76 : A Seat at the Table (w/ Minda Harts)

We have the pleasure of speaking with Minda Harts, the founder and CEO of The Memo LLC, a career platform that helps women of color advance in the workplace. She speaks with us about a number of topics, including her new book coming out later this year titled “The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table” and some ugly truths she says keeps women of color from securing their own.

Check out Minda on LinkedInTwitter, and Instagram, and don’t forget to preorder her book from wherever you buy books!


Ade: Welcome to Living Corporate. This is Ade, and Zach isn’t here today, but we do have an interview we had with the wonderful Minda Harts. Minda describes herself as a founder, philanthropist, and seat creator, which–seat creator is incredible to me as a phrase in and of itself, but Minda is a beast. She is an adjunct professor of public service of NYU’s Robert F. Wagner’s Graduate School of Public Service. That was a mouthful. She’s also the founder of The Memo LLC, which actually I got regularly in my inbox, faithfully, before we even had a conversation with Minda. It’s a career development company for women of color, and her debut book, which is called The Memo, comes out this fall with the Hachette Book Group/Seal Press. She’s been featured in Forbes, CNBC, The Guardian, The Washington Post, and Fast Company. You can also tune in weekly for her career podcast as well for professional women of color called Secure the Seat. So obviously you can see that there’s been some overlap in our interests as well as Minda’s. Minda has conducted workshops all over the world and keynotes with ad corporations like Time Inc. Y’all may have heard of that little shop. South by Southwest. It’s this popular little thing. You may not have heard of it. The Campaign for Black Male Achievement and the New York Public Library. She’s also been at universities like Western Illinois University, NYU Stern, North Carolina A&T, and Cornell University. All that said, you may be expecting a few things from listening to this conversation, and what you’re gonna hear between her and Zach will be some amazing strategies for women of color. So keep listening. We don’t have any Favorite Things for you this week, ’cause y’all know how I am, but got you next week, promise. See you soon. This has been Ade. Peace.

Zach: Minda, welcome to the show. How are you doing?

Minda: I’m doing great. Thanks for having me, Zach.

Zach: Oh, no problem at all. Really excited to have you here. Would you mind–for those of us who don’t know you, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Minda: Yeah. So my name is Minda Harts, and I am the founder and CEO of a career platform that helps women of color advance in the workplace called The Memo, and prior to The Memo I spent 15 years in corporate and non-profit spaces as a consultant. And I also teach at NYU Wagner and have a book coming out later this year called The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table.

Zach: That’s incredible. Now, look, let’s kick this off with this question, ’cause I think it’s a good preface for this discussion. So you were recently quoted in a piece by the New York Times speaking to the anxieties around the motherhood penalty, and you said, “Because we are often only one or two or few in the company, we strategically have to plan our every move.” Could you talk to us a little bit more about what you mean? Not only in the context of bringing your kids to work or having children, but being strategic period as a black woman and, larger, as a woman of color.

Minda: Yeah, absolutely. I think that in that article too I also say that, you know, “A joyous day for one mother or father is mental gymnastics for another,” and I think that often times, if you are the only ones, dependent upon how you’re being treated in the workplace, you may or may not want your child to come to work with you because of how you’ve been treated in the workplace. And I think when we talk of micro-aggressions and bias and white privilege, I think our counterparts often don’t think of what that means for us to show up. So again, you know, the pizza party in the jumpy house might be fun for all the other kids, but, you know, if I’m the only one in the workplace and I’m already dealing with all of this other stuff, you know, do I want to be subjected to that while my child is there with me? You know, so we have to think through. And then if one bad thing happens, our counterpart’s child is being cute, but our child is being bad, you know? So we have to think about what those messages are. So each day, whether you have children or you don’t, we have to really be strategic and calculate every step.

Zach: So let’s talk about your podcast also for a second–it’s fire–called Secure the Seat.

Minda: Thank you.

Zach: No problem. What was your journey in, like, creating that space?

Minda: Yeah. You know what’s funny? I would say I battled myself for almost a year before I started Secure the Seat. I just didn’t see myself as a podcaster. I thought, “Well, I have The Memo,” the career platform with my co-founder Lauren. “We’re fine over here,” but what I realized was I was missing out on talking to some of the other issues that I think people of color, women of color, face, and also how can our allies or how can those who don’t identify the way we do, how can they be helpful? And I think that part of a seat at the table is it’s great to be at the table, but securing it looks much different, and also passing that baton, bringing others that look like us in the room with us, and I think we don’t talk about that enough as people of color.

