, we’re seeing editors and everyone come in that are very diverse, very forward thinking. On the commercial end, we were lacking that.
Asiah: There was no longer needing to share what was up with that opportunity, and how do we monetize it, but who was the right person to do it? I was there, right place, right time. It’s been nine months, and it’s been really tough. We will talk about that, but it’s also rewarding to build out this space at a legacy company, with the backing and the resources, to then take us to the next level, especially in media.
Cate: You’re consumers. Everybody that’s consuming the magazines and the brands that you guys represent, and making sure you’re not only reflecting the audience that is reading, but internally, and the opportunities that you have. Yeah, we’re going to get into that. Talking about building, Jazmin, we got connected on a panel, if you remember, when panels were still in-person, we’ll get there again one day, and I was floored about what you were building and why.
Cate: Tell us a little bit about your journey, and how it’s been for you, particularly very similar to Dafina, as building a business in this environment as a Black woman.
Jazmin: Yeah, actually there’s some parallels between both Dafina and myself, as well as Asiah. I also was a Condé Nasty at one point. I was an editor a million years ago. I grew up in the salon space. My mother was a hair stylist. Beauty is basically in my DNA. It’s been something that I’ve been around my entire life. It wasn’t the path that I thought that I would go on. I had some twist and turns as well. I thought I was going to go to medical school. I was a biochem major my first two years of undergrad, I was planning to be a pediatrician with a specialization in neonatology. I was a science geek. That was what I was into.
Jazmin: But, I sucked at chemistry. I realized that I needed to pivot, that I wasn’t going to get into medical school with those type of grades in chemistry. All of my other grades were great, but chemistry, I wasn’t getting it. I went back home to California, where I’m from originally, to lick my wounds and figure out, what else can I do? Because medical school was the only path that I had planned for myself.
Jazmin: I ended up getting a job as a model scout, and thinking back, I was like, that was probably not even a legitimate company that I was working for, but it’s what piqued my interest in fashion, and what led me to go back to school. I got a degree and fashion at Miami International University. Literally five days after my last class ended, I didn’t stay for my graduation or anything, I came to New York city, $300, a couple of suitcases, no job, not even an interview lined up, nothing, but I had all the faith in the world that I was going to succeed.
Jazmin: I ended up getting my first job at Forward Models as a model agent, working on the men’s board. I was an agent for about three years, and then I transitioned over into casting. I started casting models for New York Fashion Week and various other things like … I did Target and different campaign-type things. Then, that led me into production, which fell into my lap, which is what I did for 10 years. I was a photo producer, and I was producing advertising campaigns with Steven Meisel and Vogue and Prada and Balenciaga. I worked at Calvin Klein. I worked at Ralph Lauren. I was an editor at Condé Nast. I was doing all these really high-caliber types of productions with the best talent in the entire world, the top models of the world.
Jazmin: Fashion and beauty are very closely related. I would always gravitate towards the beauty side of it. I really had a hard time transitioning into a proper beauty role. I did end up being the creative producer and casting director for the Fenty Beauty launch, the digital launch back in 2017. That was like, okay, I need to figure out how I can navigate this next chapter. It just was so difficult. I could not find an opportunity for myself.
Jazmin: As I was making the transition at the same time from using conventional beauty products to cleaner, natural, plant-based product, that’s when I started to notice some white space and some holes that needed to be filled, one being a lack of transparency, but the other one really that was very, very loud, was that there was a lack of inclusivity and a lack of diversity.
Jazmin: This is something that felt very personal to me, because I grew up this way. My mother always preached to me, natural is best, and less is more. My mother was the kind of mother who treated me with natural ingredients when I was sick. She didn’t give me NyQuil and Benadryl and stuff like that, she would whip up something in the kitchen. If I got hurt, she would take off a piece of aloe and put it on my skin.
Jazmin: This has always been a part of me. It’s part of my cultural identity. There’s not a lot of this conversation taking place within this space of clean, and the origins of it. It really did originate BIPOC individuals, and these conversations are not being had. I took it on myself to create a space, to create a platform where these conversations can be had, and these brands can be celebrated and acknowledged and promoted in a more modern way.
Cate: Yeah. It’s interesting, because each of you, forget white space and opportunities, you all differently saw conversations that were happening maybe in small groups. Maybe that’s in small ways, but wanted to bring these conversations to a much bigger audience. For you, Jazmin, for you, Dafina, that translated into starting your own companies. Asiah, that’s for you, you’ve created your own role and you continue to climb that ladder.
