The Highs and Lows of Life as a Black Editor in Chief
In my time at Teen Vogue, not everyone was keen to celebrate my triumphs with me
From all of my closed-door talks over the years with successful people of color, female leaders, young innovators, and especially Black female bosses, it seems there is a universality to some of the challenges we face in the workplace.
When we achieve something big, we are often told we are “too much.” “Threatening.” “Intimidating.” “Entitled.” “Bossy.” We are told we “take up too much space in the room.” We are asked to “tone it down.” To “be grateful.” I heard all of these things directed at me, either to my face or behind my back, in the stormy months leading up to and following my promotion to editor in chief of Teen Vogue.
Some days demanded a strong sense of humor to pull through: I recall arriving early to a boardroom one day as executives filed in. We were chitchatting, waiting for the meeting to begin. Finally I said, “Are we waiting for anyone else?” To which the woman next to me turned and replied, “Yes, we are waiting for the editor in chief.” Clearly, with my big, curly hair and youthful take on executive-realness office style, I wasn’t the image of a boss she had in mind.
“Oh. Great. Well, then let’s get started. I am the editor of Teen Vogue.” I smiled back at her, letting out an easy laugh that defused the discomfort in the room.
One of the brightest silver linings of my promotion was being welcomed in by high-profile, high-ranking female executives of color who’d all faced similar trials and slayed similar dragons. For the first million-dollar deal I helped broker for Teen Vogue, I tapped Bozoma Saint John (aka Boz), a powerful, well-known Black female marketing executive. Before our first formal meeting, where our teams would discuss a potential partnership, I met with her one-on-one for what she called a “pre-meeting.”
Boz schooled me with a boisterous belly laugh. “Girl, this is what White men have been doing on the golf course for decades.”
Rather than putting tiny white golf balls across sprawling green hills, we were doing a business kiki in her plush office, with fur throws, myrrh incense burning, and Jill Scott playing…