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Sonia Alleyne: “Know your worth, and don’t settle for anything less”

Know your worth, and don’t settle for anything less. Stop accepting salaries below your worth, believing that you’ll be able to prove yourself on the job. Your first job out of school? Maybe. But after you have developed marketable demonstrable skills, you should negotiate more strongly on your behalf. I always suggest interviewing when you’re […]

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Know your worth, and don’t settle for anything less. Stop accepting salaries below your worth, believing that you’ll be able to prove yourself on the job. Your first job out of school? Maybe. But after you have developed marketable demonstrable skills, you should negotiate more strongly on your behalf. I always suggest interviewing when you’re not really looking for a job. It gives you a sense of marketplace demands, and you can practice negotiating without the pressure of accepting what’s offered.


I had the pleasure to interview Sonia Alleyne. Sonia is an editor, author and communications strategist. As Editorial Director at Black Enterprise, she oversaw career and executive lifestyle coverage for print, digital, TV, events and franchise packages. She is the founding Editorial Director for the Women of Power Summit and the co-author of Good is Not Enough: And Other Unwritten Rules for Minority Professionals, which was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. She was the former Press Secretary and Director of Public Information for the New York City Department of Finance.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was born in Birmingham, England. My parents were born in the Caribbean, my dad in Cuba of Jamaican parentage, and my mother in Barbados. They lived in the United Kingdom for over 20 years and migrated to the United States for a better life for their growing family. We settled in the Caribbean neighborhood of Flatbush in Brooklyn, NY, where I spent my formative years — and where I live today.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was inspired to work in media by Barbara Walters. When I was growing up, she was one of the very few powerful and influential women in television. I wanted to be able to tell and share stories the way she did, and so I decided that I would study journalism at Emerson College in Boston. I ended up changing my major to Business Communications. I got my very first job in publishing with a digest-size, Caribbean American magazine called CLASS.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

In 2008, I visited Harpo Studios in Chicago to interview Oprah Winfrey for a cover story. It was the first real business of how she grew her empire — the mistakes she made, the challenges she had to overcome, lessons she learned, and her expectations for her new network. She called me from South Africa to thank me for the story. I didn’t recognize the number and missed the call. I kept the message for a very long time.

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?

I interviewed a comedian onstage, who was very theatrical and very funny. I was worried that I was losing control of the interview until I realized that the audience loved it. It turned out to be fun, entertaining, and educational. I learned that you don’t always have to be in strict control. When you are in the flow, things can work out better than you planned.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I was a big Mad Men fan, and in one of the episodes, there was a scene in which the lead character, Don Draper, comes home after a stressful day at work and journals about it. It is part of the inspiration for my new book, I Kick Ass At Work! The Strategy Journal for Career Professionals. It’s the first journal of its kind. I created it to help women stay focused and intentional about their behavior at work. I also feel that it is important for women to document their successes as they happen. The older an achievement, the less you remember about the details. This journal allows you to record all the important details of your accomplishments to tell a strong and effective story about your career journey.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

1. It’s important to experience authentic, diverse perspectives. It’s how we learn, grow, and evolve as a society.

2. Lack of diversity is a function of racism, which denies people of color fair economic participation in film and television, which are multi-billion-dollar industries.

3. Diversity can provide broader opportunities to inspire and empower people — especially children. It’s important for people to see themselves reflected in the broad range of stories that speak to the human experience.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started,” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. If an opportunity presents itself, you’re ready. Often, we spend more time preparing for a role or believing that we’re not ready for a particular position. Sometimes we’re worried about failing. But it’s important to push beyond your comfort level so that you can grow, expand, and develop new skills. I have found in most cases, we’re more prepared than we give ourselves credit.
  2. Work hard in school. Work smart in the office. Hard work in the classroom is always rewarded. In the office, you need a strategy and plan for how you are going to advance. Hard work is expected, but it’s not necessarily rewarded if you don’t understand the culture of your organization and haven’t created the right alliances.
  3. Know the difference between a mentor and a sponsor. You need both to advance in your company. A mentor is someone you select to help you navigate the culture of your organization. A sponsor, however, is someone who chooses you based on your work performance and potential. Sponsors speak for you when you’re not in the room and can have great influence over the direction of your career.
  4. Take lunch every day. Take your vacation time every year. I’ve learned that you need to break from the grind to better develop business relationships and to be inspired in your work. Make time to set up regular lunch meetings to strengthen your network and to exchange ideas. Vacationing helps the clear mind and reduce stress levels. It allows you to put things in perspective and improves your levels of creativity, which is your currency at work.
  5. Know your worth, and don’t settle for anything less. Stop accepting salaries below your worth, believing that you’ll be able to prove yourself on the job. Your first job out of school? Maybe. But after you have developed marketable demonstrable skills, you should negotiate more strongly on your behalf. I always suggest interviewing when you’re not really looking for a job. It gives you a sense of marketplace demands, and you can practice negotiating without the pressure of accepting what’s offered.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them thrive and not “burn out”?

See number 4 in the previous question. Most Americans do not take their paid vacation time.

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

I would create a national “Adopt-a-School” program, where wealthy people select a school in an underserved area and commit to helping provide the financial resources needed to teach, coach, and educationally support all of the students school.

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

I was fortunate to work with Earl G. Graves, Sr., the founder of Black Enterprise. He gave me — and all his editors — the opportunity to tell important stories and provide the necessary strategies to help business professionals and owners improve their standing. He also gave us the latitude to create new projects, such as the Women of Power Conference, for which I became one of the founding editorial directors.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Wayne Dyer

He doesn’t take credit for saying it, but it’s a quote he used quite often in his teachings. It means that you get to decide how you want to experience every aspect of this life. You always get to choose how you will be impacted by any situation, and that allows you tremendous power in shaping the life you desire.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Are you kidding? Barack Obama!!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Sonia Alleyne on most LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram — and @IKickAssAtWork on Instagram.

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