Zach: I recognize your entire brand, your entire platform, is really wrapped around or centered around empowering women of color in the workplace and just period, and we know that you have a book coming out called The Memo. Can you talk to us a little bit about what led you to work on this book and write this book? And was it a similar journey to the Secure the Seat podcast? Was there any one moment that really hit you and sparked the fire and made you say, “Hey, I need to write this.”?

Minda: Yeah. It’s interesting, because I had an idea back in 2012. So now, you know, it’s 2019, so sometimes we just sit on things for a long time, right? And I knew I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know what that something was, and it didn’t manifest itself until 2015. And I realized that–what is my legacy going to be in Corporate America? What is my legacy going to be in the non-profit sector? And if there aren’t people advocating for women that look like me, for, you know, men that might identify as, you know, people of color, then who–if no one else is gonna do it, then I need to be stepping up to the plate and add my unique slice of genius to this puzzle, because it’s one thing to get yourself in the room, but if you’re not bringing others along with you or sharing that secret sauce, then what are we doing, right? And so when we think about those who came before us, like the Harriet Tubmans, the Frederick Douglasses, the Malcolm Xs, they secured the seat so we could secure our seat, right? And so I want to be one of those people that played a role, even if it’s a small role, in just having people think different. We talk a lot about leaning in, but what we’re seeing is a lot of us are leaning out, and that’s what I don’t want to happen, because we’ve worked too hard to step away now.

Zach: Absolutely. And it’s interesting. I read a piece recently saying that leaning in does not work if you’re a black woman. If you’re a woman of color, like, it doesn’t work. And I’m not using women of color and black women interchangably because those are unique experiences and identities, but what I mean is that, like, even that language and, like, some of the frameworks in which we discuss these things, they are centered around whiteness, and some of these to be looked at or examined differently when you’re talking about black and brown experiences. Your whole point around leaning out, that’s really interesting. Can you, like, talk a little bit more about what you–like, what do you mean by people are leaning out as others are trying to lean in?

Minda: Yeah. So we talk a lot about diversity and inclusion and equity, in terms of marginalized or underrepresented groups, and what we’re seeing is that–at least for black women in particular, that a lot of us are leaving Corporate America and starting our own companies, and–which is great, that is to be celebrated, but we’re leaving because of frustration, because we’re not being invested in, because all of the education that we’ve obtained is not moving us forward. And so if they’re not moving us forward, we’re moving out, right? And so we’re being cut off from this opportunity on the corporate side to obtain generational wealth in that regard, because the reality is not all of us will be successful entrepreneurs when we leave the traditional workforce. And so I’m saying that we almost have no choice but to kind of lean out of that, and my thing is, like, let’s put the pressure on these companies for us to–for them to let us have a stake in the ground and move us up, if they say that’s what they want to do.

Zach: Now, look, I’m not trying to have you give out the sauce for free, but your website says that The Memo addresses some of the ugly truths that keep women of color from the table. Again, without you giving the whole book away on the podcast, could you talk a little bit about what some of those ugly truths are?

Minda: Yeah. So I can’t give all the sauce, but you can go and preorder it wherever you like to buy books.

Zach: Ow. Yes.

Minda: ‘Ey. [laughs] Help me secure my seat. But what I will say is a lot of the business books, a lot of the career books, are centered–as you said–around the experience of white people in the workplace, right? And then we read those books, and we take what we can out of ’em and make that one-size-fit-all work for us, and I’m saying no. There are unique experiences that I’ve had as a black woman and that other women of color have experienced in similar ways, and I want to shine a lot on that “You don’t understand what it’s like showing up in a–being the one out of 90 employees,” being that only person of color. And I know I speak from the lens of being a black woman and a woman of color, but I believe this book is important because as we talk about the future of work, this will require anybody who sees themselves in a management position to understand the unique experiences of their talent, and that requires all hands on deck.

Zach: 100% right. And it’s so interesting when we talk about the future of work and we talk about how workforces are getting browner, right? The next five to ten, fifteen, twenty years, like, the workforce will look dramatically different than it does today, and it’s gonna be more and more important for there to be content and thought leadership around “What does it mean to be other?” Right? And again, as the workforces get browner, that doesn’t mean that leadership is necessarily gonna get browner, but it does mean that there are gonna be more non-white folks in these spaces who are gonna, like, be new to these spaces. So what is it gonna mean for them to navigate and really be effective and be successful and not drive themselves crazy, for the lack of a better word, in trying to, like, really navigate and how they can really operate and be successful here. And so really speaking to that–you already alluded to this a little bit, about allyship. So I believe black and brown folks aren’t really gonna go far in the corporate space without strong allies. Can you talk a little bit about what good allyship means to you or what allyship looks like to you?

