The dynamics of being a Black woman in the workplace
by Ciji Townsend
Black Lives Matter is more than a moment, it’s a movement. WICT Southeast is committed to ongoing conversations that generate awareness for Black women in our industry. Our recent panel discussion and interactive session, attended by more than 350 industry professionals, focused on the impact of the heightened race awakening on Black women in the telecommunications industry.
It’s been a few weeks since the panel discussion and member, Ciji Townsend has had time to digest the stories and information. In the post below, she shares her thoughts and perspective.
Black women in the workplace need your empathy, not sympathy.
The conversation kicked off with a powerful response from Dawn Douglass, Vice President Programming at Bounce TV, “When you see a news story, you sympathize. When I see a news story, I see people that look like my loved ones.” Dawn immediately set the tone and struck a chord with me. It was in that moment, that I thought about the countless times that I’ve watched a news segment and immediately thought to myself that the incident being covered could include my brother, cousin, husband or even me. Yet, when I arrived at work, the same new story was simply just a story discussed briefly at the water cooler. It’s in those moments that empathy is needed to break down the walls of understanding that accompany the cycle of systemic racism.
Code-switching is real for Black women in the workplace.
After a brief explanation of code-switching, moderator Kenya Brock, Director of Digital Operations and Marketing at Katz Networks/E.W. Scripps, asked panelists to share a time they had to code-switch at work. “I’ve been doing it my whole life,” exclaimed Andrea Bibbs, Senior Director, Diversity & Inclusion Strategy at WarnerMedia News & Media. And I could sense the head nods from the other black women in the audience. Our experiences of worrying more about our hairstyles, tone of voice, posture and good manners in the workplace have an uncanny resemblance. Even worse than the worry, we all know that the time and effort put into code-switching can affect our performance and productivity.
But where do we start? Who carries the responsibility for change?
It was mentioned by the panelist that change starts with leadership. And I couldn’t agree more. But I don’t think that change starts and stops with a company’s hierarchy. Change starts with everyone the minute that they are made aware. My hope would be that each of the attendees that were not familiar with the challenges that black women face in the workplace would take the newfound information and adjust their behavior and way of thinking.
And just to be clear, Black women aren’t asking for a handout.
What I loved most about the conversation rooted in “invisible work,” is the reminder that Black women work hard, many Black women work longer and harder than most of their peers. So, a handout is not the answer. The ask is that where credit is due, it’s appropriately applied. So many Black women are completing stretch projects and added tasks with ease and often don’t receive credit. Sonya King, Founder and CEO of Creator’s Architect said it best, “We’re given the work because we can do it, not because we should do it.”
Much of injustice stems from access to privilege
In the second half of the event, Sonya provided data for a deeper dive on the impact of privilege. She touched on access, education, earning power, mortality and home ownership. Seeing data explaining the path of privilege was beyond eye opening. Access to education leads to higher earning power which leads to easier access to home ownership. And learning that Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police was shocking but perhaps not a surprise.
Dana Dawson, Lead Project Manager at Cox Enterprises, ended the presentation highlighting the countless women who have been killed by police, many names people hadn’t heard of. It was sad, painful and continues to be our reality.
Stay tuned and stay engaged
It’s clear this discussion was insightful, meaningful and needed for our WICT Southeast members and advocates. And we’re not stopping the conversation. Stay tuned for how we’ll keep the momentum going and for how you can be part of it.
We want to hear your thoughts! Leave a comment letting us know the most impactful part of the presentation for you.
Ciji Townsend is a Pure Barre enthusiast, book club fanatic and the host of the being BALANCED podcast. When she’s not sharing her perspective with WICT SE members, she keeps her plate full as a Senior Manager of Internal Communications at Cox Communications.
Are you looking to take your career to the next level? Do you want to network and collaborate with the best and brightest in the cable and telecommunications industry? Are you an active member of WICT Southeast? Well then perhaps joining the WICT SE board is what you’re looking for. The CALL FOR CANDIDATES for the WICT Southeast 2021 Board is officially open and we need some great candidates to run for the open positions.
For those of you who are thinking about running and want to know what it takes to run and serve, we’ve asked 3 current board members, LaShaun Solomon (Immediate Past President), Renita Griskel (President), and Shelley Hoffmann (Vice President) some key questions that may help guide your decision making.
