Dr. Tanjia M. Coleman of Reimagine Organization Development: “Never stop reinventing yourself”

Women representing the majority here in the United States will soon be the majority across the world as well. We continue to see the success of so many flourishing women founders, such as Janet Bryant Howroyd, Oprah Winfrey, Cathy Hughes, Sara Blakely, Katrina Lake, Melissa Butler, Chrishon Lampley, Maria Pinto among others, but we have […]

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Women representing the majority here in the United States will soon be the majority across the world as well. We continue to see the success of so many flourishing women founders, such as Janet Bryant Howroyd, Oprah Winfrey, Cathy Hughes, Sara Blakely, Katrina Lake, Melissa Butler, Chrishon Lampley, Maria Pinto among others, but we have a long way to go. These founders all solved specific issues for women enhancing both our professional and personal lives. Still, the number of women founders needs to continue to increase, and not only grow in numbers but be supported so they are able to meet the demands for the future of women around the world.


As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Tanjia M. Coleman, President, Reimagine Organization Development, Inc.

Dr. Tanjia M. Coleman is an organizational and societal culture expert with nearly 20 years experience working as a senior-level human resources and organization development professional. Dr. Coleman has vast experience on all sides of business, Fortune 100, small business, start-up, and non-profit. Her professional career has opened doors at Microsoft, Starbucks, Tribune Company, Whirlpool, Sears, Motorola, and more. She currently works as an adjunct professor at Loyola University in Chicago and recently launched Reimagine Organization Development, Inc., or Reimagine OD. Using a combination of organizational change management, positive organization psychology, conscious capitalism, and strategic planning methods, Reimagine OD can put a magnifying glass on blind spots in any business ensuring a safe and equitable working environment for all.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I am a staunch believer in equal opportunity for everyone. However, when I did not witness this happening, I felt that it was my duty to ensure that it becomes commonplace. All too often, I sat in rooms as the “only.” Being an “only” is not necessarily uncomfortable for me personally rather it makes me uncomfortable realizing the lack of diversity is not representative of our society nor the consumers patronizing those brands. I have always been drawn to not only challenges but how I can amend them. I have heard the cries of women, people of color, and African Americans wanting to move forward in their careers from a professional and financial perspective because they were being passed over time and time again.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Yes, my biggest encouragement to entrepreneurs would be to spread the word about their organization, who it benefits, and what are the outcomes they provide. Once, I was asked to speak with a group of individuals as part of a panel. I was not compensated but one of the attendees later ran into a leader that was looking for a DEIB expert and recommended me as someone to have a conversation with about moving his organization forward in this space. From there, I secured a multi-year contract with this CEO who had not used such services in the over 40 years his organization had been in business. I have countless stories like this. I am fortunate enough now, that I currently do not advertise my services. Right now, my client roster is comprised of people that I have worked with her directly, referrals, or from those who attended a speaking event where I was presenting information on DEIB, strategic planning, or leadership development.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The funniest mistake that I made when I was first starting my organization was choosing the name. I thought it was such a great name, apparently, so did others. There was already an assessment with the same name as well as several other consulting firms, specializing in different areas. There is an important lesson to be learned from something such as choosing a name for your company as an entrepreneur. On the surface, it may seem simple, but because we have limited time and resources it is easy to think of an idea and run with it only to realize later that it requires your due diligence from the outset. It will save you both the time of having to rebrand yourself and spare your customer base from any confusion later.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

The most influential person in my life is my Mom. Her providing me with the foundation and confidence to succeed is the only reason that I am where I am today. From a business perspective, it is my mentor, Ron Malhotra. He understands how the mind of an entrepreneur works and he challenges me to step outside of my comfort zone. Ron is an accomplished entrepreneur that has immeasurable insights. His mentorship and coaching have saved me from making colossal mistakes.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

I believe overarchingly two things are holding women back from becoming founders: money and connections. It is extremely difficult for women to receive funding for their businesses. In addition, there is a disparity in certain “types” of businesses. It is much harder to receive funding for a “service-based” business versus one that offers a physical product. The thought is with service-based businesses that there are no real start-up or maintenance costs, but this could not be further from the truth if you want a solvent and successful business. Women need to be educated on all the facets of financial and funding streams that exist, and how to make the best pitch to gain access to funding dollars.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

The recent PPP loan debacle represents the disparities that many of us already knew were there, but it simply illuminated it. Funds intended for small businesses were quickly taken by large organizations because the appropriate parameters were not in place. This is no different than what has been happening for years and continues to flourish. The amount of red tape you are asked to go through does not match the end goal when that goal cannot even sustain your expenses for two months. We must build better financial bridges for women founders, or we will see innovation and creativity diminish. According to the EY report, simply having a man as a co-founder in your business increases your chances of loan approval by three and a half times, this is daunting and symbolic of what needs to change.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

Women representing the majority here in the United States will soon be the majority across the world as well. We continue to see the success of so many flourishing women founders, such as Janet Bryant Howroyd, Oprah Winfrey, Cathy Hughes, Sara Blakely, Katrina Lake, Melissa Butler, Chrishon Lampley, Maria Pinto among others, but we have a long way to go. These founders all solved specific issues for women enhancing both our professional and personal lives. Still, the number of women founders needs to continue to increase, and not only grow in numbers but be supported so they are able to meet the demands for the future of women around the world.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder. Can you explain what you mean?