Minda: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s–and you made a really great point. Just because the workforce itself is becoming more Crayola-like, right? More colors added to the spectrum, but it doesn’t mean that the leadership is going to be, and that’s the part that I’m like, “No.” The future of work requires us to be at that table too, and so part of that allyship, that leadership–at least in my book I talk about shifting the language, because a lot of people are wearing this allyship badge like it’s a sticker, right? Like I could go to any local store and just put this badge on and that’s–and I’m good, and really I’m saying “Let’s shift it to success partners.” And I talk about that in my book. It’s like, “No, you partner with me on the success.” You know, “What is it gonna take for me to be where you are?” Or, you know, you provide a roadmap for me, an accelerated opportunity. I’ve been here, I’ve done the work, and it’s gonna require people adding more seats, and when I was in Corporate America I had this one white man–shout-out to Steve. I don’t know where you are today, but–

Zach: Shout-out to Steve. Put the air horns on for Steve. [imitating the horns]

Minda: [laughs] Yes, yes, and he had the privilege. He had the status, you know? He had the agency to be able to say, “I see you,” and, you know, “Come through, pull up, and let me give you the shot,” and I think more and more people in privileged positions need to be giving others that opportunity, because you’ll never know what I’m able to do if I never have that opportunity to do it, and that requires you to partner with me.

Zach: Man, 100%, and I can say that there was–there’s not been anything that I’ve been able to achieve in my

professional career that has not been, in some level, like, strong support from some white person, right? Like, in the

corporate space. Like, I cannot look back and be like, “I did this by myself.” I always tell people that I

mentor–typically I’m mentoring black folks, also some brown folks, and I’ll say, you know, “What’s behind every strong

black or brown person?” And they’ll typically–99% of the time they’ll say, “Their parents or their partner?” I’ll be like, “No, a white person.” And they laugh, but it’s true. When you’re talking about that sponsorship, allyship–like, when you talk about that support, someone using their privilege so that you can secure your seat at the table, like, you need that. I just don’t think that it’s practical or reasonable to expect that if you are a minority in these spaces that your very small network on your own is gonna be able to achieve and grow and get everything that you want to have, you know? You need some partnership. You said that–I loved that. “Success partners.” So, like, could you just expand on that a little bit more? ‘Cause I really like the way that’s reframed. Can you talk–just unpack that a little bit more, about success partners?

Minda: Yeah. Well, thank you, first and foremost, but I think it’s–like you said, the majority right now is, you know, white men and women at these tables, making these decisions, and so they’re gonna have to look out of the ivory tower and say, “You know what? Let’s identify some people that are not in the room, that have talent, that have the ability if they had the opportunity. Let me partner with them and give them these accelerated career paths,” and I think that’s the only way we’re going to do it, is for them to look around the room, take the time to see who’s missing, and go and get them, right? Because we’re there. It’s not–it’s not a pipeline issue, but if we keep leaning out due to frustration, then it will be a pipeline issue. So allyship is great, but now we need to shift into this partnership. So partner with somebody who’s missing from the room and bring them up. And it’s not charity. It’s just giving people an opportunity, because 9 times out of 10 they have the opportunity to get to where they are.

Zach: That’s the wild part too, is that it’s not charity. The people that you’re identifying, the people that are out there that are not in the room–there’s plenty of people out there that should be in the room more than you should be in there, right? Like, there are people out there that have earned it. But that’s a really good point too, but I think–I don’t know. I’ve seen it where–like, I’ve had people who have been allies to me, and there’s a certain kind of sense of charity, right? Like they’re doing me a favor. And I take it anyway, Minda, ’cause, like, hey, look, I’m just tryna get to the bag. So, like, hey, if you feel like you’re doing me a favor, go ahead and feel like you’re doing me a favor.

Minda: Exactly, exactly. [laughs]

Zach: But, you know, when you talk in terms of just, like, internally, intrinsically, you’re not–that’s a toxic mindset to have, and it’s false, right? And it’s kind of racist, lowkey, ’cause it’s like, “No, this person has earned it.” Like, I’ve seen–you tell me if you’ve seen this before, but I’ve seen in the working space where there’s people who have exceled and they’ll, like–they’re seen as, like, really top performers, and then you kind of just, like, peel back a couple layers–you’re like, “You’re not that sweet. You’re not that good.” You know what I’m saying? [laughs]

Minda: [laughs] If we were doing some, like, hardcore Inspector Gadget work, I think we would find out that a lot of people who are in that room should not be in that room. I was passed over for a promotion that they were quote-unquote “grooming me” for, right? And they ended up not giving it to me, and I had to–I typically wasn’t the type of person to kind of challenge this, but I’m like, “Wait, I’ve worked here way too long for this to have happened to me,” and I respectfully asked, you know, “Why did you decide to bring in someone who had less experience than me, has never really done this job?” And the response–I kid you not, it was, you know, “You’re young. You’re gonna have more opportunities. He’s a good guy with a nice wife.”

