Since the dawn of time (or at least, boardrooms) men have been making business deals OOO. After-hours drinks and rounds at the golf course aren’t a Man Men-style myth: White men have always helped white men win, and done so on their own time and own terms. PreviousTeen Vogue editor-in-chief,Project Runwayjudge, and now *officially* an author, Elaine Welteroth shares an excerpt from her bookMore Than Enough on rejecting the boy’s club that is corporate America and creating space for herself and other black and brown women at the top. Even if that means finding their own version of golf course meetings, making personal connections that double as work contacts, and taking up as much room as possible.
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 ofTeen 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. It helped put my experiences into context—I was part of a greater tapestry of women who were rewriting the rules, refusing to blend in, rising up to advocate for what they believed in, commanding respect, and not just leaning in but leaning on one another for support along the way. This was a tribe that supported each other fiercely both publicly and privately during the dark times.
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. We had cultivated a relationship long before either of our promotions to prominent positions at zeitgeisty companies. 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. Anything you need— and I mean anything—you can call on me.” These words were like salve at the time.
She continued. “Okay. So talk to me. What do you want to do? How can I support you? What can we do together?” 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 (turned up a little louder than elevator friendly). Not only had I never been privy to a pre‐meeting, I had never borne witness to a corporate powerhouse quite like her.
I was part of a greater tapestry of women who were rewriting the rules.
Television shows, movies, and advertisements would have us believe a boss is a tall, suit‐wearing White man. Even today, if you were to ask kids what a “boss” looks like, they might describe someone who resembles Donald Trump. Boz was refreshingly the opposite. Which makes watching her take up all the space she wants in her office, and in the world, pretty damn revolutionary.
Boz is a charismatic, six‐foot‐tall, dark‐skinned Black woman with extravagantly long hair; she wears red lipstick, long lashes, and her highest metallic open‐toe heels to work on any given Tuesday. In a society that routinely squeezes women and people of color into constricting boxes for approval, Boz is unapologetic about doing things her own way—and she doesn’t waste time being bothered by anyone else’s desires for her to tone any of it down. Every flashy long nail, every figure‐hugging office look, every inch on her towering heels represented a head‐to‐toe embodiment of a woman enjoying the freedom of bringing her authentic self to work every single day. Even through her Instagram handle @BadassBoz and her signature hashtag #WatchMeWork, she was creating space for a brand‐new executive archetype—one that in turn gives the rest of us permission to bring our whole selves to work, too.
In our business negotiations, Boz’s ideas were as bold as her outfits and her social media presence. She wielded her power differently than I’d seen before: She was about collaboration, not competition; innovation, not copy‐cat ideas; genuine support, not backbiting.
She put me at ease and embraced me like a younger sister. Her leadership style was refreshing. And invigorating. This was my colorful induction into the POC C‐suite sisterhood. I felt like the Black Alice in an all‐new corporate Wonderland, just taking it all in. By the time our teams finally met, Boz and I had already aligned on the major points of the deal I had in mind. We greeted each other and let the meeting play out as if our offline kiki had never happened. She and her number two, also a Black woman, reacted positively and bolstered my ideas in the meeting. Ideas that I had a difficult time rallying support for internally. They spoke without code switching, centering our voices in a way I had never seen play out in a business setting. These were subtle gestures that redirected the power dynamics in the room. And, if only for a day, it was empowering to see those rules being rewritten by powerful Black women.
I felt like the Black Alice in an all‐new corporate Wonderland, just taking it all in.
Meanwhile, in that meeting, for the first time in my career I observed the White advertising executives from my team shifting in their seats the way I used to at Ogilvy. Out came the Black vernacular, the awkwardly inserted “girl,” the high fives. It was an instinct I understood, having spent much of my life and career navigating rooms in which I was the only one. Anyone who’s ever worked in a male‐dominated space or has experienced being the minority in the room at least once understands this pressure to fit in. While I cringed through parts of that meeting, I walked away with more tools and some fresh insights on how race, gender, and power intersect in business.
We also left Boz’s office with a major multiplatform deal in the works—my first since becoming the new editor of Teen Vogue.
Excerpted from the bookMore Than Enoughore Than Enoughby Elaine Welteroth, published with permission of Viking, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2019 by Elaine Welteroth.