Virtual event highlights transformational leadership

According to the Greater Los Angeles African- American Chamber of Commerce (GLAAACC), transformational leaders have a vision and are committed toward the development of others. Those are the type of leaders the organization wants to develop in its annual Women in the C-Suite events.

Held each year, the Oct. 28 event was virtual and featured subject matter experts discussing the challenges, obstacles and successes of what it takes to occupy the elusive corner C-Suite.

“We shape, we learn, we share and support each other,” said Lily Otieno, director of supply chain and diverse business enterprises for SoCalGas, one of the event sponsors. Otieno is also treasurer for GLAAACC. “This is our kitchen table, so to speak.”

County Supervisor Holly Mitchell was among the panelists. Much of the discussion centered around the racial and gender bias Black women face in the workplace. Some of the microaggressions have centered around the way some women wish to wear their hair.

Although Mitchell was influential in changing the way California businesses and schools view Black hair issues with January’s passage of the Crown Act, there is yet no mirroring of that legislation on the federal level.

“The governor said ‘This isn’t about hair, it’s about discrimination,’” said Mitchell, who is serving her 11th month on the Board of Supervisors—the first elected body in the country represented by only women. “It created a culture shift. Human Resources societies had trainings.”

“Our hair is a race-based trait, it should be protected under the law,” said Mitchell, who moved the bill in under a year and got Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign it, explaining to her colleagues that too many Black girls had been suspended from school for having their hair braided. But even while she tried to tell them that hair styles don’t define a person’s capacity, Mitchell said that she experienced some of the most racist, sexist comments from her fellow legislators—some of them “well-meaning” left-leaning politicians.

“Addressing it (a microaggressive comment) varies,” Mitchell said. “However I think I have a responsibility to address it. To stop people. If people drop those little morsels, we have a responsibility to educate them in real time. I have a responsibility to check it in real time. My grandmother told me once ‘everybody needs a stopper.’”

Denise Pines, Wisepause Wellness founder, author and health advocate, agreed with Mitchell about stopping negative comments.

“I repeat it back to them,” she said. “I make them become reflective and I ask ‘is that what you meant to say to me?’”

Pines noted that Black business women are often very stressed and must practice breathing correctly and “tapping” themselves—repeating finger taps on temples or wrists during those pressure-filled business meetings.

“Exercise is an amazing destressor,” said Celeste Alleyne, Microsoft’s director of executive engagement and external talent. “We often go to dieting first, but we need to find that time, whatever it is. Find what works for you.”

Alleyne said that keeping fit can assist in one’s climb up the corporate ladder.

“When they come at you, you’re ready, because you’re strong,” she said. “We must recognize that the power of cleansing our heads is integral.”

Pines noted the impossibility of finding a work/life balance.

“Because it doesn’t exist,” she said. “Life is not two sides, it is an octagon.”

Through it all, businesswomen need to assure themselves that it is worth the fight.

“We’ve got to tell ourselves it’s absolutely OK,” Pines said. “It’s OK.”

Alleyne agreed.

“I’ve taken a lot of knocks, but I’m resilient,” Alleyne said. “I get up, because I know it’s important for those who are coming in behind me. Pick your battles, find your allies.”

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