Cate: One of the things that, particularly, and I want to make sure that we’re talking about this and we’re being open about it, and we hear it, and Asiah, I think you raised it since last June, July, at the murder of George Floyd and so many others, and now, diversity, equity, inclusion is probably bigger than it was.
Cate: As Black women though, we’re still not where we need to be. As founders, as corporate leaders, it doesn’t matter, as mothers, what has been the biggest challenge each of you has faced, and maybe I can start with you, Dafina, in that professional journey? Because so much of it is tied to professional. How have you overcome that?
Dafina: I would say, I think the biggest challenge I’ve overcome as I experience it as a Black woman, there’s many, many challenges that I experience, and I don’t necessarily see it through the lens of being a woman. A lot of times [inaudible 00:18:35], it’s just a challenge, right? There are things that do occur to you, and feel very specific. You can viscerally feel it.
Dafina: That really is, to me, one of the challenges I think is, there is this concept of how you bring something to market. Having this cult of personality around who you are, and marketing you and your lifestyle and bringing that to market. That is a very … I think what’s frustrating about that is, though, is that it can be limiting. It can be frustrating, because then, I feel like it pigeonholes you.
Dafina: I think there’s so many industries. I try to really encourage … I really, I love beauty, I have an affinity for it. It’s personal, but I also, I really, if I were to do another business, I probably would do something where I have no affinity for it, to be very honest. I want to see more of us in spaces where it has nothing to do with, we happen to be a major celebrity, and now we get to bring it over here, or we’re leveraging who we are in order to get money.
Dafina: I think many, many companies that we purchase from, that typically are owned by men, that are white men. We have no idea about them. We’re not identifying them as mother, wife, daughter. They’re just, here, buy Reynolds Wrap. There’s so many industries that you don’t even necessarily think about the founder.
Dafina: I do find that that is where I struggled, because for me, when I brought my product to market, I wasn’t my demographic necessarily. I was like, how do I bring this, how do I tell the brand story and my relation to it, as a founder without necessarily having to only resonate with you, with me.
Dafina: That was something that I felt as a particular struggle that I can attribute to. For me, the way that I really was able to approach it was, I am here, the lens at which I operate, my lens, the things I care about, who I am, are values, are very intrinsic to the company, but this company is not about me. It’s about our clientele. It’s a collective ability. It’s something that I want to be scalable. I want it to transcend who I am as a Black woman, and really resonate globally. It took me a minute to slice that, and figure that out.
Cate: I want to add just one question to that, because we’re going to get to both Asiah and Jazmin, but when you talk about your brand, so much of, particularly, I think for founders, but even when you’re sitting in corporate America, your brand is what you know. It’s, I’m Asiah, I’m leading Emerging Audiences, before that, I did this. Cate Luzio was a banker for 20 years. That was my brand. That was my identity.
Cate: What you’re saying is, how do you separate building your own brand, meaning you and what you continue to stand for, but then also your company. How do you delineate between the two, for you?
Dafina: Yeah. I delineate that I’ve very much used … I’ll use words like collective, like the Covet Collective. I really care about our clientele. I want to tell their story. I try to look at our marketing and branding through, what resonates for them? I look at it like, I’m your guide. I’m here guide my client. I’m a problem solver and an innovator, and that’s us, but that’s me, that’s what I care about. That’s something that will live on beyond when I’m at the company or not.
Dafina: Bringing that sense of, we’re guiding our clientele from their problem to the solution, and taking a step back about, you’re not buying a piece of me.
Dafina: And really being able, and I’m not really front and center in a lot of our marketing. I try to delineate as well, too, my family’s my family, and you’re not really going to see me talk a lot on my … I don’t really engage much in social. I try to delineate so that what I value matters, but it can transcend whether I’m at the company or not.
Cate: It’s also building for the future. Whoever takes on the reins, should that happen, post-you, and building for success and ultimately sustainability, long after you’re potentially at the CEO role. I think a lot of companies struggle with that. Doesn’t matter who they are, the founder, especially if they’ve built the company. So much like you said, it’s not a piece of you, it’s a piece of the company.
Cate: Asiah, I’m interested in your perspective, in that climbing the corporate ladder, one of the things that you’ve really in addition to what your job is, is as a true thought leader, within your company, but certainly external as well.