One myth is that women might not possess the agility to make tough decisions or the wherewithal to endure the rigor of creating, managing, and sustaining a business. We all know this is not a true depiction of current women founders. Many women have proven that not only can they create businesses and maintain them but also set a path to become future investors for those up-and-coming.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

I think everyone is cut out to be a founder, but the question is, “Do they want to be a founder?” Being a founder requires an insurmountable amount of dedication, focus, perseverance, confidence, and focus. It is by no means an easy task and many are not open to the daily difficulties that can manifest themselves from leading a business. As the founder, you are the final decision maker. If the decision takes you down the wrong path there is no outward finger-pointing. Sometimes there are social events that you cannot attend, vacations that you postpone, and personal purchases that you do not make because you need to reinvest in your business.

Traits necessary for founders to succeed include, resilience, strategy, ideation, execution, communication, tenacity, perseverance, and the ability to be futuristic. You must be resilient to maintain your business over time, strategizing helps in understanding how to manage your product or service, ideation is creating a service or product that will sustain a business, you then must execute your ideas and be able to run with them, take the bumps in the world, digest both positive and negative feedback and be forward-thinking always looking at what consumers might want next or what might be the next problem you can solve.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

First, you need to invest in coaching early in your career. Having access to an executive coach is not solely for executives it is for anyone at any level in an organization that truly wants to build their career path. Most women do not have access to executive coaches until they are an executive and that is very late in the process. Think of how one could manage their career with the knowledge shared through coaching much earlier in their career? The possibilities are endless. I recognized early in my professional career that I wanted to be an entrepreneur, had I sought out appropriate coaching to help develop my concept and business, it would have been extremely beneficial. However, at the time, my focus was to ensure my success in the corporate world, at the time, my coaches did assist me in achieving that goal.

Secondly, you need to seek out sponsors. We have been told for years to seek out mentors which are needed and are great in both professional and personal development, but sponsorship serves an entirely different purpose. Sponsors can speak to your strengths and professional ambitions when you are not in the room with individuals that you might not readily have access to. I had this experience mid-career where I truly had a sponsor. I did not know what it was called at the time but clearly, my mentor ultimately fit the role of internal sponsor. This afforded me a clear pathway where I experienced three promotions in just four years. Sponsors for founders can mean gaining access to high-profile clients, venture capital, and funding. They are the individuals that believe in you, your business, and your concept. However, they must know that you are both dedicated and reliable.

Another key thing to remember is that it is not necessary to know everything all the time. It is okay to say, “I don’t know that, let me get back to you.” As women, sometimes we feel the need to know everything. However, providing information that is not fully verified can cause much more turmoil than simply taking a bit of time to research before providing a response. Also, there is the thought that as women we need to meet 100% of the requirements in the job description because not knowing can be a career derailer or there is fear in taking on the unknown. However, when you meet or exceed all the expectations of a job description, you are entering into a role bored. There is no excitement and nothing to look forward to from a learning perspective.

Walk away from what is not feeding your soul. If you are in a job that is unfulfilling, create an exit strategy. We must ensure that we are being responsible in our decision making but your attention should always be focused on what is next. Life is too short to spend 40–60 hours a week performing work and tasks that have no meaning or value to you.

Lastly, never stop reinventing yourself. The evolution of society will never stop. Technology continues to evolve; professions will continue to develop, and the world at large will never stop evolving, and neither can you. Just because you complete a training, or formal education and feel you know all there is to know about your current role you are being fooled by fantasy. You must have a futuristic view of the world or you will continually find yourself left behind. We have to become comfortable saying “yes” to exploring uncharted waters. This is the only way that we will continue our life’s journey of continuous learning and development. When we look at women that we admire: Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Arianna Huffington, or Rosalind Brewer they have all challenged themselves in ways they did not expect. They took both professional and personal risks to become the great and successful women that they are today.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Yes, I think that is extremely important to give back with both dollars and time. Sometimes the value that you bring to a board, charitable event, or mentor is invaluable. There is no way that dollars could replace the time spent. Conversely, all non-profits rely on donations so each year, personally I select five non-profits where I donate both my time and money.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

If I could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, my focus would indefinitely be voting rights. I feel our democracy is very fragile, new, and at stake. All must be afforded a fair and equitable means to vote. Standing in line for hours to vote is a travesty for a country such as ours. Forcing voters to stand in lines for a myriad of time, with children and/or the elderly is not only inhumane but it should not be tolerated by any political party. However, these disparities continue to be a reality in predominately Black communities. It is a shameful reflection of our country especially in a world where we promote international human rights.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

If I could choose, I would love to sit down with Janice Bryant Howroyd. She is an entrepreneur, educator, ambassador, businesswoman, author, and mentor. She is the founder and chief executive officer of The ActOne Group, the largest privately held, minority-woman-owned personnel company founded in the U.S. Howroyd is most known for being the first African American woman to build and own a billion-dollar company. She created her company with a little more than $1,000 and has authored two books providing advice to entrepreneurs such as myself. I find her story so fascinating because her organization continues to grow and scale. I would love to understand how she scaled her business and convinced large organizations and even governmental entities to entrust their business with her firm when clearly there were more established organizations in the field.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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