In this special Women’s History Month Boss Up series, we talk to women who are redefining what leadership looks like. They’re deciding, on their own terms, to tap into a fulfilling career, walk their own paths, and embrace the fullness of the impact of Black women when they decide to unapologetically take up space and disrupt in business.
With the challenges of the day—a global pandemic (that’s still not quite over), horrifically high gas prices, and the yet-to-be-resolved issue of unequal pay, to name a few—the need to pivot, recharge, and reinvent in many aspects of Black women’s lives has become more and more important for us. The environment today has led to a shift in not only how we live but how we approach getting to the bag, whether that be through a full-time job, a side hustle, a business, or all three combined.
The days of the straight-and-narrow journey on the road to so-called success are quite long gone, and today, new generations of Black women are traveling roads that not only have detours but intersections created anew. And one unchanging component that seems to always fuel success is a plan founded on good old-fashioned principles of planning, education, and resilience through advocacy, empowerment, and innovation.
Courtesy of Ayris Scales
Ayris T. Scales is a leader who knows more than a thing or two about just those things, with more than 20 years of experience excelling as what she calls a “tri-sector” professional. The path to her current role as CEO of Walker’s Legacy Foundation included taking on a variety of roles in corporate, nonprofit, and public service industries.
“When I came into this role last year, it was interesting because someone who I considered a friend said to me, ‘So what are you now—a champion of women in business?’ It was a bit of a slight, and I had to correct her and say, ‘You know, I’ve really been doing this work for almost 20 years now,’” Scales recalls to xoNecole. “I started out in communications and got a job in corporate America doing corporate communications. I hated it. And we were working with big global brands. Every once in a while, we’d have these smaller businesses calling us about our services or calling us trying to tap into resources but couldn’t afford them. I come from a family that has been very focused on community, collective impact, and service, so I thought, let me get out of this corporate job and go into the public sector to work on policies to connect businesses with the resources they need.”
She eventually moved on to work in public policy, managing initiatives and communications for city governments including those in Washington DC, Indianapolis, Chicago, and Atlanta. Throughout her career, she’s seen many career highs, but one, in particular, landed her in a position to work with the Obama administration as the inaugural executive director of the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative (DCPNI), part of the White House Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative with a purpose to end generational poverty.
To date, she has raised more than $50 million in funding and overseen more than $200 million in grants and subsidies to support women, marginalized communities, and small business owners.
Now at Walker’s Legacy, an organization founded in honor of beauty mogul Madam C.J. Walker and committed to uplifting the next generation of minority women entrepreneurs, Scales is tasked with leading the nonprofit arm’s charge of getting 10,000 Black women founders “capital ready” by 2025. It’s a challenge she does not shy away from. And it’s the use of transferable skills and the reliance on deep confidence to take risks to pursue out-of-the-box opportunities that have been key in building that tenacity.
Courtesy of Ayris Scales
“It’s been an amazing journey to be at Walker’s Legacy to lean in more on what I’m passionate about,” she says. “For me, I know that I have to bring those things that are natural to me. That’s not also to say don’t push yourself [beyond], because that’s important, too,” she adds. “I love to lead with my ‘why.’ Why are you here? Why do you feel the need to make a pivot, start a business, or go into a role? And I challenge people who say, ‘Well, I’m passionate about the mission or vision.’ We’re all passionate about those things but that’s not why you are here. When you have that understanding of what your ‘why’ is, it allows you to be more connected and invested in how you’re going to have a true impact and navigate when those days get hard.”
Black women millennials and Gen Zers, in particular, are at the forefront of putting their “why” first, further challenging the status-quo approach in building a successful career or business. “I’m just observing my own daughter, my cousins, and the children of my friends: They care so much more—which is great—about the quality of life–how they live–and not so much about being driven or focused on ‘I gotta chase down this role, and this job, and this title. They’re looking at how they move and how they make money [in a way] that’s more supportive of some of these broader goals that they have in life,” she says.
“And I’m like ‘How wonderful is that!’ As we think about millennials—who are well grown at this point—I think the path isn’t as linear as it used to be. We are seeing right now that more Black women are starting to go into entrepreneurship at faster rates and in larger numbers than ever before—even at higher rates than any of their counterparts. And we’re doing that for many reasons. Part of that is understanding that we want to start to create legacy."