[record scratch]

Zach: Wow.

Minda: [laughs]

Zach: But then, see, if you threw a table or something, they would say you were crazy. That’s nuts. Wow.

Minda: I was crazy. I was crazy. Okay, but I’ve been working here 10+ years, grinding, hustling, taking on all of the top projects, and you’re gonna tell me that someone who has 2 years experience, doesn’t have the relationships I have, but because he’s A. a white man–I don’t know that that’s necessarily why, but he was a white man and is a white man, and he has a nice wife. I’m like, “Okay. That’s where we are.” And in that moment, I realized that this is not the table I need to be at, because I’m gonna keep working my butt off and doing all of these great things. And I couldn’t–I wasn’t in a position, to be honest with you, to leave when that happened. I had to stay in that position another year and a half heart-broken while I helped him get up to speed before I was able to leave. And so where do the broken hearts go, right? So yeah.

Zach: That’s why I’m just so excited. I love the work that you’re doing. I love your platform because–obviously I’ve watched you from afar as like–you’re outspoken, you’re courageous, you’re gregarious, you’re relationship-driven, you’re a strong networker, all of these different things, but you shouldn’t have to be all of those things to get the support that you need at your job, right? Like, there’s plenty of people out there–black and brown folks out here who are a little bit more reserved and who aren’t as sure and things of that nature, and they’re struggling. Like, you just said, “Where do the broken hearts go?” There’s plenty of people at work right now who don’t want to be there, who don’t feel supported, but don’t know what to do, and that’s just all the more reason why your platform is so important, so I just want to thank you again for even having it. Before we go, do you have any parting words?

Minda: Well, first off I want to say thank you, and thank you to podcasts and platforms like yours, because we all need each other, right? When you’re successful, you’re successful. When I’m successful, you’re successful. And there can be so many different ways that we get this information out to all of the broken hearts, right? And I think it’s really important that we talk about experiences, and it was a journey. I just want to leave everyone saying that the Minda I am talking to Zach right now, it was a process. It was a journey. It was a process. I was not this outspoken. I was not–I’ve always been driven, but what I’d say a silent assassin, right? Like, I didn’t really do a lot of vocalizing, but I realized that there a lot of people who, like you said, are not in a position to speak for themselves, and if I can help talk about the stuff that they can’t in these settings and their bosses hear about it or read the book, then we’re winning together.

Zach: I love that, and you know what? Also before we go, go ahead and please plug your stuff. Like, where can people learn about you? Where can people preorder the book? Where can we get more of Minda Harts?

Minda: Well, thank you. This is really important to me, this book, because when we were pitching it to the publishing houses, my agent and I, we kept hearing that there’s not a–there’s no one that would want to hear this. There’s not an audience for this type of material, and there is, right? And so please go and preorder this book. Let’s go and show the powers that be that we matter, our experiences matter. It doesn’t matter if you’re a woman of color or not, but there are career nuggets in here that will help each and every one of us who are underrepresented in the workforce. So wherever you like to buy books, it’s The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table, and I’m most active on Twitter @MindaHarts, so find me there.

Zach: Ay. First of all, Minda, thank you again, and thank y’all for joining us on the Living Corporate podcast. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @LivingCorporate, Twitter @LivingCorp_Pod, and subscribe to our newsletter through living-corporate.com, please say the dash. Or you could say livingcorporate.co, livingcorporate.org. We’ve got all the livingcorporates except for livingcorporate.com, ’cause Australia got that. Australia, we’re still looking at y’all. You need to give us that domain. Don’t play. If you have a question you’d like for us to answer and read on the show, look, just DM us, right? Like, get in our Insta DMs, get in our Twitter DMs. They’re always open, right? Or you can just email us at livingcorporatepodcast@gmail.com. Also, don’t forget to check out our Patreon @LivingCorporate as well. And that does it for us on the show. This has been Zach. You’ve been talking with the–that’s right, the–Minda Harts. Catch y’all next time. Peace.

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