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A Seat at the Table, with Minda Harts

A Seat at the Table, with Minda Harts

Episode 71: A Seat at the Table, with Minda Harts

Now more than ever diverse representation plays a key role in creating a successful workplace. Seeing people who look like you in the C-Suite, makes a huge difference. Minda Harts, CEO and founder of The Memo, has created a space to help women of color not only gain a seat at the table, but to know what to do at the table. In this week's podcast Minda discusses the power of diversity, finding your your inner wonder woman and learning to be your biggest cheerleader. You worked really hard to get where you are and deserve to be there.

Episode Transcript

00:00 Rachel Griesinger: Welcome to the Ellevate Podcast, conversations with women changing the face of business. Now your hosts, Kristy Wallace and and Maricella Herrera.

00:12 Kristy Wallace: Hi, and welcome to the Ellevate podcast. This is your host Kristy Wallace joined today by my lovely co-host Maricella Herrera. How are you doing on this lovely day, Maricella?

00:24 Maricella Herrera: I'm doing great. It's a lovely, lovely day. I'm doing great. I'm really, really, really happy to share with everyone my conversation with Minda Harts today on the podcast.

00:36 KW: Yes, I always love it when you do the interviews, 'cause it's a different perspective. It's fun to listen to the questions that you ask.

00:43 MH: It's so much fun, honestly, and Minda and I had such a great conversation. Minda's the Founder and CEO of The Memo, which is also a community for women, specifically, women of color. It's focused on bringing them career boot camps and educations and tools to find their seat at the table.

01:04 KW: Oh, that's amazing.

01:07 MH: I love that she's such a great supporter of Ellevate. She says that when people tell them, "You are sort of like Ellevate, but for women of colour specifically." She's like, "That is amazing."


01:21 KW: Well, I love that, and we talk all the time. We love... Through the podcast and through Ellevate's other platforms, such as social media and articles, blogs, events. We love to shed a light on women that are doing amazing things to close the gender gap in business. We do not see it as a competitive landscape because we know that there's a lot of work to be done and the more companies that are tackling gender inequality and all inequalities, particularly in the workplace, the better until we can reach parity. So, excited to hear your interview.

02:00 MH: Yeah, it was great. Again, as you said, the more the merrier. It's really inspiring when you see all of these companies, we're all working towards one goal. We're all tackling it in different ways and doing different things but we're all sort of in it for the same reasons. And we, for the most part, if not all, just working together. It really becomes this network of networks and it really becomes this, even just us women supporting women is such a big thing for us. It really is groups of women supporting groups of women. It's really inspiring.

02:39 KW: Alright. So our poll today, I get to do the poll because you did the interview. Our poll today is how has your professional network helped your career? If you are new to the podcast, as a little background, we at Ellevate Network have a daily newsletter called The Morning Boost, you should subscribe if you haven't. It's really fantastic. Ultra-customized to you and where you are in your career. We do a poll every week, asking our community for their thoughts on pertinent and important issues. And so, one of our recent polls was how has your professional network helped your career? The results: 26% said, "I've gotten a job through networking." I would definitely be in that camp because...

03:26 MH: Me too.

03:27 KW: All of my jobs have been through networking. 21% said, "I've enhanced my professional skills." 19%, "Feedback and answering questions has been the benefit of their professional network." 13% said, "I've found clients through networking." Another 6% said, "It's more of a social thing for me, I've mostly made friends," which is also a good thing. 6% said, "It hasn't yet." Alright, well, I would say, you should join Ellevate Network 'cause we are a network of action. 6% have said, "I've gotten a board position through my network." Yes, very important. 2% said, "I met my business partner." Under 1% said, "They connected me to investment opportunities." I actually found some investment opportunities through my network as well. I think I would check a lot of these boxes.

04:21 MH: Yeah, me too. Not the investment opportunities, but I would probably check most of the top choices as well.