"We are seeing right now that more Black women are starting to go into entrepreneurship at faster rates and in larger numbers than ever before—even at higher rates than any of their counterparts. And we’re doing that for many reasons. Part of that is understanding that we want to start to create legacy."
And here’s where the aggressive push for the “Capital Ready Initiative” becomes that much more significant for Scales. It’s a way to not only educate Black women founders on how to get funding that will sustain their businesses through the long game but also to remind the world that the disparity still exists. “When we talk about minority- and women-owned businesses, and then you throw on being a Black woman-owned business, it’s exceptionally hard to access capital for a few reasons. For one, we may not have the full understanding of what it takes to successfully complete a loan or a grant,” she shares.
“One of the things I’ve also said is that we have funding that’s available in this country. Capital is here and capital flows throughout this country. What’s not always available is for that capital to trickle down to our communities and that’s because of discriminatory and systemic types of barriers and criteria in which we are being evaluated against people who are not traditionally our peers.”
A huge part of an elevated pivot to success is one that involves Black women, especially millennials and Gen Zers, stepping things up beyond social media hype and overnight-success stories of six- and seven-figure revenues of bootstrapped startups, especially when it comes to the glazing over of in-real-life success metrics of actual profit, longevity, business legitimacy, impact, and market influence. “When it comes to social media, we want to see what others are doing so that we can draw inspiration and stay abreast of what competitors are doing in the market, but we can’t be distracted from what actually works for sustainability. When we have a plan, we have to work it. We want to talk about the ability to still be around when the market starts to shift.”
Scales, who is also an entrepreneur herself, having founded Abel Vision Enterprises, has had a chance to continue to lay the foundation for her own success, as a woman whose career has been multifaceted and nonlinear, and continues to work to pay it forward for other women who are operating in the same vein—and generations that will learn from their journeys in the future.
“As Black people, we are so enterprising anyway—that’s how we’ve always had to be. We’ve always had to create our own products and services for our own community. We've always had to figure things out in that sense,” Scales explains. “So to be able to do that today where there are some resources finally being made available to us, and where we have the luxury of being global—just because of social media— and we have the opportunities to be paid for our services and ideas, it’s something that our ancestors could have never, never even imagined. I’m extremely committed and passionate about creating legacy. We are literally our ancestors’ wildest dreams.”
Featured image courtesy of Ayris Scales
This article is in partnership with Sensodyne.
Our teeth are connected to so many things - our nutrition, our confidence, and our overall mood. We often take for granted how important healthy teeth are, until issues like tooth sensitivity or gum recession come to remind us. Like most things related to our bodies, prevention is the best medicine. Here are five things you can do immediately to improve your oral hygiene, prevent tooth sensitivity, and avoid dental issues down the road.
1) Go Easy On the Rough Brushing: Brushing your teeth is and always will be priority number one in the oral hygiene department. No surprises there! However, there is such a thing as applying too much pressure when brushing…and that can lead to problems over time. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and brush in smooth, circular motions. It may seem counterintuitive, but a gentle approach to brushing is the most effective way to clean those pearly whites without wearing away enamel and exposing sensitive areas of the teeth.
2) Use A Desensitizing Toothpaste: As everyone knows, mouth pain can be highly uncomfortable; but tooth sensitivity is a whole different beast. Hot weather favorites like ice cream and popsicles have the ability to trigger tooth sensitivity, which might make you want to stay away from icy foods altogether. But as always, prevention is the best medicine here. Switching to a toothpaste like Sensodyne’s Sensitivity & Gum toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth will help build a protective layer over sensitive areas of the tooth. Over time, those sharp sensations that occur with extremely cold foods will subside, and you’ll be back to treating yourself to your icy faves like this one!
3) Floss, Rinse, Brush. (And In That Order!): Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you do, but how you do it”? Well, the same thing applies to taking care of your teeth. Even if you are flossing and brushing religiously, you could be missing out on some of the benefits simply because you aren’t doing so in the right order. Flossing is best to do before brushing because it removes food particles and plaque from places your toothbrush can’t reach. After a proper flossing sesh, it is important to rinse out your mouth with water after. Finally, you can whip out your toothbrush and get to brushing. Though many of us commonly rinse with water after brushing to remove excess toothpaste, it may not be the best thing for our teeth. That’s because fluoride, the active ingredient in toothpaste that protects your enamel, works best when it gets to sit on the teeth and continue working its magic. Rinsing with water after brushing doesn’t let the toothpaste go to work like it really can. Changing up your order may take some getting used to, but over time, you’ll see the difference.
