Spending the day with accomplished Black professionals sharing insights on career growth on both income and impact at the inaugural BlackStars Summit was inspiring. The panelists offered wisdom for navigating leadership and professional relationships, the future of DEI, embracing AI’s role in the evolving job market, and the Black diaspora’s transformation. There were perspectives for introverts & extroverts, those with ‘dinner-table MBAs’, and those transferring skills from “the school of hard knocks” to corporate boardrooms.
Here are 5 key takeaways from the BlackStars Summit:
Impact-driven leadership; what’s your WHY?
During a conversation on Mastering the Art of Leadership, Sekou Kaalund, EVP, Head of Branch & Small Business Banking at US Bank emphasized the need to align your professional and personal goals with your greater vision. Focusing on his ‘WHY’, his values and the impact he wants to create have been the driving force of his ascend in leadership. He even spoke about turning down more lucrative opportunities that wouldn’t have aligned with vision in the long-run.
Sekou’s advice requires some reflection and self-awareness but it’s important to know what’s driving you in your career. As the saying goes, “a man who stands for nothing, will fall for anything”.
Scaling your abilities through storytelling
As a storyteller, this resonated; especially since my work helps executives to leverage their stories to create impact in their work. As you prepare for your next role, you have to use the power of narrative. Practice telling your own story; who you are, what you’ve done, what you’ve learned along the way and why it’s prepared you for this opportunity. That means tapping into your authenticity and finding ways to transfer skills from your past experiences, including life experiences, and turning them into strengths. Maybe you grew up in a chaotic environment but navigating that may have helped you develop skills in conflict resolution, multitasking, or like Counselor Markus Green, you can easily call someone’s bluff.
Your story is powerful and you have to be the one to share your experiences authentically and weave them into your professional journey.
“There’s no such thing as ‘self-made’”: Mentorship vs. Sponsorship
A mentor shares knowledge and provides guidance. A sponsor is someone who is actively investing in your development and advocating for you by speaking on your behalf in rooms you have yet to enter.
You can choose your mentor, but a corporate sponsor chooses you.
A sponsor is imperative for the career expansion of underrepresented individuals, yet, there’s a saying that “black & brown employees are over-mentored and under-sponsored”. Reflecting on my own journey as a former refugee building a legacy without a blueprint, it’s a blessing to have experienced the support of “angels” in the workplace who have invested their time and resources and have spoken on my behalf.
The second part of this relationship building is TRUST – a word that came up several times throughout the day. Trust in your capabilities, trust from a sponsor who believes in your potential, and trust in the diverse colleagues who can mentor and guide you. Former New Jersey Attorney General, Peter C. Harvey urged the audience to attend work-related social events with an open mind and as an opportunity to naturally connect with your future mentor or sponsor.
You know what also builds trust? Reciprocity. Also share your knowledge, resources, & helpful insights with your mentors and sponsors.
The Black Diaspora: Beyond Borders
Another highlight for me was the fireside chat with Deniece L. Yeboah, the inaugural Executive Director of the President’s Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement. Deniece shared the council’s mission to bridge the gaps within the African diaspora. After her chat, I shared ‘the knaturalized narrative’ initiative’s mission to connect and empower African storytellers through conversations, community and funding for creative projects, all while fostering the freedom to share their unique narratives. It’s truly remarkable to witness the executive order in action, committed to empowering the African Diaspora through various initiatives.
Honorable mention: “stay ready and you never have to get ready” because AI is revolutionizing the job market.
The panelists expressed general optimism on the technology’s ability to optimize your work, while also pointing out that AI isn’t here to take your job, but those who become experts at the tech, might.
Whether you’re on a traditional corporate career path or have what Keia Cole, Chief Digital Officer at BSE, describes as “a collection of careers,” The BlackStars Summit had something valuable to offer everyone.