Asiah: Yeah. I actually love this question, and it’s something that I challenge myself, I’d say every week to think about, what is my biggest challenge. My biggest challenge, to be honest, is that delineation between selling my community to make a profit for a company that was not built for us. Every day, I walk into my role, and Emerging Audiences, I want to define that a bit more. What we do on the commercial end, partners come to us, they want to amplify that message, reach the right consumer. The right consumer all the time, and a lot right now, are diverse people and growth audiences.
Asiah: For us, growth audiences are, I would say, narratives. It could be parents and mothers or Gen Z, folks who we have not primarily had a scope on all the time. My team is fully responsible for that. I sit in an intersectionality as being a Black woman, I’m a millennial, I’m an entrepreneur, I’m all of these things. A multi-hyphenated personality that every RFP that comes into the building, I see myself in it.
Asiah: I have to often challenge myself, what do I need? What do my people ask for? I’m not speaking about skin color, but my community extends beyond all races and backgrounds. What are we chatting about that is missing in the market, and how do we bring those intersectional conversations within these proposals? I would say when we think about that thought leadership, Cate, that I’ve been able to develop and are definitely building, it wasn’t natural for me. I love strategy. I love marketing. I’m tapped a lot for my POV, which is amazing. I realize it’s because I’m sitting in a seat and I’ll take a step back and say, okay, wait, what would I want here?
Asiah: If we’re selling a lipstick, would I even wear this color? Would I recommend this to my friend? If not, it’s probably not cool, because I have some of the coolest women, especially Black women, in my circle, and if we’ve never heard of it, we need to switch up the scene a bit. It’s a big challenge to also be that voice, and be that narrative, and also scouting all the time. I tap my girlfriends and my mom, and generational differences as being a Black woman, and what we need to be our best selves, bringing that to a market and a team, to be quite honest, that is full of white women, who have never heard of some of the language that I’m using before, or white men who are just like, “Asiah, I love your hair.”
Asiah: We’re not having that conversation right now. It is jarring at times. It is jarring to really play into those roles. I would say, it’s something that has made me stand out as a Black woman in media, for sure, able to be personable, but also strategic, and then bringing in my personal antidotes to make the brand, and I would say, our consumers that much stronger for the company.
Cate: Do you think you still have to work at making people comfortable? You just mentioned that hair comment, right?
Asiah: No. Short answer, no. I think I’ve been there for … I’ve grown up, and I will say I had the same haircut for about seven years when I first hopped into the industry. This is my brand. I wore White Tea, I had jeans, I had my Margiela boots, I have my haircut, that’s my uniform, don’t ask me any questions. Then, I started wearing braids, and I started wearing a weave. Then, I let it happen.
Asiah: Once you do it a couple of times, again, it’s jarring., After a while it becomes harmless, you start educating, and then you get a little slick. Then, I’ve been able to say, I don’t want to talk about my hair right now. Then, you make it a little more humorous, or it’s like, you know that’s insensitive, or like, don’t touch me.
Asiah: It becomes a part of my personality. It’s not being spicy or wrongdoing. Some people really just don’t know. These unconscious bias in the corporate America have been swept under as, oh, she’s just being sweet. It’s racism, but now I’ll say, because of last year, it’s been called out a bit better, that’s me being snarky, or, don’t touch me, it’s now a part of the learning experience of being a Black woman in culture, and everybody is cognizant of it. It’s some things that I don’t even notice, that my bestie white work wives will say, “Asiah, that made me completely uncomfortable. I’m going to send a note to HR,” and I’ll be like, thank you, I appreciate that because I don’t want to have to do that every single time something uncomfortable happens to me or you in the room.
Cate: It shouldn’t always be you educating. It should be other people educating other people, and actually advocating and standing up for those conversations. It’s got to start somewhere, and you’re doing that.
Cate: Jazmin, you talked about, again, building your company and certainly looking at communities and women and others that haven’t necessarily been talked to in beauty. What has been the biggest challenge for you as not only you’re building the brand of the company, but yourself and your personal brand?
Jazmin: Wow. I would say that just becoming an entrepreneur and starting a business from scratch, especially never having done it before, is a challenge within itself. I didn’t go to business school. I’ve never worked at a startup before. I’m learning. I’m learning every single day. The last couple of years has been the most challenging time, but also at the same time, really rewarding, because I’ve learned so much, and I’ve got to meet so many interesting people that I wouldn’t have ordinarily got the opportunity to meet.