4) Stay Hydrated: Upping your water supply is a no-fail way to level up your health overall, and your teeth are no exception to this rule. Drinking water not only helps maintain a healthy pH balance in your mouth, but it also washes away residue and acids that can cause enamel erosion. It also helps you steer clear of dry mouth, which is a gateway to bad breath. And who needs that?
5) Show Your Gums Some Love: When it comes to improving your smile, you may be laser-focused on getting your teeth whiter, straighter, and overall healthier. Rightfully so, as these are all attributes of a megawatt smile; but you certainly don’t want to leave gum health out of the equation. If you neglect your gums, you’ll start to notice the effects of plaque buildup, which can irritate the gums and cause gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease. Seeing blood while brushing and flossing is a tell-tale sign that your gums are suffering. You may also experience gum recession — a condition where the gum tissue surrounding your teeth pulls back, exposing more of your tooth. Brushing at least twice a day with a gum-protecting toothpaste like Sensodyne Sensitivity and Gum, coupled with regular dentist visits, will keep your gums shining as bright as those pearly whites.
Self-employment is something many people prefer or aspire to, as being your own boss is both admirable and empowering. And women are bossing up more than ever, representing almost 40% of all self-employed professionals. Being self-employed myself, I can attest to the benefits, but like everything in life, there are two dueling sides to every coin. And if you're considering taking the leap from 9-to-5er to self-employed, there's a lot to consider before totally pulling the plug on your day job.
Here are a few things to know, from my own experience, before transitioning into self-employment:
1. Recognize that self-employment is not entrepreneurship.
There are key differences between being an entrepreneur and being self-employed that many people get all mixed up and confused about. The terms are often used interchangeably, but they are definitely not the same.
A self-employed person operates just like an employee, often offering services and talents to business owners, nonprofits, or organizations. An entrepreneur typically offers goods and services to a client or customer, registers their business for tax purposes, and can reap the benefits of resources like business bank accounts, financing, and investments.
When you're self-employed, you often don't get paid if you don't work, most typically as a freelancer or on a project-by-project or client-by-client basis. When you're an entrepreneur, you can successfully scale a business where you can reap the benefits whether you're actively working in it or not.
You can indeed launch a one-person business (i.e., as a limited liability company or LLC), but there are requirements related to that, particularly when it comes to taxes. There are also things to consider, such as lifestyle, goals, and risk tolerance. The annual and financial obligations entrepreneurs have aren't the same as self-employed professionals, like additional taxes, filing fees, and mandatory financial reports.
(I know some of y'all entrepreneurs might be reading this with a side-eye, but hey, not every self-employed person is a business person, and some simply might not want the extra maintenance and responsibilities of having a registered business, no matter the perks.)
While I'm not discouraging any self-employed person from launching a business, knowing the difference between the two is important because it sets the tone for how you approach the work that you do, your expectations on the lifestyle and requirements, and what benefits might be afforded to you.
Many entrepreneurs can employ people, scale their businesses for expansion, get capital investment, and even take days, weeks, or months off without having to actually work yet still reap the benefits. This is often not the case for a self-employed person whose salary largely depends on actual work hours, paid invoices, and strategic budgeting.
2. Inform yourself about the tax obligations and other financial shifts that might happen once you are self-employed.
When you're working a 9-to-5, your company handles taking taxes out of each check. This is not the case for self-employed folk. There's a quarterly schedule that must be followed for federal taxes, and there are other regulations based on the state where you primarily work (even if you're working remote). If you're used to having a hands-off approach to taxes (other than going to the tax preparer once a year), you definitely want to shift your expectations and get to know all the information you can about self-employment taxes.
Also, the way you budget might be a bit different when you're self-employed. If you find, for example, that you're constantly living check to check or that you're used to a guaranteed paycheck every two weeks, you'll need to shift the way you look at how money flows in your household.
Self-employment can include periods where you're not getting paid as consistently, and many companies work with invoices that are paid 30, 60, or even 90 days after you've finished the work you've done for them. Keep this in mind and plan accordingly based on the industry you'll be working within.
Talk to a tax or personal finance professional to find out about how your finances and tax obligation might change once you decide to become self-employed, and then set up a plan so that you won't get caught slipping come Tax Day. The process is different for self-employed people, and this is an important aspect of the process that will save you lots of money and stress in the long run.