04:30 KW: Which is important. I think networking is so key. You get out of it what you put into it and it is a two-way street but look to cultivate those relationships and it's not always an immediate ROI. You may not go to one event and suddenly you got a new job and a board opportunity and all of the above. It does take some work but it's very meaningful, important work that's there to help propel your career forward as well as provide you the friendship and emotional support that comes with it as well.

05:05 MH: Awesome.

05:06 KW: Alright, so check out the podcast today and we hope you enjoy it. Tell us all what you think. Tweet at us @EllevateNtwk #Ellevatepod.


05:30 MH: I'm here with Minda Harts, Founder and CEO of The Memo. She is awesome, and good friend of Ellevate. You've done workshops with us. I know you've worked a little bit on content creation and blogging with Tina too.

05:46 Minda Harts: Yes.

05:47 MH: We're big fans of what you're doing. Why don't you start by telling our listeners a little bit about you and about The Memo.

05:55 MH: Awesome. Well, yes, friend to Ellevate, definitely. We Created the memo about a year and a half ago and we created the platform to help women of color prepare for their seat at the table. We realize that there was a deficit with what the table looked like and so there's something important and inspiring when you see yourself at the table, and so I thought it would be nice to build a community around that, where we can inspire and help and guide each other, and not necessarily just have a seat at the table, but what do you do when you sit down? Because sometimes we're put in positions where we get to sit at the table but we don't know what to do when we're there. Creating those skills, rather its etiquette to salary negotiation, just what are those things that women need in their tool kit? I felt that, being a first generation college student, there were a lot of things that I just fumbled around and fell into and learned trial by error. I wanted to help the next generation of women of color not have to have so many skinned knees along the way and help them from there.

06:56 MH: I know The Memo focuses on women of color. I do believe that's a big need, as a Latina myself. It's just there's something so powerful about seeing someone else in a position, and I know you've talked about seeing characters on TV and when you were growing up, and thinking that's where I can go. How are you providing this sort of inspiration and additional resources specifically for women of color?

07:22 MH: You know, I love organizations and networks like Elevate and some of the others out there and I think that it's important that we all have a voice, and that everybody comes together to the table. But there's also something really profound, again seeing yourself in that situation and I felt like sometimes the media portrays women as this one size fits all. You might hear of Sally, or you might hear of Cheryl, but you don't necessarily hear of that Latina, or that African-American woman that's doing the same thing that they're doing. I know they're out there. I may not see them, so that's one of our unique distinctions is we bring those women to teach some of our courses online and so The Memo is a career subscription company for women of color.

08:04 MH: Each month, a woman, depending on where she is in her career, she'll receive a certain career boot camp. Let's say that leadership is that, then part of that track is she's now getting to learn from a woman that looks like her, or has had similar experiences in the workplace that she can resonate with. It's something, I always say this, "me too" factor is something about shaking your head and saying, "Yeah, me too." [laughter] It's just something like knowing that someone else has been through it. But also too, some of the women that teach our boot camps are non-women of color. Because I'm really also a proponent of, diversity doesn't happen if we don't all have a voice. Yes, our content is geared toward women of color but we have all sorts and shades of women that come to our boot camps because we do them on and offline. I love it when I see a white woman, and we've had so many of them pop up because I think, again, true diversity happens when you have representation from all walks of life.

09:03 MH: Absolutely, that's the power in diversity, right? [laughter] Diversity itself. Why did you start this? Tell me a little bit about your background and where you were coming from when you actually decided to start The Memo.

09:17 MH: As I mentioned before, being a first generation college student, I was always very much one of those people who loved to learn and read, and back then, I may be dating myself, but going to the library and reading on past women of color that have been trailblazers and using the encyclopedias and those sorts of things and I was always really sad that I didn't see a lot of businesswomen that looked like me. Even when I graduated from college, my mentors never looked like me. Granted, they gave me a lot of great information, but some things I could never talk to them about. Some of those experiences, where you feel like, "This is happening to me because I know that I'm black." But I can't come out and say that because then you have this certain stigma and so you get very lonely. And even though I feel so blessed to have had a seat at the table in my former life, I always felt lonely when being the only woman and the only woman of color. I started to think about, "You know what? There's some type of divide and I know it's not a pipeline issue because there's plenty of women that I went to school with and others that are doing really rock star stuff, but there's something that needs to happen between graduation and the path to the table."

