As a previous corporate employee and Black-woman business owner/entrepreneur, I know what it’s like to feel as if my voice isn’t being heard in boardrooms and meetings. I’ve had to bring my own seat to the table several times and build my own table several more times. I’m sure many of you reading this have been in the same position. The key is learning how to be comfortable with using your voice to make your thoughts, ideas, and opinions known.
But how do we do it?
Insert Keisha Shields of She Will Not Be Silenced. As an experienced C-Suite executive who is now an executive and leadership adviser, Keisha is helping women find their voice both in and out of the workplace and boardroom, while working through stigmas, exceeding their own personal and professional expectations, and turning their story into million-dollar messages.
Ready to take your life, personally and professionally, to the next level? Keisha’s interview will help you on your journey!
What led to you creating this company?
It came after 12-13 agonizing years of playing the backseat. I was running companies and my own brand from behind the scenes. When I first started, my company was a whole brand and nobody even knew it was mine. I was teetering on this line of [whether to make it known] because I'm a private person and I value my offline life. However, I began to realize I was living in two worlds, personally and professionally. My business world did not commingle with my personal word. So much of it came because I was always worried that people were going to be judgmental. If I was transparent, I was worried about other people's opinions about my life, about who I was, and how that would impact my bottom line or ability to attract clients.
After keeping my worlds separate for so long, I realized I was doing myself a disservice. Nobody knew me as the whole woman. They either knew me personally or professionally. I'm not going to have the impact I want if I keep hiding. I had to show up and be all of who I am because I'm doing this work with other women. I needed to come to the forefront and own the importance of this work. And that's how I began doing this with more transparency.
What are three things you suggest women do when they feel like they may be stuck or not being heard at work?
Don't fall into the expectation of compliance
From my experiences in leadership, moving up to the C-suite, and then moving to my own company, I've learned many of us were raised to comply. You do what's expected of you. This is one of the biggest challenges that women have in the workplace when it comes to speaking up. They are complying with the expectation of what others think they should be. It's this idea you should just be grateful that you're here.
Be real with who you are and what you want
[You need to be] secure with your values, integrity, and who you really are. What matters to you? What you won't stand for? These are all things you need to be honest about—not only with those in the workplace but with yourself!
Own the power of your brilliance
You have to have the confidence! Many times, once women get into the boardroom, they have the ideas to solve all the problems, but they don't often share those ideas out of fear or lack of confidence. Own who you are and own the rooms you are in!
What are your recommendations for a healthy work/life balance?
First, I don't like to say the word 'balanced' because I think when we think about balance, we tend to think about the scales being even on each side. I don't think that's a realistic way to look at it. I do think that we have to have healthy boundaries when it comes to our lives and work.
One of the biggest pieces of advice I give to women is to be intentional and have courage. For example, if you're starting a new position, have the courage to speak up in your interviews or when you're first starting about how important it is for you have a life outside of the workplace. We feel we always have to be "on" or have to turn off the switch of your life. It's like you walk in, put down your suitcase and then pick up work. And then you go home. Repeat.
We are dealing with so much grief in our own lives. We are navigating challenges in our own lives. There is an unrealistic expectation that when you get to work, those things no longer exist. So you have people who are in the workplace and they're just there.
Speak up to your supervisors or to HR about the imbalance you may be feeling and to what solutions are out there. Because the truth of the matter is, if you're feeling that imbalance and it's something noticeable for you, it means it's misaligned with your goals. For those of us in the position to set rules, we have to be more intentional about allowing women to be women when they come into work. You can still have clear boundaries, but to recognize we need to cultivate cultures in our companies where women have the capacity to be mentored or have somewhere that they can address challenges they're facing.
Can you give our readers insight into how to begin that process of transforming their stories into million-dollar messages?
Not everybody is going to be able to turn their story into a million-dollar message. It has very little to do with their story and all to do with them and who they are. You're going to get the person who will tear apart your story and find every hole. You're also going to get people who don't agree with your perspective or your story.
Many times people focus on one aspect, make it negative, and try to discourage you. [You have to be] willing to move past that, to move ahead in spite of the naysayers and the people who are not going to agree with. You have to have that inner beast mode and confidence to know you are the best at what you do.
The next thing you're going to do is what I take my clients through, which is an assets framework, using all the letters from the word 'assets'.
A - Accomplishments
When it comes down to actually turning your story into a million-dollar message, you have to know what accomplishments are relevant to the message you're trying to create. Make sure your message is a movement in some type of way. That's how you bridge that gap.
S - Street credit
You want to be credible. You need to be able to show you can speak about this up, down, left, and right. Keep in mind just because you have experience does not mean you have credibility. So, you want to make sure your street credit is relevant to the story and the message you're trying to really monetize in that way.
S - Strategic alliances
These are partnerships, friendships, business relationships, etc. What alliances do you have that will actually help further your business or cause? If you're trying to build an empire for women to find their voice and power, you need to align yourself with partnerships, organizations, other brands, and other companies who are dealing with that same type of things.
E - Expertise
You have to have expertise. That requires being able to build out frameworks. It's not something that's just in your mind. It has to be something you can teach, show models and talking points on.
T - Thought leadership
This is your perspective. This is also where I went wrong. When I was first starting, I would stick to the facts. I didn't realize people always came to me because they wanted to get my thoughts. I didn't see that people not only wanted to know what I believed, but they wanted to know why I believed in those things. They wanted to know how they impacted me. You have to be willing to talk about your thought leadership, your thoughts, perspectives, why these things happen, and what you learned from them.
S - Stories
You want to get into your stories and talk about the ones that have a relevant connection to the message and the mission you're trying to build a movement and a brand around.
What’s next for Keisha Shields?
I want to take She Will Not Be Silenced to the next level. I want to make my mark and this is my way of changing the world. I want to continue helping women find the confidence and courage to speak their truth in a way that feels elegant and also be honest with themselves.
I am also working on my journal line, which I'm really excited about and it's going to be journals that help women learn, speak up, speak their truth, and tell their stories. And, I'm writing a children’s book.