What made you decide to make a run for a position on the WICT board?
Lashaun Solomon (LS): My WICT Board experience began in 2012 when I joined the Greater Texas Chapter Board as Sponsorship Chair. In 2014, I experienced a career change and was seeking to reconnect and build my network in Atlanta. Given my previous years of WICT Board experience, I found it more than applicable to pursue an opportunity on the WICT Southeast Board.
Renita Griskel (RG): I’ve always enjoyed attending WICT events and helping out behind the scenes. At the time when I submitted my nomination, it was after talking with friends who were on the board. Those conversations nudged me out of my comfort zone and into a board position.
Shelley Hoffmann (SH): I had recently moved to Atlanta after having been active in the New York chapter, as well as having participated in the Rising Leaders and Executive Development programs offered by WICT HQ. My motivation was twofold: I was looking to network within my new community and I wanted to give back to WICT since it had been such an integral part of my personal and professional development. I immediately transferred my membership to the Southeast chapter and started to volunteer at events. This eventually lead to my interest in a board position. I wanted to do more. I’ve always grounded myself in the goal of how I can be of service. I wanted to make an impact. And I knew this was one way to do both.
How did you prepare for the campaign?
LS: I sought out to volunteer at local WICT events and get to know the existing Board members. The connections I made were instrumental in my joining of the WICT Southeast Board in 2015 as the Senior Director of Partnerships. I served in this role for two years and was elected Vice President in 2018, which led to me serving as President for 2019.
RG: I did some research about the position and then determined what I would do in that role to add to the success of the chapter if I were to be elected.
SH: The way I found myself on the board was a bit untraditional. I volunteered as much as I could. I networked with members and current board members as much as I could. I attended every Atlanta event. Eventually, I decided to run for Director of Programming – Georgia. And I lost. I was disappointed. But I was undeterred. About halfway through the year, I reached out to Anne Loescher, the then-President of WICT Southeast, and asked her if she needed any additional help. And she said, “You know what? One of the programming positions just opened up.” So I submitted a personal statement to the board explaining my commitment to the chapter and was voted in.
After you were elected, what was your commitment (meetings, conference calls, events, etc.) on top of your day job?
LS: WICT Southeast is a working Board of dedicated professionals. Each role is critical to our success as a multi-state chapter. My commitments have consisted of several weekly committee calls, monthly Board meetings and attending WICT SE events across GA, TN, and AL.
RG: The commitment ebbs and flows. There are times when I’m on call’s multiple times a day and multiple days a week. There are also times when I may not have a WICT call during the week. There are always emails or slack messages daily, but there is also help available when needed for an event or program. The board is very supportive and understanding that there is work, WICT, and life balance.
SH: It really depends on the role. Some positions are intense for a short period of time like Mentoring, Partnerships, Red Letter Awards. Others are consistent throughout the year like Programming, Marketing and Membership. We are a working board. We are deft at balancing responsibilities in our careers and at home. While there are some days that feel primarily WICT-focused more than others, as professionals, we all know how to incorporate our WICT work into our day to day. Is it hard work? Yes. There are many calls and emails depending on the week or month. It takes dedicated individuals for the board to hum and sing. But the reward is so much greater than the effort.
What impact has the WICT Southeast board had on your career?
LS: Serving on the WICT Board has been one of the most rewarding opportunities for me! My involvement in WICT has inspired me to pursue new challenges and has provided me the opportunity to develop and grow my leadership skills, formulate a robust and diverse network, and expand my scope of the complex industry we work in.
RG: I have had an opportunity to connect one on one with executives at my own company and other companies which has been helpful from a networking standpoint.
SH: Experience on the board gives you the opportunity to get outside of your comfort zone and expand your professional tool box beyond your daily responsibilities. Because of my board experience, I am a better people manager. I’ve gained skills in marketing and negotiating and have opportunities to practice my public speaking as well as my active listening – as I do my best to be responsive to our membership. I’m positively impacted and mentored by my fellow board members across Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama and because of that, I learn something new every day. It’s invaluable to my career.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to run for the board?
LS: Simply put, just go for it! If elected, serving on the Board is an opportunity for you to learn a new skill in a safe and supportive space or master a current one. If possible, start volunteering at events and meeting other Board members – this will help you gain more insight on the responsibilities. Lastly, be honest with yourself about the commitment your willing to make to serve on the Board.
