Who knew Nina Simone singing, "To be young, gifted and black. Oh, what a lovely precious dream," would be the anthem for melanin millennials. Watching Candace Marie dominate Fashion Weeks all over the globe and be her pro-black self in luxurious spaces is exactly what our ancestors' dreams are made of. This powerhouse of a woman uses her respected voice in the industry to champion for people of color behind the corporate walls.
The Arkansas native shared, "During my 10+ year career navigating from company to company in the corporate realm, I saw not only a lack of Black colleagues but the systematic racism that was embedded into the guidelines, policies and practices that propelled white individuals towards success and Black individuals towards failure."
Courtesy of Candace Marie
Recently, the social media consultant and professor created Black in Corporate, a much-needed initiative for Black people looking for relief, support, and guidance in their jobs as well as those who are looking to help bridge the gap and be an authentic ally for Black Individuals who are currently working in challenging corporate structures.
xoNecole had the pleasure of speaking with Candace about being a Black woman in corporate, why she started the initiative and how self-care fits into Black in Corporate.
xoNecole: What does being a Black woman in the corporate world mean to you specifically?
Candace Marie: Being a Black woman in corporate is such a beautiful and powerful thing. Black women are the most hard-working, compassionate, clever, and creative beings that I know. Therefore, to be able to be a Black woman fully within a corporate environment, the opportunities should be endless, because whatever we touch grows. Unfortunately, the reality of being a Black woman in corporate oftentimes reflects as being the only one to look like you, [as well as] the feeling of isolation and exhaustion from being overworked and from being underpaid.
"Being a Black woman in corporate is such a beautiful and powerful thing. Black women are the most hard-working, compassionate, clever, and creative beings that I know. Therefore, to be able to be a Black woman fully within a corporate environment, the opportunities should be endless, because whatever we touch grows."
Can you share the moment you decided to start Black in Corporate?
There was a collision of happenings, events and life experiences that ignited something in me to start Black in Corporate. So much was weighing heavily on me. The killing of George Floyd, the ever-feeling of isolation within corporate spaces, seeing how distraught my Black colleagues were, as well as witnessing what was reflected on social was not reflected inside of corporations - I thought to myself if there was ever a time to act, now was the time.
How has your perspective lended itself to the vision of your new venture?
My perspective as a Black woman by far helped frame what Black in Corporate has and is becoming. As a Black woman who has been within a corporate environment for over 10 years, I have dealt with experiences of being the only one that looked like me, not having the appropriate resources for upward trajectory and lacking in connections and mentorship. All of this has guided me to think about what I wish I had on my career path and how I can provide that back to Black individuals in similar situations.
You have always been yourself unapologetically in whatever rooms you take up space in, including corporate rooms. What are some ways you would dare Black women who might fear they aren't 'professional' to do the same in the corporate world?
I must first start by saying that I was not always like this and that I understand the burden that weighs on Black women. It has been a 10-year plus journey. As Black women, we have to go above and beyond and most times that still is not good enough. Even being unapologetically us is taxing and draining. Nevertheless, to this I say we have to rise to the occasion because there will be Black women after us who will have it easier and women after them. I'm optimistic that it won't always be like this and that me wearing my hair natural or a wig won't have to come with an education class as well as over-executing my work.
"As Black women, we have to go above and beyond and most times that still is not good enough. Even being unapologetically us is taxing and draining. Nevertheless, to this I say we have to rise to the occasion because there will be Black women after us who will have it easier and women after them."
Speaking of professionalism, do you think the concept of professionalism is anti-Black, why or why not?
The idea and concept is definitely anti-Black - especially when it comes to Black hair. Black individuals are raised and trained to think that in order to be "professional", not only do our mannerisms need to reflect that of a white individual, but our appearance does as well. When I reflect on my experiences going into interviews, I always wore my hair straight or slicked back because I was told that my natural hair was messy and not professional. We have to change this stigma.
How is self-care and mental health interconnected in Black in Corporate?
The interconnection is vital to the point that it is our survival tool. For years, Black individuals have shown unwavering strength and tenacity within corporations that have failed them repeatedly. Sadly, the mental toll that this system has taken on Black bodies has been astronomical. The effects of systematic racism and racial trauma on Black mental health in the corporate sector is real and cannot be ignored. One thing is certain—Black self-care within corporate spaces is VITAL.
What do you want the world to take away from the current social justice movement when thinking about Black faces in corporate spaces?
I want the corporate sector to take the steps and actions to be an authentic ally for Black Individuals who are currently working in challenging corporate structures. I want them to think about cultivating the current Black staff to grow and thrive. I want the corporate sector to publicly be a white ally by recognizing and calling out microaggressions from fellow coworkers and bringing anti-racism into the workplace every day. Recognizing and acknowledging that Black individuals have been disproportionately penalized in the workplace and that white people had have greater access. At the end of the day, I want them to actively help make existing systems of oppression more equitable by opening up paths of opportunities to Black workers who previously did not have access to them.
For more of Candace, follow her on Instagram @marie_mag_. Also, be sure to follow Black in Corporate on Instagram to keep up with pertinent information and resources.
Featured Image by Candace Marie