Jazmin: I feel like I’ve been very fortunate in a lot of ways. I’m very big on intentionality and putting energy into the things that I care about. When you operate from that space, I feel like the universe always provides. That has been my experience my entire life, and running my business has been no exception.
Jazmin: People have popped into my inbox completely randomly, offering to help me with something, that I actually needed help with. It’s like, okay, there’s something going on. I feel like when you are trying to do good, and you’re putting good out into the universe, there’s going to be people that are going to just show up. That has been my case. Not to say that these people have come in and saved the day, and now, the business is at a place where I can relax.
Jazmin: That’s certainly not the issue. I’m still very much a one-person-show. I don’t have a team. I have a couple of interns, which I love of, but when I say I’m the CEO of a company, it’s like, I’m the chief everything officer, because I literally do everything. I do everything from the buying to the fulfillment and the shipping, managing inventory in the backend, the website updates, design, technical issues, customer service. All of these things.
Jazmin: Every day, I think one of the biggest challenges is just really staying focused and delegating. Not delegating, focus and prioritizing, honestly, because I get sometimes caught up in the minutia of things, and the day can get away from me when I’m focusing too much on the wrong things. I think that’s where a lot of discipline comes into place for me, having to really practice that and ask myself the questions, like okay, is this necessary? Is this going to move the needle in a positive direction for me, by me spending however much time this is requiring of me?
Jazmin: I’m also about to embark on raising funds for the first time for my company. I’m stepping into even more unchartered territory. Part of me is extremely intimidated, but the other side of me is also extremely excited about it, because it’s a chance for me to talk about my company, and to sell people on my idea and my vision for its growth.
Jazmin: Yeah, there’s a lot happening. Everything is a challenge. Nothing about this is easy. I knew absolutely nothing going into this. I had no idea what it would take to run an eCommerce website. No idea. There’s always something that breaks, always. There’s always something wrong.
Cate: Someone said to me the other day, if we knew what it was going to take to run a business, to start a business, no one would do it, right?
Cate: You’re just going to have to go into it with a little bit of naivete and say, I’m the right person to do this. I am building a company, because there’s opportunity and there’s a gap in the market, and I’m betting on myself. It’s like any of us in our careers, no matter what we’re doing, we’re betting on ourselves. Asiah. I see you shaking your head. Do you want to chime in there?
Asiah: I love the way you said betting on yourself. I was laughing, as Jazmin mentioned, just prioritizing is so important. I start and end my day making a little short list, and I’ll say of three things, this is my new jam, of just, what do you need to get through today, and prioritize just today, to be successful? Because lists grow longer and longer, and to feel accomplished, especially being an overachieving personality, which is not something to be proud of as you grow further in your career, sometimes good enough is great.
Asiah: When you have a list that is concise and sweet, and you can end the evening, and you’ve accomplished something, it can embattle you for the next day. I totally agree.
Cate: There’s a question I want to get to that came in, because I think all of you will have a unique perspective. In the midst of a pandemic, where and how do you suggest Black men and women find the community that can help us in our careers and our businesses? Anyone can jump in there. I’ll be selfish and biased and say, one of the things that I’m most proud of this past year, and certainly since we started Luminary, is that more than 40% of our community of women, and we have men too, are women of color.
Cate: I think during this time of the pandemic, so many of us, and again, I’ll turn it to you, but have been searching for that community, that network. You talk about, Asiah, your Black community and the Black friends, but then also the white work wives, equally as important. Where have you all found community, particularly during the pandemic? I can imagine it’s a bit different experiences for the founders versus, Asiah, you in corporate. Dafina, do you want to jump in?
Dafina: Yeah, I can speak to … There’s two, which is how Cate and I know of, and got to be introduced. I’m a really big believer in intersectionality around your communities. Community, for me, being a founder through the pandemic, what was really instrumental for me was, I’m a part of a group called The Trust. It’s for women-founded businesses. There’s a revenue marker and over. The reason why that’s really relevant for me is, because at the revenue requirements, you really start dealing in very new fears, very real … You can speak to more the graduate level.
Dafina: You feel safe. A lot of us have teams of 10 and 15 that you’re responsible for. You can get to the juice at that level. That group, for me, it happened to be very diverse. I think that’s just … I don’t know, just, that happened organically. I’m so thankful for the women in that group, many of whom are Black, many of whom, we’ll just get on a call, we’ll see each other in-person. There’s lots of different ways for us to interact.
