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Marketing Exec Watchen Nyanue Shares Why Climbing The Corporate Ladder Is A Daily Choice For Black Women In The Workplace

It’s been nearly seven months since those who are fortunate enough to still have jobs have been working remotely. Yet, many people are still finding their rhythm and footing on the corporate ladder.

While recent reports have shown that 1 in 4 women have chosen to step away from corporate due to the global pandemic, there is still an opportunity for others to show up and take the next step up the ladder with the right support and resources.

Watchen Nyanue, Senior Vice President of Marketing Partnerships for the WNBA Chicago Sky and Founder and CEO of I Choose The Ladder, a career development company, has made it a priority to help women understand what comes with the territory of deciding to work in Corporate America – and how they can strategize to be successful – especially during the pandemic.

“Although it does not seem like it, working in Corporate America is a choice. It’s a choice that we make every single day. And if you’re going to make that choice, you want to make sure that you’re putting yourself in the best position to win,” said Nyanue.

After recognizing the privilege of having high-powered mentors from all nationalities throughout her career – and being called out on it by friends who didn’t have the same experience – Nyanue decided to create “I Choose the Ladder” to help others. “As someone who has been standing on shoulders to get me to any rung on the ladder that I want, I thought it was my responsibility to make sure that once I was where I wanted to be, that I was sending the elevator back down for other women who look like me,” said Nyanue.

Nyanue and her team host an annual event with leaders from various industries who candidly share their experiences and expertise to help Black women better position themselves as they show up at work. For Nyanue, being specific and intentional about focusing on Black women in the workplace is imperative given the lack of support many receive.

“I personally do not believe that we should tell other people’s stories. I’ve never been a woman of color in the workplace. I’ve always been a Black woman in the workplace. So, the problems that I know and the problems that I can solve for are the ones that Black women face. I’m not arrogant enough to think that I can solve problems that don’t really apply to me,” said Nyanue.

Weathering In The Workplace

One of the many problems that she is solving for is weathering in the workplace. For some Black women, there a number of pandemics that they have experienced personally and professionally. So for some, working remotely or going into the office during this time adds another layer of complexity – and stress.

To that point, Nyanue said, “The level of weathering that you’re going to have to do is going to be dependent, at least in some degree, on who you presented yourself to be when you took that job.”

As women make the choice to climb the corporate ladder, Nyanue shared three ways to conquer weathering.

  1. Showing up as authentic-self.
  2. Being clear about the problems you want to solve on a daily basis.
  3. Own it!

It is difficult to navigate spaces, especially during uncertain times, when you aren’t showing up as yourself. “We complain that we can’t be our authentic-selves. But throughout the entire interview process, there was nothing authentic about you. So, who they hired and who they got are two different people,” said Nyanue.

To her second point, she said that it is important to be clear on what you are agreeing to when you decide that you want to work in Corporate America. “A lot of times people ‘don’t want to play the game’. Unfortunately, until it changes, that’s what you’re are agreeing to be a part of,” said Nyanue. She also shared that it is key to allow others to get to know you as your show up in order to leverage opportunities.  

Lastly, Nyanue recommends that women stop making assumptions about the people that you’re in the room with, because it dims your own light. While Imposter Syndrome is something that many women are working through, Nyanue said that you have to own being in the room. “Know that you’ve earned the space in that room. Don’t be so humbled that people don’t know the work that you do. Don’t be so shy that you don’t speak up for yourself.”

Shining In The Workplace During Dim Times

Nowadays, those who are working from home appear to be living at work. With burnout at an all-time high, it can seem difficult to shine when you are exhausted. To anyone feeling that way, Nyanue offers this advice, “Take a break.” She went on to say, “If you are tired right now, you’re probably not producing your best work and you’re probably making mistakes that you wouldn’t otherwise make.”

She went on to day, “I think a lot of times we become so focused on our own work, that we miss the low hanging fruit in order to shine, right? I ask people all the time, ‘How is your boss’s success being measured? And, is there anything that you can do to help your boss shine?’ Don’t worry about you shining. If you make sure that your boss is shining, your boss is going to make sure that taken care of.”

Nyanue said that you can ask yourself, “Is there a way that you can help be an asset to someone else that can then help you shine without you having to toot your own horn all the time?”

Measuring The Return On Your Investment

In addition to shining, moving up on the ladder is essential for many women. And while the pandemic might not present itself as the best time to negotiate or ask for more from an employer – beyond dollars and cents, Nyanue believes that women should be constantly be measuring their success.

“We do a ton of work during the course of the year. But, not all of those things will get you promoted.  And not all of those things get you money. So, you don’t want to spend all of your time doing this stuff during the 12 months between your review,” said Nyanue.

In efforts to help women keep record of their contributions and achievements, she designed “The Review Planner” to help women take their managers feedback and turn it into actionable goals.

According to Nyanue, The Review Planner serves as a database that women can refer to as they advocate for themselves as they meet with their managers. It also aims help women alleviate the intimidation factor when having conversations. The planner also includes checklists, templates, and strategies to women you check in with their managers to track their progress.

As Nyanue helps women on their climb, making sure that others have the privilege of choice is important.  

“My goal is to make sure that we’re not leaving [Corporate America] prematurely. And if we leave corporate, it is because we’re making the choice to leave – not because we feel that there’s no place for us. But I also want that when we leave, we make sure that we are leaving with as much as we gave,” said Nyanue.

At the end of the day, and the ladder, success and fulfilment are two things that women hope for.

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