10:32 MH: I think having the conversation and having diverse voices speak on it, talk on it, telling your truth. At The Memo, I just felt like a lot of the career platforms weren't necessarily geared toward of women of color, and so I saw an avenue to say, "Okay, maybe I can help with this career prep." If you don't know how to negotiate your salary, and as we talk about the salary gap, women of color are at the lower end, but you always hear this 77 cents number, but that doesn't even include them. I'm like, "Okay, we're a little bit invisible in the workplace." I think that it's one thing to say quote the number but it's another thing to put action to it. For me, it was, let me create a platform that goes for women of color, tells them, "Hey, you deserve to be here, you're worthy, you've been working very hard.

11:19 MH: There's just a couple of things that you may or may not have to tweak in your skill set." But again, I think excellence is not a skill set, it's a state of mind. If you're telling women, "You're excellent. You can do this. Just let's get ready for it, because if you're ready when it comes up, then you don't have to get ready." That's basically what I built and we're continuously growing the platform and it just inspires me. People ask me, "Who are your role models?" I'm saying, "All the women there at The Memo because they're taking their hard-earned money and saying, "I'm investing in me. If nobody else is gonna do it, I'm gonna do it for me.""

11:54 MH: I love that, so many things about what you just said, and you know going to the pay gap, equal payday for African American women was just this Monday, so we're talking July, end of July. For Latina women, it's not until October. Those things are the things that we don't see or talk about enough and need to be put out there, honestly. You've said before that you believe you can teach ambition, and that you didn't believe that. How?

12:20 MH: So my mom, she always says that your environment determines your growth. When I very first started thinking about ambition... She'll even say this, "Gosh, Minda, where did you get that drive and that hustle? I don't know where you got that from." I used to think that it just was something that you were born this way. But I think when you are exposed to certain ways of thinking, and certain ways of being, that it can be taught. Somebody who maybe seemed as "lazy in the workplace", but if they've never had anyone to inspire them, or they'd never seen anyone go for the gold, then sometimes you're just very comfortable in where you are. Now, I'm at this mindset that it's all about your environment. If you're in an environment where you can grow and thrive, then you can be taught ambition. Now, my ambition may look different than your ambition, but we still have the opportunity. It's still accessible to each of us.

13:10 MH: Very cool. So have you always had that hustle in you?

13:12 MH: Gosh, yes.

13:12 MH: 'Cause I can see you wearing here a T-shirt... I wish I could show this on the podcast 'cause her T-shirt just says, "I love entrepreneurs." [chuckle]

13:24 MH: I definitely say I came out of the womb as a hustler because I've always just never been someone who is interested in status quo. I remember, my first job was at 12 years old, and [chuckle] I've been working ever since, be that as it may, good or bad. But I've been working ever since. If I wanted something, then I was going after it. Being in the room with other people who I learned so much from, I realize, "You know what? I'm capable." Confidence definitely comes in certain forms along in your career, but it's something that I've definitely always been just a go-getter, a go-getter. My first day on the job, I'm that person that meets with their boss and says, "What does great look like to you because I wanna exceed your expectations." That's just who I am, and I didn't even know it was an asset until much later in my life.

14:15 MH: I love that. I was just talking to a friend of mine. Super successful, super successful woman, she's great, super smart. Just having brunch, and she was telling me, "I lack that confidence sometimes." I'm like, "Why?" [chuckle] Do you think women, particularly minority women, she was also minority, suffer from that impostor syndrome?

