Standing Tall Amidst Turmoil: 3 Black Willow Women on Staying Resilient

It's no secret that women (Black women especially) have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. From job loss and a persistent wealth gap, to increased caregiving responsibilities and mental health issues, our endurance has been tested over, and over, and over.

So in these challenging times, and in honor of Black History Month, we turned to three Black women in our network who share: 

  • How to make your environments more inclusive
  • The Black historical figures who inspire them
  • The opportunities and barriers for women entering the field of finance
  • How to remain resilient

 

Kameelah Benjamin-Fuller, Willow's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisor and the Chief Diversity Officer and Corporate Social Responsibility leader at PTC

 

What's one piece of advice that you would give a woman who wants to make her workplace more equitable for either herself or for other minority groups?


Start with Self Care
Before you even think about being a change agent for your teams or your organization, start with self-care. It's hard work to create change. For many of us, this work stems from a personal place and that draws on a different kind of energy. So make sure that you've got good folks around you to keep you grounded and that there's humor involved in the process.

 

Find Your Partners
Starting anything by yourself is hard. As you look to effect change, look for partners as well. Find some like-minded people to move forward with, and then start building the vision.


Make an Actionable Plan
If your business or organization doesn't have a strategy, consider: “What is a thoughtful, planful way to enter into this work?”

For example, if you want to impact childcare policies in your organization, you might host a panel on best practices. But, then what? If nothing else happens, it falls flat. Yes, you should run programs to inspire the organization but then have a plan of how to turn conversation into policy.

 

Is there a particular Black historical figure who has inspired you?

The historical figure I've been digging into lately—re-reading his work and watching his interviews—is James Baldwin. I’ve also been drawing inspiration from Black activists and Black leaders from the 60s and 70s—the thought leaders during periods of unrest, change, and uncertainty.

As I was putting together some thoughts for Black History Month, I realized that coming out of the height of Black Lives Matter into this current moment, I wanted to reflect on patterns of social justice movements—because what we’re doing today is not new work.

We see these cycles repeating: Clearly, we’re seeing movement, and we've seen change with Kamala Harris in the White House, but the struggle persists. We must take time to reflect, learn, and capture the story of progress to inspire future generations.

 

How are you making the most of these challenging times?

I have to be a constant advocate for my own mental health and wellness. Like many of us, I put a lot of pressure on myself. It’s easy to get pulled down into the things that aren't going well, especially when it feels like your world, and the world, is in chaos. And it's hard to recognize the accomplishments, the bright spots, and the successes. So, I’m including more time for positive reflection, acknowledgement, and self-recognition. And karaoke . . . lots of karaoke.

 

 

Heather Fraser, Willow Financial Coach

 

Why is it important for women to become financially empowered?

To be financially empowered is to have means, unlimited opportunity, and leverage. Women lack all three under most circumstances, and they often are remanded to finding financial empowerment through marriage. Being financially sufficient removes barriers in business and life, allowing choices they were not traditionally positioned on their own.

 

What do you see as some of the barriers facing Black women from entering the field of finance?

The opportunities for Black women in the field of finance are numerous. It's smart to begin building a foundation early since women’s longevity creates a financial advantage.

 

How can entrepreneurship help Black women build wealth?

Business ownership is one of the most effective wealth building vehicles. I grew up experiencing women engaging in part-time and full-time businesses because it was the only way to take care of their families. Entrepreneurship is a way to build a multigenerational legacy of wealth and independence.

 

 

Miracle Olatunji, Willow’s Gen Z Advisor, founder of OpportuniMe, and Business Administration student at Northeastern University

 

What has your experience been like studying and working in finance as a Black woman?

During my freshman year, I set an ambitious goal to land a summer internship on Wall Street. I applied to a program hosted by Morgan Stanley, and when the recruiter called to share that I’d been accepted, I couldn't contain my excitement. I saw this as a tremendous opportunity to get my foot in the door.

During the program, I had the opportunity to attend networking sessions and workshops about the employee resource groups (ERGs) at the company. This helped me gain more clarity on what path in finance I'd like to pursue.

It also inspired me to 'see what I could be,' since I didn't see a lot of representation of women, especially Black women, in the industry. I was often one of the few women in my finance and accounting classes, so it was inspiring to meet Black and female leaders at Morgan Stanley who shared their career journeys and advice.

 

What do you see as some of the barriers facing Black women from entering the field of finance? And what advice would you give younger women who want to enter the field?

There's a relatively small representation of Black women in the industry because of the history of exclusion and discrimination. However, I would advise other young women to not allow these barriers to discourage them. Of course, that is easier said than done.

Here are some reminders and advice that have been helpful to me thus far:

You are capable and qualified. Yes, you do belong. You are not an imposter. Your identity is not your obstacle, it is your superpower. Enjoy the journey, and try not to be too hard on yourself. Build relationships, find mentors, sponsors, allies, and friends to support your career journey.

Also, apply to early talent pipeline programs such as the Sophomore Analyst Program at Bank of America, Freshman Enhancement Program at Morgan Stanley, Women's Summit at Goldman Sachs, and more. Many banks have these incredible programs!

Two other great career prep programs that provide a supportive network:
Management Leadership for Tomorrow
Sponsors for Educational Opportunity

 

Is there a Black financial or historical figure who has inspired you?

I'm very inspired by Melody Hobson (CEO of Ariel Investments), Thasunda Brown-Duckett (CEO of JP Morgan Chase Consumer), Arlan Hamilton (founder of Backstage Capital), Carla Harris (MD, Morgan Stanley), and Robert Smith (CEO of Vista Equity Partners).

 

Anything else you'd like to share?

This past week, I invested in Backstage Capital, a venture fund that has so far invested in over 150 founders who are people of color and women! And this is only just the beginning. While many view the lack of investment in underrepresented founders as a social problem, it is much more than that.

Morgan Stanley estimates that there’s more than 4 trillion dollars unrealized in venture capital due to the lack of diversity in investment decisions. Data shows again and again that diverse teams perform better, and diverse investors make better investment decisions.

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