Dafina: Then, within my immediate community, I live in Westport, Connecticut, which is not known for being the bastion of diversity, but during the pandemic and George Floyd, a lot of us started getting a lot of … We formed a group called the Black Mothers of Westport, where it’s that intersectionality. There’s a lot of mothers here, more people moved here from the city after the pandemic. We’ve started on Zoom meetings. Then, that turned into getting our kids together and doing … We’d done volunteer. We do mentoring.
Dafina: It’s really just allowed us to get back to that old school, we’re leveraging technology, but it’s still connected to that old school sense of civic engagement. [crosstalk 00:36:11]
Cate: [crosstalk 00:36:12] seeking it out. If we remain sitting back, head’s down, you have to seek this out. Networking and community, so much is just relationship building.
Cate: Right. Jazmin, what about you?
Jazmin: Yeah, it’s so interesting that you ask, because right before the pandemic, some friends of mine who were also entrepreneurs and women in business had got together to start a nonprofit organization, specifically to help empower female, female of color entrepreneurs. It’s called elevateHER. We got sponsorship from Amazon, and they gave us their space, and catered food and everything, so that we can host our first inaugural event.
Jazmin: This was in, I think, January of last year. Then, we were planning our next one. We were planning to do the next one in eight weeks. Then, of course, the pandemic hits. We went into lockdown. The way that I was able to build and connect with the community was Clubhouse, actually. I spent a lot of time on Clubhouse last year, from the end of last year through probably the first quarter of this year. I started a club in there called the Clean Beauty Club.
Jazmin: I remember, the first time I went onto Clubhouse was because a friend of mine invited me, because he was going to be hosting a pitch competition. He was like, “You should pitch. Are you on Clubhouse?” I’m like, what’s Clubhouse. I had no idea what it was. Then, I did the thing. Then, I went back a couple weeks later, just to browse and see even what Clubhouse was about. I just opened up a room one day, and all these people just came in. I wasn’t expecting anybody to show up. I didn’t even know what I was doing, but I just wanted to talk about clean beauty, and just get people’s opinions about it and be able to share tips and tricks with each other.
Jazmin: That led to me actually creating really authentic relationships with people, that I had never even met before. Since, I’ve met a few of them in person, and some of them have gone on to become people that I’m in touch with on a regular basis, people that I’ve been able to introduce them to other people. It’s a whole host of people. It’s men, it’s women, it’s people of color. It’s people all over the world. It’s not just people here in the States.
Jazmin: That was really a big place where I was able to try and help cultivate a community. Then, there’s also a community called Melanence. The founder, his name is Juan Young, brilliant Black man. He started this for Black founders and entrepreneurs to be able to come together and share resources and have workshops together.
Jazmin: It’s all done virtually. They have a newsletter, they share resources on different type of funding opportunities that might be available, that you can apply for, pitch competitions, accelerator programs. There’s even a job board as well. If you are someone who’s looking to join a startup, they post jobs for people.
Jazmin: It’s a really, really great community. They also are very active on Clubhouse too. They’ll host rooms in there, talking about access to capital. They’ll share very raw details about their experiences pitching to investors, and some of the nuances and negative experiences that they’ve had, that people don’t really talk about in such candid ways.
Cate: Yeah. We’ve got to share. It’s not just sharing in one community, it’s multiple communities. There’s another question related, but I want to go to Asiah, because I know community is so important to you as well.
Asiah: Yeah. 100%. I’ll say, especially being in the pandemic, this was the first time I actually had to be intentional with my networking skills. Being in this space, you often stumble upon people, you can have imposter syndrome, you can meet a lot of people that you don’t know what to do with. This time with these virtual screens, it was a bit tough, where I had to sit back and say, which room do I want to join? Who do I want to spend my time with? Also, we’re still doing jobs and we’re maintaining health.
Asiah: I actually joined The Advertising Club of New York as a fellow at the top of last year, thinking it would be in-person. I was so excited. It turned out great, but we were so excited to meet people within the industry, women of color who were also in advertising. I come from the publishing side, have always been on that side of the business. To really meet women on the agency side, the creative end was really important to me, to build my network within my industry, of women who are on the similar path of transition.
Asiah: Joining that was definitely a resource to share, panel opportunities, all the way down to budgeting. I was pitching a new role. I sat with the ladies, and we walked through the byline. What would my title be? We skimmed LinkedIns together. It was just a phenomenal experience. Then, also tapping into your friend groups who are doing non-similar things, and pitching what you’re doing, and understanding how you guys can cross-pollinate each other.