14:38 MH: Oh, yes. Yes. Some people will say, "Oh, Minda, you seem so confident." It's funny 'cause I look at it like Beyonce. She has her Sasha Fierce. I have to find my inner Wonder Woman every time I step up to a mic or step into a room, because I sometimes, when I look in the mirror, I just see that underprivileged girl from outside of Chicago that was living in... Five of us were living in a one bedroom apartment, so sometimes, that's who I see. I come in the room, and you're at this fancy white tablecloth dinners and you're like, "Wow, how did I get here?" But I always have to remind myself that, "You deserve to be here. You worked really hard to get here." I think that we all have to learn to be our biggest cheerleader and remind ourself that, "You deserve this. This is what you prayed for. This is what you asked for. So go in there and be that queen that you were born to be." I think, no matter where we are, black, white, Hispanic, I think that we all have to just encourage ourself and just continuously... Again, excellence is a mindset, and just remind ourselves that each and every time.

15:43 MH: Excellence is a mindset. That's really great. That's a tweetable one. [chuckle] But it's true. I do agree that you have to find that Sasha Fierce. I love that analogy. But it's true. You do have to find that inner force. Ellevate, we're huge proponents of having a network, of having people you can learn from, people you can lean on. At The Memo, that's a big part of it too, building that community. How has your network helped you?

16:09 MH: Oh my gosh. First of all, everyone in my network, thank you, thank you, thank you, because I wouldn't be sitting here with you right now if it wasn't for that network. I'm a real advocate of making sure you have one because you can't do anything in this world alone. I've had a network ever since I was in junior high, really, or when you're in school, you create those relationships that serve you in different points in your life. When I was younger, in high school, I remember seeing this woman around town, and I was always so intrigued by her because she was so fierce and so fabulous and she owned this natural healthcare food store. At the time, back in the early 90s, that was a taboo thing. I'm like, "I have to get to know this woman because there's something about her that I know I could learn from." I went to her office, and we had a conversation. I said, "I wanna work for you. I wanna learn. I wanna grow." And she didn't look like me.

17:06 MH: Going back to networking, you should have people on your team that don't look like you and that look like you. That's the power of the network, but I worked for her for a couple of years in high school, and we're still tight. She lives in Scottsdale now, and so I'll go down and see her. But it's one of those things back then you just... You had to go for it. There wasn't email. You could make a cold call, but when you see something or... You tend to emulate it and she has been such a force in my life, but I needed that push from high school to college. Then when I got to college, I found others and I continued to build on that. I think the power of a strong network and not so much just having the network but cultivating the relationship because that's when the magic happens, is in the cultivation. Because you can say, "Oh, I know so-and-so and so-and-so," but if they never hear from you or talk to you ever, or you don't keep track of them, then you just know them. But do they know you? I think that that's the point of the reciprocity in terms of the network. Not just what I can get from them, but also what can I give to them.

18:11 MH: And how do you get to be known, though? What do you do to cultivate that?

18:14 MH: Yeah. For me, it's... One of the boot camps that I teach is the Leveraging your Network. So there's books like The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, and that's a really good starting point for people who... How to compartmentalize, who are in your network, I think, is important. And so, for me, it's... Maybe it's someone that I know their child is just going off to college this fall. Maybe I haven't had a conversation with them in six months. Now I can shoot them an email and say, "Hey, I know Sophie is going to Duke. I hope she has a great time. If she needs anything, I know a couple people in Durham". That takes nothing. Or, holidays are coming. Making sure every year, if you don't do anything, girl, get you a box of cards. [laughter] And send them out. So it's that low-level, low-to-high risk. It's those easy things we could do to... One time, I even recorded myself on a voice memo and I sent it to them because I wanted them to hear my voice and I wanted them to hear the impact of what is going on and how excited I am about that. And it was kind of far out. I was feeling myself that day, and I sent it. But they wrote back, and I hadn't heard from them in months.

19:25 MH: That would make an impression.

19:26 MH: Yes, yes. So you have to figure out how to stay relevant, I think, is the key takeaway.

