Black Women in the Global Village

Style and Fashion Blogger Ejieme Eromosele of  My So-Called Corporate Life shares her advice on fashion in the workplace, why mentors are so important for black women in Corporate America, and shares a few of her favorite travel spots in this edition of Black Women in the Global Village.

What do you do? On your site you call yourself a “Business Doctor”.

I’m a Management Consultant. I used the term “Business Doctor” because I diagnose business problems and prescribe solutions to improve my client’s situations. This relationship is much like one you would have with your medical doctor. Specifically I work in customer strategy and operations – so help businesses develop better interactions with their customers.

What is your educational background?

I’m a double NYU grad – went to undergrad in the Liberal Arts College where I majored in Economics and just completed my MBA from The Stern School of Business.

Did you have the typical educational experience of being one of a few black women in most of your classes?

Since high school I have been the “lone ranger” so it’s something I have gotten used to. And now that I’m in consulting it’s become a regular part of life.

Going to NYU was a great experience but I was always one of a few black students in my classes (undergrad and MBA). Luckily I could step out of class and be greeted by the rainbow of humanity. It can be draining sometimes having to be the representative of your whole race or always having to conform to the majority’s preferences or feeling like it’s hard to identify with everyone else. But it’s better if we come to terms with this reality, embrace it and surround ourselves with supportive friends and family.

 

When and why did you start blogging about fashion?

I’m a newbie when it comes to fashion/style blogging but I’ve experimented with other blogs in the past. I started My So-Called Corporate Life as a creative outlet: a personal challenge to write more and to start experimenting with photography. I was inspired by other style blogs but wanted to focus on the work-wear niche, since it’s what I know best.

How important is it to get clothing, such as business suits, tailored? Does it make a difference?

I don’t wear suits often for work but if I did I would probably invest in a few tailored pieces. I’ve only been exposed to tailored suits from men I’ve dated that opted to get their suits tailored. It makes a big difference in how the suit fits which translates to how well you look in it.  Luckily, women have many more options for work clothing but if you’re in a profession where suits are often needed, I’d recommend investing in a tailored suit.

What are you opinions about wearing lots of color in the workplace? Should we stick to black and navy suits or is there room to add more variety?

Color is great, but depending on your work environment, too much of it can draw the wrong type of attention. For those of us who work in more conservative work environments, I would recommend limiting the use of very bright, loud or distracting colors. The general guidelines that we’ve all been exposed to: casual, business casual and business formal should help in classifying how adventurous you should be when incorporating color. I’m sorry to say but the ladies that fall in the business formal category do have to use color sparingly and also be creative. Those of us in the business casual and casual settings have greater flexibility.

Are you treated differently when you wear a more colorful or more feminine outfit to work?

As a woman in corporate America, It’s easy to be known as “the trendy, shopaholic Associate, ultra-feminine” woman who dresses well to compensate for what may be lacking in other areas. Don’t let that happen to you. Luckily, I’ve performed well in my roles and have never had anyone challenge my intellectual ability based on what I chose to wear or how I chose to wear it (not directly to my face anyway). It is a thin line to tread, especially for women, who already have an uphill climb to prove we deserve a place in the boardroom. So don’t only talk about your latest purchases or come back from lunch with a shopping bag. Dress well and leave no room for anyone to question your abilities.

What are your Corporate Fashion Dos and Don’ts?

Do: Wear color! Incorporate a diverse color palette in your work-wear wardrobe.

Do: Invest in quality staple pieces that you can mix and match with other items in your closet.

Don’t: Bring the club to work. ‘Nuff said.

Don’t: Spend a fortune on clothes! It pains me to see so many of us chasing labels instead of building financial security. Save for splurges without digging into

Don’t: Wear things that are too tight! If you’re even considering asking yourself if it’s too tight, it most likely is.

Do: Bring your individual style and personality to what you wear to work. 

What overall message should your wardrobe and overall appearance be sending to your co-workers and clients?

Your wardrobe should exude confidence and capability. I’ll put a twist and say that your wardrobe and overall appearance should also express your personality to the extent in which you can.

What are your thoughts on the representation of black women in your area of work?

