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The C-Suite Is Not Just For White Men

As a woman and a person of color, I had limiting subconscious beliefs, but eventually, I came to one of the biggest revelations of my life.

When I was 21 years old, I started my first job in corporate America. I remember it like it was yesterday. I stepped out of the subway station in my pencil skirt suit and stiletto heels, taking in the fresh air of endless possibilities. It was an exciting time, to say the least. I had just graduated from college and my professional career was about to begin in the Big Apple – City of Dreams.

After the excitement of finally becoming a grown woman (because clearly I was grown at 21) subsided a few months later, I realized that the work I was doing at the firm was not incredibly exhilarating. I would do market analyses and put together deliverables, but I was so bored. I would plug away at the computer every day but deep down, I couldn’t wait to say, “sayonara!”

With age comes wisdom, so that mentality gives 30-year old me pause. I find myself questioning why I was so quick to write off the option of climbing up the rungs of this corporate ladder. Yes, executive compensation did not speak to my soul. But let’s be honest, does executive compensation speak to anyone’s soul? So why did I not want to stick it out to become a leader of the firm whereas others had their eyes set on that prize much more easily?

All things considered, a career in executive compensation is incredibly lucrative. (Think about all the crazy news you hear about executives taking away multi-million dollar pay packages while their company stocks plummet. There is always mass outrage to preempt). But there was something else going on in the back of my mind that was indirectly guiding me: my subconscious was saying, “Stephanie, you will not go far here.” I always wanted to be a boss. (No no, a bawse. There is a difference.) In other words, if I was going to be a part of an organization, I wanted to be at the top of it eventually. But I did not truly think I could reach the c-suite doing executive compensation.

Now, hear me out. No one, and I mean no one in my life, directly told me that I was not fit to be a c-suite executive. In fact, people told me the exact opposite! Time and time again my family (especially my mother who was always my biggest fan – such a cutie) reminded me that I could be whoever I wanted to be, as long as I put my mind to it.

Alas, what I saw every day did not match up with the encouraging words I was hearing. All my life I had been informed by the media, the way people in management of the Fortune 500 companies looked, and by what people who looked like me did. The message was indirect yet quite clear: people like me are not in the c-suite; we are not the CEOs and CFOs and CIOs. And that belief was deeply ingrained in my subconscious.

When I started working and I saw that no one in the corporation looked like me, from the lowest level associates to the highest level executives, that reinforced the subconscious beliefs that started when I was a child. I unknowingly carried this belief with me from one job to the next throughout my twenties. I didn’t realize it at the time, but these limitations in my subconscious affected my work product, interactions with colleagues, and sense of belonging at every organization that I joined.

Now, I know that not having limiting beliefs is not the magic sauce to thrive in corporate America. (There’s a lot more to it.) Similarly, having limiting beliefs about yourself in the subconscious is by no means determinative of professional outcome. In fact, several people excel at their jobs with no expectation that they will become c-suite executives, irrespective of limiting beliefs. And there are others who successfully fight against the subconscious to carve out their own paths. Nonetheless, these circumstances do not trivialize the existence, weight, and effect of a subconscious that has been telling us our entire lives that we do not belong in the board room in corporate America.

But these subconscious beliefs are not the truth. They are a myth. Since they are so incredibly crippling and affect our professional decisions, it is vital that we peel these beliefs away, piece by piece. In corporate America, where far too few women, especially black women, are in c-suite positions, I cannot imagine how many young adults feel the same way I felt throughout my twenties. The first step is to bring awareness that this is happening in the subconscious of so many women who have boundless potential. Next, we must shatter that limiting belief and realize that we do deserve to be at the top. The c-suite is not just for white men. It is for us as well.

Upon having this revelation, Amanda was coming to a similar one herself. She speaks a bit about this on an igtv recently posted on Mela Moda’s Instagram. Now, the issue with limiting subconscious beliefs about yourself is that they have been at work all of your life, so it takes time and continual effort to completely shred them. Amanda and I have just started a journey of removing those beliefs through these Lacy Philips workshops, and I am already seeing the fruits of this. But truly, having this revelation has been one of the most liberating sensations of my life. I feel like I am walking more and more into my truth each and every day.

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