19:31 MH: We get this question all the time, and that's why I love asking it to our guests, because a lot of people come to networking events with Ellevate, and are like, "But I just met one person". And, honestly, it's quality, not quantity. Yes, you wanna have a large network, but you wanna have the right people in your network, and you wanna cultivate those relationships. Would you say that through this cultivation that you've found sort of your quote, unquote personal board of directors?

20:00 MH: Oh, yes. Definitely. Again, I'm so thankful to the network that I have. And I think, too, you have to look at your network in a variety of different ways. So you might say, "Oh, I have these two people that serve in this capacity", "I have these couple of people that serve in this capacity". And so, when I need advice on negotiation, I go to this board of directors. If I need help on dress to impress, I go to this board. And I think just... Also, be thoughtful in the ways that you use your board. And so you don't wanna go to the person that you get fashion advice from typically and ask them about negotiation. You know that that's not the conversation that they have been providing for you. So you have to think about your board very strategically and with anyone. To your point, when you meet someone at a networking event, you can be overwhelmed with so many people in the room. But if you come away with one good contact, how do you continue that? That person... You just never know.

20:54 MH: That person might be your next board of directors. They might be on that, but I think you just have to be authentic at the end of the day. And I think you also, as women, we have to say what we need. And I think we're sometimes shy in letting our board know. They're there for a reason; they believe in you already, so don't be afraid to tell them, "Here's my list of goals. Here's what's on my vision board. I just want you to know in case you come across X, Y, and Z". But I think just having those candid conversations because you don't wanna have a static board; they wanna be there, they wanna be supportive, they wanna be helpful, but if they don't know how to be, then that falls...

21:31 MH: That falls on you. Yeah. So I think I saw this on your website, where's it's like it's not that there's not a seat at the table, it's that they don't know you yet. Or, if there's no seat at the table, grab a chair and bring it up.

21:44 MH: Yeah. [laughter] So Shirley Chisholm said, "If there's not a seat at the table, bring a folding chair". And I think that that's so true. Because sometimes... Currently, you might be looking at your quote, unquote table, at where you work. And maybe there's no one that looks like you there, there's no women at that table. But you need to figure out if this the place you want to sit, how you get there, and what relationships within the organization you need to strategically build. And I think sometimes the seat at the table thing, I'm really big on having a seat at the table, but I'm also just as passionate as saying to a woman, "Know that that's the table you wanna be at". Because sometimes we're hustling, we're fighting so hard to be at certain tables, and they're not the table we should be sitting at. Maybe it's the table across the street we should be sitting at. So being able to say, "Maybe this just... I can't change this culture. But you know what? I know that X company, they're going for it, I see them doing it. That's a table I wanna be at". So I think sometimes we just have to have these candid conversations with ourself, frankly.

22:47 MH: Yeah. That's something I've been thinking about quite a bit lately. Which is sort of that self-awareness of where I wanna be, what I wanna do. And I think a lot of our audience is sort of at that spot and also at that place in their career where they're looking for what's next and where should they be. And what would be one piece of advice that you would give someone who's sort of at that kind of tipping point?

23:14 MH: It goes back to this, and I start pretty much in 2017, my mantra has been, "How do I live my best life?" And my best life should not be stressful, it should not be hectic. Granted, things will happen. Along the way, there are bumps in the road. But when I think about my career, how can I live my best life and what does that look like? Jotting it down, if X, Y, and Z were in place, this would allow me to live my best life, or if I went back to school, this would allow me to live my best life. So I think we have to think about where you're sitting right now, is that your best life? Or is your best life somewhere else? And I think as we start to chip away at some of those barriers to entry to the table, it really is us being introspective and saying, "Okay, how do I live my best life?" Just saying that I have a seat at the table, is that my best life? Or is bringing another woman to the table that I'm sitting with, is that living my best life? So I think each of us have to ask that question on our own, and I will pose that back to the women out there, if you're at this crossroads, what does living your best life look like? I think we can't be afraid to live our best life. We never know how long we have on this earth. You know what? Go for the gold.

