Training Black Women to Have It All

Executive Leadership Foundation chair Laysha Ward says the group's goals are attainable.

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Another example of a conversation we had was around the essential elements of well-being. We talked about how African-American women can really focus on taking care of ourselves holistically — whether that’s our financial well-being, strategic decisions about our lives, positioning our families for future success from a financial perspective or community well-being. Being a leader in business also means being a leader in one’s community. Especially in the African-American community, we believe in balancing the ability to do an extraordinary job in your professional endeavors while also making sure your community is vital and strong.

TR: Speaking of a holistic view of success, what’s your take on the recent headline about how women can’t have it all? Do the African-American female leaders you work with experience that frustration with work-life balance?

LW: I’m not sure I understand completely what it means when someone says you “can’t have it all.” How do you define “it all”? What I would say is that we all have a lot of choices to make, and we all have personal power. Some of the lessons discussed and learned from our forum have to do with understanding that personal power, and a lot of your power is about choice.

We want to make sure that African-American women have the power to make choices and understand that no one can take your personal power from you — you do have a level of control. To the extent, then, that you can’t have everything, I think that if you’re realistic yet optimistic about your goals, you’ll do that in a manner that does allow you to have it all, because what “it all” means is positioned in a framework that is attainable.

TR: How hopeful are you about dramatically increasing the percentage of African-American women in corporate leadership, and changing the statistics you cited, in our lifetimes?

LW: We believe the statistics definitely can change, they must change and they will change. I had the great fortune at a recent national assembly of the Links to hear Condoleezza Rice speak, and one of her comments was that what might seem like the impossible is often inevitable. And I would suggest that our success is inevitable. We have the talent in the African-American community — women and men — to achieve our aspirational goals.

It will require multiple change points and multiple change agents. It will happen based on a focused strategy and a committed group of leaders from across sectors who will help us. It absolutely is nothing we can do alone. We have to have partners who are supportive, are committed and have the will to ensure that we optimize every leader’s full potential, including those who are African Americans. This is critically important to America’s global competitiveness. Diversity and inclusion is a strategic imperative.

Jenée Desmond-Harris is The Roots staff writer. Follow her on Twitter.