There are a few things that mommy probably told you when you were growing up. Cross your legs when wearing a dress. Chew with your mouth closed. Go to school. Get a job. Get married. Have babies—preferably in that order.
But what she might not have told you was that in your 20s, you’re probably going to go through a quarter-life crisis where you’re trying to find the answers to who you are, what you really want out of life, and how exactly to go about getting it once you walk across that stage to grab that coveted degree. She probably didn’t tell you that before becoming a leader you have to be willing to follow, and that it’s okay to take advantage of your femininity in a masculine environment, or that it’s important to have a thick skin and a firm stance in order to be a boss chick.
It’s something that Ericka Pittman, former Vice President at Combs Enterprises, is touching on in her forthcoming book—a go-to guide on how to navigate the next phase of life when you’re full of questions and starving for answers. It’s her way of giving back to the next generation of lady leaders, sharing over a decade of wisdom on how she climbed the corporate ladder in the world of entertainment and lifestyle marketing where pantsuits outnumber pencil skirts.
“Women have a tendency to hoard positive information. They want to be the only ones that know, and it's like, the world is so abundant, why wouldn't you want to share and make sure everyone has the knowledge and the tools to be great and amazing?”
A question that needs an answer, because in a world that thrives off of self-preservation, it’s important to preserve the next generation by reaching back as you climb up. It’s something that Pittman hopes to spark conversation around as she details her experiences as a woman who once found herself lost and trying to figure out what’s next, which is hard to believe for a person with such an impressive résumé: Working at media giants Time, Inc., Conde Nast, and Vibe Media Group before shifting over to Combs Enterprises where she held various roles in strategy and marketing throughout the company’s eight divisions. In February of 2015, she was promoted to Vice President of the Chairman’s Office, where she interfaces with the senior executives of each of the divisions that she once used to work under.
“A lot of people don't realize that Combs Enterprises is a portfolio brand, so we have probably eight businesses that fall under Combs Enterprises, and each of those divisions have presidents or CEO's. So I interact on a day to day basis with each of the presidents on business moves for our divisions and ensure that their goals and objectives are being met for their businesses, and they're on par with the Chairman's vision, and then simultaneously ensuring that the chairman and his office are delivering on the things that we need to deliver for each of the individual properties."
Talk about elevation.
Not to mention that she was hand-selected by Sean “Diddy” Combs himself for a role that, prior to her occupying, didn’t even exist. It’s a new challenge for her, but no sweat. Pittman knows how to navigate the waters of uncertainty, always being one to go where needed and diving in head first into her positions, never backing down but always stepping up. It’s something that the head honcho, whom she respectfully refers to as “Mr. Combs,” would expect of his team of go-getters: no excuses, just results. Being fearless and staying hungry.
It’s also the reason that she got on his radar. Being one of the few people in the company who had experience within each of the brands—she worked on the launch of Revolt Television, closed the deal on DeLeón Tequila for Combs Wines & Spirits, and lead the rebranding for AQUAhydrate packaging among many other projects—made her an optimal choice when the discussion of a position that would create synergy across the brands came about. Pittman credits her successful climb to her flexibility and her problem-solving skills.
"Working with the [Blue Flame Agency] I touched all of the brands, but then also I go where I'm needed, even if I don't work for the business. I have not worn an operational hat until now so this is an exciting opportunity for me to explore an alternative career path. This role could even parlay a COO role. It’s an honor, and I'm super excited about it!”
But just to be clear, Pittman isn’t walking for cheesecake. She was often seen right by the side of the music and marketing mogul, whether it’s at the Revolt Music Conference or jetsetting to a business meeting for Combs Wines & Spirits—always impeccably dressed and paparazzi ready.
Though the Brooklyn native didn’t have a ton of internships, she’s always been a fan of hard work and perseverance. Right out of high school she completed a few fellowships that sparked her interest in marketing and communications. While at Baruch College she juggled a full-time job and a full-time class schedule, and upon graduating didn’t hesitate to take on opportunities and align herself with the right people to help her go to the next level. With each transition she’s taken the knowledge of her previous experiences with her as she continued her climb up the corporate ladder. Both her successes, and her mistakes (she admits to once being a project hoarder who had to learn how to delegate tasks), have enabled her to stay afloat throughout her career.
“The key is to get in, work super hard, make relationships, all hands on deck, get in where you fit in and be a real contribution, because people are watching,” she says.
“Even when you think they're not watching, they are, and good talent is hard to find so if you really are the cut above the rest; you're going to stand out.”
And Pittman mastered the art of standing out as a woman in a male-dominated industry without compromising who she is. For her it’s about femininity over sexuality. The mental, not the physical. Though in a room full of men, donning a pair of Dolce & Gabbana stilettos and a well-fitted dress is definitely one of the perks of being a woman. Style and tactfulness make a confident lady, and in the boardroom Pittman is just as poised as she is primped.
After all, being Diddy’s right-hand woman meant that she has to be able to hold her own, which includes protecting herself and her reputation—with class, of course—when compromising situations arise. Watching her mother and grandmother achieve their own individual levels of success with integrity and professionalism and understanding her birthright helped the budding boss get a good sense of who she was as a woman. “Being a woman is life. If it were not for me, the human race would cease to exist; there's so much power in that.”
[Tweet "Being a woman is life. If it were not for us, the human race would cease to exist. - @ErickaMPittman"]
Though she does one day hope to play her role in evolution and be a wife and mother, she’s not willing to compromise who she is, and that includes in her dating life. Last year she was a cast member on Bravo TVs The Singles Project—a reality series following six New York singles as they navigate the world of dating as professionals. She she's still single, but she is open to someone who’s authentic and morally sound.
In the meantime she’s taking a page out of Diddy’s book in creating multiple streams of income. In January of 2016, she was appointed as Chief Marketing Officer at Aquahydrate, a Diddy-owned water brand, and if the new powerful role isn't already enough to keep her hands full, she plans on developing a cosmetic line —something that she says is encouraged at Combs Enterprises.
“I think, as women, we have a tendency to put ourselves on the back burner and make our dreams and ambitions a secondary priority, but for me, this work that I'm doing is really important.”
It’s not just about her, but about being an example for those who are looking at her and looking up to her as a successful multi-dimensional woman of color with the professionalism and personality to match.
“I used to not want to let out my real personality because I felt like people were going to question my professionalism because I have a sense of humor, but then it's like, that's just silly. Like why don't I get to be all of these things that God created me to be? And, once I started to do that and make myself a priority and what I'm doing a priority, bigger opportunities started to present themselves.”
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It’s not easy, but she’s determined to make it happen without forgetting to make herself a priority. With a packed day-to-day schedule, it’s necessary to slow down, meditate, hydrate, and explore places that her fabulous lifestyle has yet to take her. She encourages every woman to forgo the Louboutin’s and Chanel bags and take a vacation to at least expose themselves to other places and cultures. More importantly, she encourages young women to remember that life is a journey, and to focus not on the success of their peers or use the accomplishments of their mentors as barometers, but to direct their attention to living a life that’s passionate and fearless.
“I think that life’s a journey; we never stop growing. I believe that every single person is exactly where they're supposed to be in their life, and if we can embrace that and embrace the natural order of things and just be our best selves, we really can maximize life.”
In case you were wondering, that’ll be in her book, too. It’s not something that her mama told her, but what life taught her—no blueprint, no rules, just real experiences.