Asiah: I have girlfriends who started brands throughout this pandemic, who work in visual merchandising, who work in the food industry. We all have a commonality of, do you want to be the DEI experts in every room? We had really synonymous conversations and feedback to support each other in these spaces.
Asiah: Short answer is to be very intentional about the rooms that you want to join, and to create. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a networking opportunity, but to really share your resources, because you won’t believe how much you can get out of it, if you just take that chance.
Cate: Yeah. I love that there’s … I just want to, if people are watching the chat or the Q&A, melanence.com is the resource that Jazmin just shared before, www.melanence.com. That is the networking group she mentioned. We put that in there. Kind of tied, and maybe Asiah, I’ll flip it back to you, just because you talk about intentionality. Dafina, you talked about it too, just putting yourself out there and going into these.
Cate: The question from Tasiah that came in is, “I’m an introverted Black woman. Networking can be pretty scary. How do you put yourself out there in these spaces, whether it’s a community, whether it’s your company, where you are the only to create connections and relationships.” That’s another question that I had about being the only. I’m the only Black woman at the table. I’m the only Black founder. I’m the Black woman raising money. There are so many, but very few get capital.
Cate: When you think about how to put yourself out there and create those connections and relationships, when you’re the only, maybe Asiah, I’ll flip that one to you. I know you do talk a lot about this one.
Asiah: Yeah. It’s tough. We will evolve in every space that we take on. I’ll say for me, it’s identifying and staying true to my values as a person. I’m really faith-driven. I know Jazmin spoke about putting out great energy. Landing on what I can bring to these rooms, and connecting with folks in those rooms is really a part of what has helped me be a great networker, because again, offering up that, I’m a great person, I’m a strategic person, yes, I’m a Black woman. How can we connect beyond that is the window into making these connections in those rooms.
Asiah: If you are, I’m an only child, I grew up alone. If you’re an only child, you make up a lot of things, and you make up a lot of things in your head. No one is actually ever thinking about you when you come into these rooms, ever. Everyone’s just as nervous, even the loudest person. Cling onto that one friend who will connect you to another friend. Bring someone to the networking event to you. Join your employee resource groups. They’re really beneficial, no matter how small, they are very mighty and have backing from corporate.
Asiah: Take all of those tools and figure out where you rise in that space, and penetrate and do it over. Come to all of the networking opportunities. Join these panels. Talk in the chat. You have to find your jam. I will say the best part of this pandemic and being virtual, you are able to open up and be a part of so many rooms that have been closed before to us, or that have been secret society, or little cliques. Really take advantage of that time, especially in this hybrid society we’re in right now.
Cate: Yeah. One of the tips that I give to, and I’ve been doing this, literally, I think since March 14th, when we hosted our first Zoom at Luminary, was, take a picture of the screen, number one, if there are lots of people, because you can always go back and look at that, versus trying to figure out who everyone is, if it’s a lot of people. Go back, you’re able to then reach out to them on social, on LinkedIn, and say, “Hey, Asiah, I’m Cate, we were on this great session, I’d love to connect,” or just do it via LinkedIn and say, “Hey, we were on that.”
Cate: I think the other thing is, introduce yourself in the chats. So much of these platforms, you have that ability. Whether it’s, “Hey, I’m Asiah, this is my LinkedIn and this is what I do, and this is why I’m here,” or, “Hey, I’m Jazmin. I’m the founder of Pretty Well Beauty, this is my company, this is our social handle.”
Cate: Every time, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, those are little tips where you’re actually creating your network in a much bigger way. I say this quite a bit, if we haven’t expanded our networks in this time, we’ve missed it, because how many times all of you have been to an event, there’s 50 people, there’s hundreds of people, you get to meet three people. There’s also the content of the event. Then, you walk away and you’re like, “Damn, I didn’t get to meet anybody.”
Cate: These virtual event are great opportunities to do that. I don’t know, Dafina or Jazmin, if you had any other tips around that networking or creating new relationships? Dafina, I see you coming off mute.
Dafina: No, I think in terms of the introvert, I think that you just have to align, I think, with what works for you. A lot of the relationships I’ve met, I’m on a lot of old school forum groups. I find that a lot of times people forget, I tell people, it’s like a bank. You have to be really good about depositing and withdrawing. A lot of times, if you’re an introvert, you can just start with a really good deposit of information.
