Ten Tips from Black Enterprise Women of Power Summit

21 MAR 2019

Goldman Sachs Chief Diversity Officer, Erika Irish Brown, was recently a recipient of the Most Powerful Women in Corporate Diversity Award at the Black Enterprise (BE) Women of Power Summit.  Erika shares her experience at the summit and some of her lessons learned.

By Erika Irish Brown 

Last month, ten Goldman Sachs women from various divisions and regions participated in the Black Enterprise (BE) Women of Power Summit in Las Vegas, Nevada.  I was humbled to be recognized with forty-five other women as a recipient of the Most Powerful Women in Corporate Diversity Award for Goldman Sachs’ work in diversity and inclusion. 

The sessions at the summit addressed the current socio-economic and political landscape shaping today’s narrative in the U.S. and across the globe. Participants were inspired by powerful speakers such as the award winning singer, songwriter Chaka Khan; Cynthia Marshall, CEO of the Dallas Mavericks; Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, the presiding prelate of the 10th District AME Church; and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker, who were all recipients of the BE 2019 Legacy Awards.  Other topics included transformational changes ranging from the diversity of election races and results to issues on race and gender in the workplace.

There was no better place to celebrate the conclusion of Black History Month and the start of Women’s History Month than at this empowering summit with exceptionally talented women from Goldman Sachs.  The conference kicked-off with attendees sharing a hug and echoing the phrase “I see you and I got you.”  This was reassuring as the concept of being seen, and the idea that someone has your back, can be alien for many women of color in the workplace, who face the double bind as members of two underrepresented groups. 

As a collective group of 1,500 women of color, we went on a journey of professional development and personal empowerment.  As a diversity and inclusion professional, it reinforced my conviction that the talent pool of highly educated and experienced women of color is thriving, and companies that suggest they cannot find the talent must look in the right places. 

In the spirit of “to whom much is given, much is required,” we felt it was important to share some of the powerful gems we learned – be it a lesson, saying or a strategy.  Here they are: 

1.     We all need allies and you need trust to build allies.  Therefore, if you want somebody to support and invest in you, you have to let them in and be vulnerable.

2.     Know the difference between a mentor and a sponsor.  A mentor should know the good, the bad and the ugly.  A sponsor should know the good, the good and the good.

3.     The adventure is in the “zig-zag” – don’t crave the straight line.  Sometimes the shortest distance to a goal is the longest way around.

4.     Cry like a baby, fight like a girl, change the world like a woman

5.     You may be the first to do many things, but make sure you are not the last.

6.     If you are not adding value, you are diminishing your value.

7.     Live your life by design not by default; when you know where you are going, distractions will not derail you.

8.     Stop reliving your failures, there comes a time to close that door so you can be your best self and “slay” in your lane.

9.     Everyone wants to network up but Beyoncé and Oprah are busy. There is tremendous value in networking in all directions.

10.  Think about life as a series of events that are either rubber or crystal balls. Rubber balls can be dropped, but they bounce back.  Crystal balls shatter once dropped and cannot be made whole again. Take care of the events that are crystal balls.