I learned the hard way to negotiate, upfront, a set period of time for my services (when applicable and reasonable) to be written into a contract and to set my rates not solely based on my previous salary but considering additional costs like WIFI, travel, health insurance that I have to pay for out-of-pocket, home office technology and tools, and the time it actually takes to complete tasks. The pandemic brought home how super-important this was because, as a freelancer, someone can simply cut you with no compensation or warning.
3. Get to know your true strengths and weaknesses when it comes to work ethic, skills, environment, and motivation.
Self-employment is definitely not for the faint at heart. It can be a constant hustle in the beginning, and if you're not careful, you might end up wondering how you'll pay your rent or car note simply because you don't have clients or work lined up. It's good to be a self-starter and super-organized. It's also good to brush up on your marketing, communications, and sales skills because you'll need to pitch yourself and your background in order to land projects and clients.
While working your full-time job, take a few courses or find a self-employed mentor so that you can strengthen your skills in areas where you might need some improvement (i.e., pitching, online marketing, social media branding, or project management.) Practice self-employment on the side as an intern or with a side hustle so you can learn a bit more about yourself that you might be overlooking while serving as an employee.
Being self-employed means you become multiple departments in one person. For example, your current company provides support like assistants, accounting departments, legal teams, and IT, so you might not be used to having to handle all of those things on your own. For some, this can be overwhelming, while others find the challenge invigorating and worth the sacrifice if it means having autonomy and financial and time freedom.
Also, if you're motivated to do your best by being around teams or working in an office, self-employment might be too isolating for you. True, there are groups and co-working cultures you can join, but it's definitely not the same as having built-in comradery of fellow full-timers at a company. Be aware of these things so that you're realistically making a choice that suits the life you want to live and the work experience you want to have in order to thrive.
4. Create an emergency fund solely for the transition.
While you're working a 9-to-5, create a separate savings account just for the transition. Anything can happen between quitting your job and getting your first freelance gig, client, or project. When I first stepped out to be self-employed, I thought I had the dream client, only to find out that it wasn't a good fit and I'd be looking for a new one after six months. This might happen several times before you really hit a groove, find your fit, build up your reputation, and get consistent work.
Having a financial cushion outside of your usual emergency fund helps to soften the blow if something like a client loss, a late invoice payment, or an unexpected work-related expense (i.e., computer replacement or broken equipment repair) comes up.
Sometimes, self-employment can include certain up-front costs like renting an office space, investing in new technology or other tools, travel expenses, or hiring other self-employed professionals (i.e., a consultant, web designer, or tax preparer), so you'll want to be smart, be prepared, and keep your receipts.
5. Understand your why.
Every great and sustainable journey starts with a good reason---a "why" that keeps a person going. If you know your why, you're less likely to just give up when things get rough, and you're less likely to make costly, mentally and physically draining mistakes. I decided to go for full-time self-employment because, after more than a decade working in my field, I really felt burned out at the time, began to resent not being promoted as quickly as I thought I should, and saw that I could make more money contracting my skills and talents out than working full-time for one company.
I also loved that I could pick and choose who I worked with and align my values with the projects that I was part of (versus being forced due to being a full-time employee beholden to a contract and the so-called values of a corporation or company.)
I've made quite a few mistakes over the years, but my why remains the same, and when times get hard, I simply remember the overall peace, flexibility, and autonomy I have in serving the women millennial audiences I want to serve through journalism and communications.
6. Be sure that you're offering services or expertise that can be used for years to come and that's competitive.
If you're considering self-employment, be sure your skills are competitive and have a future of need. I knew, even a decade ago, that much of the media industry was going the freelance route, and today, with layoffs becoming commonplace and full-time employee budgets being cut, contract work has become the name of the game. I saw this industry shift coming a mile away, and, like my early foray into digital media before publishing houses were monetizing it, I knew eventually, freelance work would be abundant and preferred.
If you're already doing a job that is in high demand or you offer something niche and one-of-a-kind, working for yourself might be the move. But if you've found that your current skills might be obsolete in the next two to five years, try learning another skill, shifting how you do the work you do, or tapping into another passion that can ensure you're offering something valuable in a market where it's direly needed.
Self-employment can be a joy and a pain, and for many of us, it's the only choice for self-care, mental wellness, and financial freedom. If you're considering taking the leap, take into account these tips and go forward in bold confidence, informed, and prepared.
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Featured image LaylaBird/Getty Images