Dafina: If you know something, if something is … Just sharing with your team. This is a trend that I’m seeing. This is just a little writeup, and here are some links to some great articles. Just thinking about different ways, different types of deposits that you can make in people’s lives, that align with your strengths. Because sometimes, if you are too much of an extrovert, you’re not really able … You’re taking up too much energy in the room to connect.
Dafina: I think that the way that we are in this, the way the times are changing, there’s lots of different ways for introverts to actually stand out.
Cate: What a great analogy with deposits. I love that. Jazmin, any tip from you on that?
Jazmin: Yeah. I can definitely relate to this person, because I consider myself an extroverted introvert, or introverted extrovert. I can go in between. I think the more you put yourself out there in these more uncomfortable situations, the easier it does become. You’re just flexing that muscle. The more you do it, the stronger and easier it’s just going to become. I’ve had to hype myself up a lot of times, internally, like, okay, just do this. It’s not going to kill you. You just have to just go for it.
Jazmin: What’s the worst that can happen? That someone just says, no, I don’t want to talk to you? I can guarantee you that’s not going to happen. It’s not-
Cate: And if it does, it’s maybe not someone you want to talk to anyway.
Jazmin: Exactly. Yeah.
Cate: Kind of following … You go ahead, Dafina. Yeah, no, go, please.
Dafina: This reminds me, my husband works in news. He is an anchor on ESPN. I know a lot of people in the news industry, and even being in the music industry, another tip too, to your point, it’s just reps. Most people, a lot of people who are on news, are super shy, and they almost went into the industry to get better and overcome that. I think a lot of times, we’re looking at everyone, and Asiah, I think you said it too, people are not thinking about you as much as you think they are.
Dafina: Most of us, it’s just something we have to overcome, and you just get the reps, and just do it.
Cate: Yeah. I love that.
Jazmin: [crosstalk 00:48:48] just a little sidebar. What you were saying, Dafina, is, Beyonce, you would never think in a million years, I’ve worked with her. She is so meek and so shy, but the world would never know. They would never know.
Cate: Power pose.
Jazmin: Yeah. [crosstalk 00:49:03]
Cate: I have my [crosstalk 00:49:04] power poses, before I go into meeting. You talk about, I’m a sales … I’ve been in sales my whole career. I’m a salesperson. I’m not a marketer. I’m a salesperson, but I still … You need that. Jazmin, you said it, what’s the worst that can happen, someone says no? You move on. It’s a sale. It’s a conversation. It’s someone that doesn’t necessarily want to connect with you, okay. There’s millions of people to connect with, and there’s millions of opportunities.
Cate: I know we’ve got about five minutes left. I have two questions. I’m going to try to go through … pretty quickly. The first question is from the audience, particularly for Jazmin and Dafina, what is one piece of advice you have for women who face challenges in gaining traction with their business, and growing their business?
Cate: Dafina, you have literally hockey sticked this past year. What were the challenges that you faced early on?
Dafina: Okay. I’ll give a couple very quick and dirty advice. One, I think a lot of people start too immediate with their friends or their sphere of influence. That is not your business. That is usually, a lot of times you burn through those people very quickly, and you’re hoping through word of mouth. That is not a business. That’s a hobby. It’s a favor. It’s not scalable. Really, your friends are usually going to be the last people-
Dafina: … buy into your dream. It’s a very lonely road. Two things. Do not invest in too much branding upfront. Keep your marketing, your logo, keep it really simple, very minimalistic, streamlined, because you might need to iterate. A brand gets revealed to you. You can’t come to market and know at all. There’s a lot of pivots that you might have to make. You may not get the trademark that you applied for. There’s a business, there’s IP, there’s … All this stuff is moving parts.
Dafina: Get to the marketplace, get feedback, own the stage that you’re in. Ask your early consumers for help. Don’t try to be bigger than you are. Iterate. It’s a dance. Get out to the marketplace. If it doesn’t, you got to put it out there. If you don’t get the feedback, you take it back in, you make some edits, you make some tunes. Then, when you get real money, and then you can start doing branding and bigger website. Just get started, and don’t try to pretend like you have it all figured out in the early stages.
Cate: That’s a huge quote. Hopefully Yelp is tweeting that out. Jazmin?