RG: If you have a passion for WICT and what it stands for and want to channel that passion to help continue the successful impact that WICTSE has had on its members for nearly 40 years, then the board is for you! It is hard work, it takes up some of your time and some of your energy, but the tradeoff is what you’ll remember the most. The work you do on the board is rewarding, far-reaching and allows you to offer the membership base multiple developmental and professional growth opportunities.
SH: Be transparent with your manager about the time commitment. Talk to current and former board members to get their perspective. Do your due diligence. Bring your enthusiasm, fresh perspective and commitment to our mission of creating women leaders in our industry. And plan to receive a huge return on your investment.
WICT Southeast is currently looking for enthusiastic, organized, and dedicated members who would like to run for the 2021 Board of Directors! Serving on the Board is a great way to expand your leadership skills, connect with a diverse group of professionals, and make a positive impact on the industry. Click here for more information.
I’m a black woman. And because I’m a black woman, unfortunately the recent senseless acts fueled by systemic racism isn’t new to me. But the collective response that extends outside of my community and spills over into the streets via protests and rallies in all 50 states and 14 countries is quite different than what I’ve experienced in my lifetime.
Even with all of the attention and heightened concern, I still have questions. What happens next? What’s the long-term plan? And, specifically what’s the role of my colleagues in the telecommunications and cable industry?
By now you’ve probably heard that you need to listen to black voices.
Let’s take it one step further and both listen and learn. Now is the time to increase your network beyond the one black team member that you call on when you have a question. Listen to multiple voices, invite new people to the conversation that wouldn’t normally have a seat at the table. And let’s give ourselves permission to be ok with both formal and informal listening sessions. Now on to the learning. Listening isn’t enough. Be intentional about learning what you don’t know and re-learning what you think you already know. In our industry we are vital to the information that is consumed by the masses. Before we make major decisions, we need to listen and learn to better understand the cause and effect of systemic racism.
Everyone is watching.
Speaking of content, all eyes are glued to their screens right now. In the past few months because of the disruption caused by COVID-19, families are at home and the consumption of television shows, movies and documentaries is at an all-time high. How can we be better stewards of diversifying that content? Let’s be honest, technology has turned black voices into the biggest media company in the world. Is your company paying attention? Are you amplifying black stories and movies that have black lead actors beyond black history month?
Pace yourself for the long-haul.
Yes, the outcry is loud right now. And we all know that it will only take one major news story for the momentum to dwindle. So, what commitment will we make now, as voices in our industry to ensure that the work done today continues to show up tomorrow?
There are many questions that have yet to be answered. And our industry is perfectly positioned to encourage the continuation of race-based conversations and to even provide a stage not only for awareness but also change.
What are your thoughts? What can our industry do to spark change and keep the conversation and momentum going? Feel free to share in the comments section below.
As an organization whose mission is based on equality, WICT is committed to diversity and inclusion in all aspects of life. We stand firm with our partners and the communities we serve to eradicate systemic racism like that we witnessed with George Floyd and many others. WICT stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. In addition, we will address the civil unrest during all of our programs for the foreseeable future. We will never stop using our platform to shine a spotlight on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. All of us wish for peace and wellness for all of our brothers and sisters in our extended community.
Our hope is that together, we will rise above and emerge more united than ever before. Be well, stay strong.
WICT Southeast sat down with Angela Cannon, Vice President, Channel Manager for UP Faith & Family, to ask her six burning questions and tell us why, now more than ever, it’s essential to renew your membership or join WICT Southeast.
Tell me 3 personal things that people might find surprising.
When I first started college, I had every intention to attend medical school to become an OBGYN. I worked as an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) and later worked at a hospital as a Phlebotomist to earn money for college.
I ran a half marathon in Kona, Hawaii, to raise funds for stroke victims.
I’m an author of a children’s book, “Who Am I? I’m God’s Princess” and I own an e-commerce beauty store, called I Love Us.
Briefly, tell us about your path to your current position at UP Family & Family!