I could write a book on this! It’s pretty clear that black women are few and far between in corporate America, and especially in the field of management consulting. You may see us at the lower and entry-levels, but look at Senior Management and we’re few and far between. This is systemic of the general lack of representation of women and under-represented minorities in corporate. It’s challenging because we have fewer role models to look up to and advocate for us. However, for the few of us here I’d encourage us to stay positive and to develop a strong personal network, in and outside of our organizations and comprised of people from various backgrounds. In time, I’m hopeful that the numbers will start to change.

Many of us have been in situations where various kinds of conflict arise like sabotage from fellow employees. Do you have tips on how to prevent some of those situations from happening?

1) Be positive at work. While things often and undoubtedly will get on your nerves, limit the amount of complaining you do at work. You don’t want to be the “Debbie Downer”. Take those types of conversations outside of the workplace. Don’t give the haters ammunition.

2) Be your own cheerleader – as in tell people about the awesome stuff you’re working on.

3) Document the work that you’re doing. About every other week or so, I literally jot down what it is I’ve accomplished (and any supporting material – emails mostly).

4) Develop a network of people from all levels in the organization that can support you, in case you need it one day. 

It’s important for black women to have mentors and role models to look up to, even if they aren’t other black women. What has your experience been with mentors?

Mentors are a great source of inspiration, motivation, and general guidance. Good mentors listen and understand where you want to go and help you along that path. While I think mentors are great resources, I don’t think it’s necessary that they be other black women. While it’s great to have someone you can clearly identify with, it’s also beneficial to have mentors that have diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives.

Speaking personally, I’ve actually never had a black woman act as a mentor to me. I’ve had a Swedish female consulting partner, a male Zimbabwean private equity investor, and a white-American male founder of a non-profit. All have tremendously contributed to where I am today.

What was one of the best pieces of advice you have received from your mentors?

I recently got this piece of advice as I was trying to finalize my post-MBA plans. My mentor told me to “Talk less; listen, and do more.” Simple, but powerful and I think I’m doing just that.

Is your career your main focus at the moment?

My career is definitely a primary focus right now. I’m trying to bring it everyday and learn as much as I can. I’m also working on a few side-hustles: trying to figure out what I want to do with my blog and developing an online boutique for contemporary African fashion.

In the long-run I’d like to use my knowledge of business to have a positive impact. I have personal goals of entrepreneurship but also want to help develop entrepreneurs in developing economies.

What are your thoughts on the image of black women in the US?

I hope that we can continue to embody the positive images that are already associated with us: strong, fearless, family-oriented, etc. But I also hope that we can make strides in being more in control of our health, personal finance and happiness.

What does “black women living well” mean to you and how do you think more black women can get to that point?

Black women living well to me means loving each other and ourselves in all the different shades, shapes and hairstyles we come in. Supporting each other and our communities and keeping our minds, bodies and spirits healthy.

Here are some of the things that I’m doing to try to live a better life:

– Re-evaluate my strengths and weaknesses and keep working on areas where I can grow.

– Build healthy habits – eat better, get physical activity. Prevention of disease is key.

– Be a mentor to someone else

– Challenge myself to never stop learning

– Frequently get out of my comfort zone

– Improve my self-awareness and self-acceptance

– Make more time for friends and family

– Get my money right (save, invest, strive for financial independence)

– Travel more. See the world.

Speaking of travel, tell us the best 3 places you have traveled to.

I LOVE to travel and have been to over 20 countries so picking my top 3 places is very hard! But here we go:

Brazil – It’s such a smorgasbord of culture, beautiful beaches and beautiful people.

Tanzania –It had a great diverse experience here. From getting lost in the history-rich, narrow streets of Stone town to sunbathing along the desolate, pristine beaches of Zanzibar to lion-spotting on a safari and learning some dance moves from some Masai warriors.

Greece – I loved the diversity of all the little islands and the beautiful blue Mediterranean water.

How do you picture your life in the next few years?

I want to be happy, healthy, continually challenging myself and learning every day and I’m looking forward to however it is I make that happen.

Get more corporate fashion advice from Ejieme by subscribing to her blog, My So-Called Corporate Life and be sure to follow her on Twitter  for even more fashion updates!

Thanks Ejieme!

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