Jazmin: Yeah. I definitely agree with that. I meet with brand founders all the time, and I’ve seen them go through different stages. That’s definitely true, Dafina. I would also say, just make sure that whatever you’re putting out there, it’s something that people actually want. Really look at the market and make sure there is a real, actual need, and that there’s a market for it.
Jazmin: Being in the beauty space, I see a lot of the same stuff over and over again. Really, just trying to figure out what is your point of differentiation? Don’t do something just because you feel like you want to be a part of something. If you want to just be a part of something, fine. If you’re looking to actually scale a business and grow and become, a seven, eight, nine-figure a year business, you really have to do a lot of your homework.
Jazmin: That’s not the fun, sexy part of it, unfortunately. It just isn’t. Just remain open and malleable. You’re going to make a lot of pivots, and you need to be open to criticism as well. Don’t take any of it personally. Your business is not your baby. It just isn’t. That’s something that I’ve had to learn too. This is your business. You have to treat it as such. It requires a little bit of removal of emotional ties in a lot of ways. That would be my [crosstalk 00:52:48]
Cate: Also a great quote. Your business isn’t your baby. It is not, it is your business, and business is business. I love that, Jazmin. I think that’s such a good tip, also to be able to separate yourself. For those of you that were listening two hours ago, I focus so much on business planning. Understanding your market, understand your target customer. Is there a market before it? Is it saturated? Are you doing something different?
Cate: All of those are questions you have to answer not only once, but continue to answer as you build your business and you innovate. Now, final question, because this is really important as we think about the tips and advice that other, particularly Black women, Black men, anyone in general, but advice for those that are watching, or that will watch this in perpetuity, how should you recommend Black women in particular use their voice, embrace their whole selves and stand out?
Cate: Asiah, can I get your advice? And then we’ll go to Jazmin and then last, Dafina.
Asiah: Yeah, of course. The first I would say is allow yourself to evolve, always. Give yourself space to evolve, and learn always. I’ll say, especially for Black women listening, and our Black men, there’s a heavy spotlight right now. There’s a big weight. It seems like a surge of attention. What do I do with it? Take your time.
Asiah: We have always been built on greatness and legacy, you have to take your time, because it will always be our moment. Again, be patient with yourself. Back to what I said at the top of the call, write down three things that are so true to you, and your foundation. Everything else will always fall in line. Sometimes, it may be bigger than what you expected, or less than what you expected. Once you know exactly what you stand on, and for me that is strategy, advocacy, mentorship, if it doesn’t feel like that, I just probably don’t need to be a part of it. That tug, that intuition is always right.
Cate: Amazing. Dafina?
Dafina: I agree with that. I think that you need to go in very early on and know your bigger picture and your why, because it is a lonely road, it is an expensive road, it the scary road. It’s usually, your why has nothing to do with money or fame, it’s really a … Because there’s a lot of other easier ways to get that. I think that we want to be seen. We want to have impact, leave a legacy. If you kind of know why, when you feel off track, and I literally have it, I walk around with a notebook that has my mission and my vision for my life, and the key words on the front page of my notebook.
Dafina: When I get a new notebook, I rewrite it, and it’s with me. I really look at it daily, because it is not an easy road. That’s how I …
Cate: Great tip on how to stay focused also on those down days, and those down minutes when you are … It is so lonely and you are at the bottom of the rollercoaster. Jazmin, final words.
Jazmin: Yes, it is very lonely, and it is hard. Like Dafina said, your why can’t be money. If the money is the only thing that’s motivating you, you’re going to burn out very quickly, because the money takes time to come. I would say really, lean in into your authenticity and transparency. It’s going to take you a long way. The more people you meet, if you are not showing up as your true, authentic self, you’re going to be snuffed out.
Jazmin: Just be you. Be transparent, be vulnerable. Your vulnerability is a strength. Don’t be afraid to let people see that. Yeah, just keep working hard. Eventually [crosstalk 00:56:46]
Cate: Keep going. Sarah LaFleur, who’s a good friend of mine, I remember the first time I met her, she said, “Just keep swimming. Some days you’re treading, some days you’re bobbing, some days you’re doing the backstroke, but you just got to keep swimming.”
Cate: Asiah, Dafina, Jazmin, just incredible. For any of you listening, watching, replaying this, if you’re not following these women on LinkedIn or online, or going to their companies, you should be. These are three incredible leaders that are not only just kicking butt, they’re really leading with their heart and truly making an impact. Thank you for letting me moderate this joining. Tara, I will hand it back over to you.