24:26 MH: I love that. I feel like... Now I get when Christy says she's like in a therapy session. [laughter] Minda, one thing we haven't touched on, Allies. At Ellevate, specifically, I know a lot of people come up to us and say, "Well, how can I help?" And those people, a lot of the times, are men. How do we bring others to this conversation, be it men, be it majority people who are not of color or just anyone who can help change the status quo? How do we bring them into this conversation and cultivate those allies?

25:05 MH: Yeah, that's a great question. I think in the climate that we live in, we really have to be thoughtful on how we're using the word "allies." To be honest, so many men in my career and thus far, even as an entrepreneur, have been so helpful to me. I've never experienced, thank God, a man who wasn't helpful, who paid it forward for me, and I'm so thankful to them. I look at allies in two ways, passive or intentional. And being a passive ally is saying, "Oh, yes, I recognize there's an issue and I wish that it would get better. Let's just keep praying on it," or something like that, but there's no step. But being intentional is saying, "I'm looking out from the C-Suite and I see maybe three women who are rockstars. How can I cultivate them? How can I bring them onboard?" Or maybe one of the three women are of color, "How do I mentor her? How do I sponsor her? How can I help provide a road to the table for her?" And I think that as we think about our workforce or if you are in a position of power where you can make those changes, it starts with even where you recruit. Maybe you recruit at a historically black university and find some new talent.

26:20 MH: I think that there's a lot of things that we could do, but I think we have to be intentional about it. We can continue to have the conversation, but say, "Hey, before the end of the year, I'm gonna make one step toward helping someone that doesn't look like me." And that goes back to women of color. If a woman of color is in a position of power, what can she do to bring up someone that doesn't look like her? I think as we continue to get to know each other and take those boundaries down, then we can really work together in a more positive environment. That's what I do. I think that it's important... I have a few mentees, and one of my mentees... On paper, and if you put us side by side, we look completely different, but we are both women and we have a commonality, but there's things that she can learn from me and there's things that I can learn from her, and so I just think... Think about diversity and what that really looks like and how you can be intentional about changing that. And that's how you become an ally. Not just saying, "Putting that badge on or checking that box." What are you doing to be an ally? Because I think as we go into the next year, it's not enough to just say you're an ally, how are you going to be an ally. Yeah.

27:24 MH: Be intentional. Be explicit.

27:26 MH: Yes.

27:27 MH: I actually wanted to touch on one more thing that I just thought of, and it's bias. We all have bias. Most of it is unconscious. It's not ill-will, it's not necessarily something we're very aware of. How can we actually call ourselves and hold ourselves accountable and in check when faced with that?

27:48 MH: I think it all boils down to relationships. If you know someone well or you get to know them, then you won't put that label of "The angry black woman," or you won't put the "Docile Asian," or the "Feisty Latina." But if you don't know any of these people, then you're taking the kind of easy route and say, "Oh, I'm just gonna label that person this way," but if you get to know said "Angry black person," then maybe you would feel differently. I think as we get to know each other and build relationships, because, at the core of it, you can easily say that, "So and so is this or that," or have these unconscious biases against them. But if you never get a chance to talk with them or you never hold a conversation, you might find that, "Well, we're both 'Game of Thrones' fans," but if you just assume that this is who this person is or this is their background, then those biases will always stay.

28:37 MH: I think that it really goes back to the old age proverb of "Don't judge a book by its cover," because you'll find out more about that person. You could at least have a conversation. Now, if you have a conversation and they do turn out to be angry or whatever, then that's another thing. But because you've never spoken to them, I think that that is where we... We just have to get out of our box. We have to get out of our cubes, out of our offices, and go get to know people. That's how you change culture, is relationship.

29:05 MH: I agree. Yeah. It's been awesome chatting with you and great getting to know you a little bit more.

29:12 MH: Likewise, I enjoy being here. I'm fired up, as you could tell. I feel like I've left church and I preached. [laughter] But it's been fun. Thank you.

29:21 MH: Thank you so much.


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