We've all heard the age-old saying, "Be the change you want to see," and that's especially important in the plight to level the business playing field for Black entrepreneurs. Tiffany Johnson, corporate manager at Amazon, is one such person who decided to do just that, mastering how to pitch an idea at work and winning.
By sheer observation within her community and while participating in a key role with the company's Black Employee Network (BEN), Tiffany found that Black sellers are underrepresented. "In 2019, I transitioned into a sales role where I assist sellers in the U.S. and help them expand into Canada and Mexico. During that role, I was able to grow many of my seller's accounts to millions of dollars," she said.
"Seeing that as a Black woman who grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., it was really impactful because I just didn't know that people made that much money on Amazon. Being able to influence these small businesses to create high impact in their communities--that was eye-opening for me."
She thought it was important to make more Black entrepreneurs aware of how much of an "economic engine" Amazon is. "Talking to my friends, thinking about my experience growing up, and seeing how my parents built different businesses—this is something I knew they weren't aware of," she added. "That really led me to thinking, 'What if we were able to build a program to build awareness around Amazon within the Black community?"
Image by Lucas Jackson/Amazon
In seeking to find an opportunity to serve and build a solution, she teamed up with colleagues Jeremy Erdman and Rachad Lewis to bring the Black Business Accelerator to life, forging a $150 million pledge to provide Black entrepreneurs financial support, strategic business guidance, and mentorship, and marketing and promotional opportunities.
Getting the initiative greenlit took research, planning, collaboration, and pitching, and we can all take a nod from Johnson on how to spark innovation, build initiatives to serve communities, or back important values that we're passionate about at work.
Check out a few tips from Tiffany's journey on how you can step up your leadership game at your company and empower others—and yourself.
1. Get to know your company's mission, values, and cultural protocol to create the best plan for approach in pitching your idea.
Tiffany had learned about the company culture and mission during the interview process as well as in her early days as an employee. She'd watch and observe. "At Amazon, we pride ourselves in thinking about the customers and working backward," Tiffany added. "I had to tell the story of why this product is needed and what problem it was solving."
As in Tiffany's experience, it's always a good idea to know the ins and outs of the company as well as the people to whom you're pitching to. So, actually read your company's handbook (yes, that huge packet they give new hires) and brush up on your company's mission statement, bylaws, or principles. Talk to coworkers and keep an open line of communication with not only your manager, but those who are in leadership in other departments (if not against any company rules, policies, or ethics.)
Keep up with any interoffice or online news of company wins, business strategy implementations, promotions, and failures. This will surely help you to learn more about career moves and communication methods that work and those that just don't, and it will allow you to get to know the types of things that hold merit for leaders at your company.
Clockwise from left, Tiffany Johnson, Rashad Lewis
Image by Lucas Jackson/Amazon
2. Find collaborators and supporters who will back your idea and help bring it to life.
To have a fighting chance at a yes for a proposal or idea, the more support and help you can get, the better. "At the time, I was still pretty new into sales, and [Rachad] was my onboarding buddy who was helping me ramp up in my role," Tiffany recalled. "I went to him and said, 'Hey what if we had a program similar to what we're doing now, for minority businesses on Amazon?'
Rachad connected Tiffany to "the right stakeholders," including Jeremy, another colleague who was building a platform for employees to pitch their ideas. "I got in contact with Jeremy and he gave me the link to that accelerator program. I wrote the first one-pager and submitted my idea. This was July 2019. You have to get the right people in the room to pitch your idea to."
Just as Tiffany did, it's ideal to think about the people whose jobs or everyday work might be impacted by your idea or concept, and try to align yourself with them. Also, look into company resources or programs that call for presenting new ideas or proposals or that support the change you'd like to see. Think of the benefits in a holistic way in terms of why your company should back your idea and what tangible results will come from it (i.e. revenue boost, better employee satisfaction, expansion of customer base, or increased brand presence) versus general things like "It's just a good idea," or "Everybody's doing it."
3. Do your research and allow the data to drive the pitch home.
"When we fast-forward to COVID-19, over 40% of Black businesses had been impacted, which is a big deal, but only 6% of Black businesses make up the retail space," Tiffany added. "When you're pitching such a huge program to leaders, it's important that whatever your story says, it builds that trust. I think, for the most part, it was a matter of reading the data."