My career path has definitely had some interesting twists along the way. I majored in Biology during college, and upon graduation, immediately moved to Los Angeles. After a few disappointing interviews to be a lab technician, I landed a research analyst role at Warner Bros. While working in research, I caught the entertainment bug, and also wanted to further my education. I decided to obtain a post-graduate degree and earned an MBA with a concentration in marketing. After graduating, I was working at Walt Disney as a Sr. Research Analyst and abruptly decided to take a leap of faith to move to Atlanta. I began a new role at Gospel Music Channel/UP Entertainment three weeks prior to the launch of the network and 15 years later, I’m still here.
My journey at UP Entertainment has afforded me extensive experience to launch new networks, including UPtv and aspire TV, as well as the direct-to-consumer Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD) service, UP Faith & Family, across technologies, distribution platforms, and devices. I’ve also worked in content distribution and marketing, and international program sales.
I began my career at Gospel Music Channel/UP Entertainment creating research affiliate and ad sales decks, which led to building the affiliate marketing department, which led to becoming VP, Affiliate Marketing and VP, National Accounts, Content Distribution and Marketing. In this role, not only was I lead marketer with top distributors DIRECTV, DISH and Amazon, but one of my most notable accomplishments was being a key member of the team that conceptualized and launched aspire TV, in partnership with Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Aspire TV is the entertainment destination that reflects, shares and celebrates the experiences of black culture and urban lifestyle.
I was fortunate to lead all marketing efforts for our SVOD service, UP Faith & Family. After several years working on the SVOD service with distributors and serving a pivotal role in relaunching the direct to consumer app, I am now Vice President and Channel Manager, heading up the service for the past year and a half. I oversee strategic planning and business strategy, while orchestrating daily operations including technology, management of P&L, content acquisition, programming, marketing, distribution, data science, operations, planning and analysis.
Working at UP Entertainment, aspire TV and ultimately, UP Faith & Family, have afforded me the opportunity to get up each day and work for brands that unapologetically hold true to inspiring others to be a better version of themselves through positive and uplifting entertainment. Who wouldn’t love to say inspiring others is my true passion?
What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
Oh, do you mean just 5 years ago? Just kidding. Well, looking back, I would tell myself to “be fearless”, “get comfortable, being uncomfortable”, because that’s where growth is and “never second guess yourself or your abilities.” There are moments in my career where taking the easy road seemed to be best choice. However, had I just been fearless and looked at life as a gift worth living to the fullest, I definitely would have made some different decisions. I’m also a believer that you are exactly where you are supposed to be. Where I sit right now in this iteration of our swiftly evolving, video streaming industry, I’m truly blessed.
I would also tell myself to be more mindful of the gifts God gave me. Being an innovator, motivator, conceptualist, executor and confidant are my corporate gifts. It all works for our good, but we must recognize our unique gifts and be grateful for them.
In our industry, change seems to be happening more quickly than ever. How do you personally deal with unexpected change and how do you help your team navigate it?
In this ever-evolving world, it’s very important to stay informed on new technologies, monitor changes and advances in the industry, and be relentless about how to continue to build your skillsets within it. Streaming, although on a growth trajectory, is still a relatively small industry. Networking and getting involved in industry events, webinars, conferences are key. I’m proud to say I serve as a mentor for the Women in Streaming Media Pilot Mentorship Program and have built a strong network of mentors in the industry to help me navigate the nuances of this ever-evolving industry.
For the team I lead, this narrative is no different. I encourage them to get involved in industry organizations, seminars, events, webinars etc., network, create alliances with colleagues in the industry, and above all else, continue to take advantage of all educational opportunities. You can never know enough and the advances in technology, digital marketing strategies, and best practices evolve on a daily basis. The core of what we do is to optimize and test everything. If it was good the first time, then it can be great the next time.
I’m a motivator by nature. I expect a great deal of my team. I constantly ask the hard questions, encourage excellence and push them to always be forward-thinking. In this streaming world, there is no status-quo. Therefore, we can’t be status quo either. That is why I love this industry so much. No day, no problem, and no solution are the same.
What guidance do you have for someone who is looking to advance their career in the cable industry during this tumultuous time of cord cutting and now COVID-19?
My advice would be to become an expert in understanding the shifts in the industry. You must be vigilant in your efforts to understand how SVOD, AVOD, TVOD, Live-Linear, e-commerce, mobile, etc., fit into your current career path. Television, and particularly cable television, is still a vital business. However, the new digital video space is a true force that has shaken up the way we program our networks, market to and connect with our viewers and produce new or acquire content. Additionally, the technologies we use, data and audience insights are all being impacted by streaming.