Whether it's implementing incentive programs for your team, asking for a raise, or even pushing for something as seemingly small as new chairs for your office, having numbers or insights to back up your why can mean the difference between getting a slow yes or a quick no. And even researching the process and impact of implementation (ie. who is supposed to hear you out, what departments should be notified, or any possible tax or legal issues that might arise) to be able to answer questions or address opposition is important.
No matter what your game-changing idea is, be inspired by Tiffany's journey to make millions of dollars in resources available to Black sellers on Amazon, and be smart in setting your plan in motion to turn a dream into reality.
Featured image via Getty Images
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Switching things up in our careers---and thriving at doing so---is nothing new to us. Since, as ambitious Black women in our own right, we're often tasked with challenging ourselves, pushing ourselves past the status quo, and fighting to live out the best careers we can.
Alison Threadgill, senior director of talent relations at Revolt, made a pivot from serving as a publicist to working with top entertainment personalities in talent relations, and in her more than 15 years of experience, she's been able to elevate through the ranks of entertainment---previously at TV One and its sister companies Radio One, iOne, Reach Media and One Solution.
"I get to cast and highlight artists and creators and cultural leaders who are really driving the culture forward," she said. "At Revolt, we are very unapologetically hip-hop, and so I'm always searching for fresh voices and undiscovered artists. Revolt really is a platform that's for people like that to be showcased to the world. ... It's exciting to work in this world where I have the opportunity to really elevate Black voices and Black audiences."
I caught up with Alison to talk about why she chose to shift from PR to her current post, how we can all truly lift as we climb--even in industries that might have reputations for being super-competitive, and how she's working the job of her dreams to the max.
Marcus Ingram / Contributor/Getty
xoNecole: You mentioned pushing the culture forward. What does that specifically mean for Revolt as a network?
Alison Threadgill: One of the things that makes Revolt unique is that we represent a very Gen Z and millennial voice. What the status quo is, is not what we're about. We are sparking conversations that are going to bring about change, to make people think differently, to get people to realize that just because something has been a certain way, doesn't mean that's the way that it should be or should continue to be. We pride ourselves on being very disruptive and bringing about voices that showcase that.
We have a new show that's coming later this year where there will be lots of different voices.
We're coming up on an election year, and so being able to have voices in our community that are talking about issues that are important to us and understanding that there's a lot wrong in the world, our people are so often overlooked and mistreated, and so what do we as a community need to do to really impact change? Who are the people we need to empower who are not just going to give us lip service but are actually going to do things to create change?
It's about starting those conversations and understanding, for our audience, that Revolt is a place you can come to hear that and see that.
xoN: You pivoted from PR to talent relations. What transferable skills have helped you in doing so?
AT: One of the things that is a skill set that you have to have for both is working with very different personalities. Working in PR, I worked very closely with talent all of the time. I think that was probably the key skill set between the two---understanding that, especially in the celebrity world, you can work with very challenging personalities, whether it be on the management or agent side, to the talent themselves. Just understanding how to work with all kinds of personalities to be able to get your job done, I would say, would be the No. 1 skill between the two.
xoN: What advice do you have for young women who want to pursue a pivot into talent relations?
AT: Can I speak to entertainment in general? This is something that can work in both. I think one thing that a lot of people---especially for [those] who are not in large markets--a New York, an Atlanta, an LA--it can be daunting. How do I break in? [It's by] volunteering, even with something at the local level, so that you're gaining experience in entertainment. What you're doing as a volunteer may not be something you absolutely love, but it's giving you the exposure to all these other entertainment jobs, what other people are doing, that you didn't even know existed that interests you. Volunteering is huge in figuring out what you want to [do] and giving you exposure to other areas.
The other thing that I think we don't do enough, especially as Black people---and sometimes as women--- is using our network---talking to your network. Telling your friends, colleagues, and associates about things that interest you in entertainment.
It's important to put yourself out there because if people don't know, they can't help you. It may not be a situation where it's something they know about, but a friend of [a] friend might mention that they're looking for somebody or know somebody.
It's easy to not share because you assume people may not be tapped in, but you don't know who they know---so just really be open to putting yourself out there. So much about this industry is about relationships, and doors open because of your relationships.
Also, using LinkedIn as a tool if you don't know anybody in entertainment or there's a role you're interested in.
Featured image by Shawne Turrentine/Art Trends LLC