Some companies were already remote-friendly, but with the onset of COVID-19, other companies had to pivot and adapt very quickly. Therefore, offering positions that can easily be performed remotely are going to become more of the norm, and frankly, more of what the work-force expects. If you aren’t tech savvy, take a class. There are plenty of courses that are accessible and available for no to low cost. If you’re interested in digital marketing, data science, social media, graphic design or omni-channel opportunities (email, SMS, Push, social media, etc.), then by all means, take the time to learn as much as you can.
This year’s theme for WICT Southeast is “Connect to your peers, your industry and everything around you.” In what way does this resonate with you and why do you think this message is important now more than ever for people who have not joined or renewed their WICT membership?
I don’t know about you, but living in the midst of a pandemic, communication is now relegated to Zoom meetings, Facetime or Microsoft Teams calls, which aided in re-evaluating my priorities. Creating space to “be still” has afforded me the opportunity to better connect with family, friends and co-workers on a level I was not able to before.
Life seemed to pass so quickly prior to March 2020. It was filled with work, home and church, other hobbies and my activities with WICT. But the weeks were long and weekends felt super short to non-existent. Although I have been blessed to continue to work and be home with family, I have made a focused priority to continue to lead by learning. I connect through webinars (WICT offers great topics), seek out classes, research other companies’ best practices, dive deeply into our KPI’s (Key performance Indicators) and continue to analyze strengths and weaknesses to enhance the strategic stake in the marketplace for the SVOD service I lead, as well as for myself and my team.
WICT, by far, is an organization that never fails its members. Even in a pandemic, the opportunities to learn and grow your career and personal life were/are vast. From lunch & learns on financial tips in uncertain times, to continuous webinars on industry topics to pro-social efforts, WICT is a well-rounded “essential” organization. I for one, am a proud member. Advancing career opportunities and an increased network of strong industry professionals, make it all worth it. If you have not joined or renewed your WICT membership, do it today!
WICT offers four levels of membership. Membership dues are based on your career level, providing a more affordable alternative to those just starting out. It’s easy to join! For more information on what a WICT membership can do for you or to renew your membership, go here for more information.
Aww, networking events. The word networking invokes many different emotions in people. Fear, dread, excitement and maybe a bit of nausea. Attending a networking event can be and should be fun. There are tips to reduce anxiety so that networking can be fun and purposeful.
It starts with planning for the evening. I find that if I plan before any event, my mind is put a little more at ease. Do some research about the event and the other participants (if able). A little recon can make sure that you have something to talk about with others of interest. If you discover that there will be participants from a company you are interested in, you can plan to have a conversation with those participants.
Plan to listen. Listen not just to formulate an answer. You want to make others feel as important as you like to feel. No glazing over as you try to make yourself remember their names or look over the shoulder to find the shrimp tray. Everyone you meet could be the way to your next opportunity, so pay attention.
After speaking with a person or group, do you find yourself forgetting names or essential details? During the event, find a quiet corner or even the restroom to write down short notes. You don’t have to write an essay; little notes will suffice. Did someone say something particularly interesting? Notate it on the back of their business card. You will use these notes when you follow up with these people in the following days.
Most importantly, attending a networking event can be an opportunity to learn something new, gain new clients, get career advice, or talk with others in your industry- away from the office. Relax and realize that participation in the event is a choice. Reframe how you think about the event. Is this a night to enjoy some delicious snacks and drinks? Is it a couple of hours away from home? Focus on the positive and the time will fly by.
The thing to remember is that the more you network, the more comfortable you become with it. Seek out networking opportunities and network with everyone! Join WICT Southeast for Taste of WICT on Tuesday, March 3rd, in Atlanta and Thursday, March 12th, in Knoxville to test out these new tips and hear from our dynamic keynote speakers. Watch our calendar for other WICT Southeast networking opportunities.
Saquonna Duncan is among all other things a devourer of books of all genres (in spurts after the house is quiet). She is the Subpoena Coordinator at Cox Communications, Inc. in the Legal department, aspiring lawyer and soon to be retired Navy Veteran.