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.
The pandemic has had a tremendous effect on almost all aspects of life, and our careers are obviously no exception. One intriguingly empowering phenomenon within it all has been the boost in innovative and resilient leaders pursuing startups and side hustles despite the challenges.
A recent Lending Tree report indicates that 50% of millennials and 46% of Gen Zers have side hustles. Many are also turning the traditional side hustle narrative on its head, keeping their day jobs and maximizing opportunities to fulfill multi-hyphenate passions. They’re the example that you don’t have to leave a job you love to start a business. And that you might be even more successful by pursuing both professional and entrepreneurial dreams, as research also found that professionals who kept their day jobs while running a startup were 33% less likely to fail in business than their counterparts who quit their 9-to-5s.)
Melissa Carnegie is one such woman, enjoying the challenge and allure of balancing her 9-to-5 as the head of global community and communications for Cantu Beauty, with the responsibilities of building a business. And don’t call it just a side hustle. In Carnegie’s case, having a full-time job and building an enterprise keeps her invigorated and motivated. She adores both and reaps the reciprocal benefits.
Carnegie started her lifestyle blog MelissaChanel.com, as an outlet for sharing her personal style and stories of travel adventures, and of course, showcasing her massive sneaker collection. In May 2017, she launched Kicks & Fros to create a space for Black and brown women to shine among the millions of consumers behind the success of the growing $70 billion sneaker market. (And indeed, the space was more than needed, since Black consumers practically bolstered popularity and profitability booms for most if not all of the sportswear industry and have revolutionized how sneakers are created, marketed, and even resold.)
Carnegie is excited to not only help Black and brown women find their sneaker style and embrace a love for them but become a prominent figure in a very white—and very male-dominated industry. “I wasn’t seeing a lot of us— women who looked like me—on different pages that would reshare sneaker lovers or inspirational women in the sneaker community. And I knew I couldn’t be the only one who felt that way,” she says. “I’m a very small-town girl, and community is something that I’ve always had as a small child. I was like, ‘You know what? I think I need to create something. It started as an inspo page, and it grew very quickly and made me think about structuring it as a business.”
What started as an IG page has evolved into a community of more than 50,000 (from both her personal and Kicks & Fros brands) and a full-fledged business that offers opportunities for women to connect via events, custom campaigns, digital media content, and branded apparel. “You can be a boss-ass woman in the boardroom with your suit and your sneakers on, making powerful decisions. I wanted women to understand that we are in the sneaker space, we have just as much knowledge as men, and that we’re here to stay.”
A Prime Opportunity
Then Cantu came calling, she recalls. In her role at the company, she manages the hair care brand’s consumer-facing activations for events like the ESSENCE Festival, BeautyCon, and natural hair care shows. She also works with teams for ad campaigns, influencer relations, and other communications with consumers. All of this helps strengthen her entrepreneurial side, and everything becomes like a cycle of personal and professional development that benefits all parties. “My favorite part of my job is that I get to work with different creative minds, understand how people think and how they work. I also love helping women find solutions for their hair care regime.”
Carnegie adds that the team at Cantu is super-supportive of her business endeavors and has even been part of some of the events she’s thrown for her own brand. “I'm cultivating community for women in the space, and they support me 100%. If I need to take a day off, they totally understand. They’re always asking for ways to help.”
Mastering It All
Balancing the duties of both a job she loves and a business she’s passionate about requires quite a bit of planning, grace, and confidence. “As a woman in leadership, I’ve learned [it’s important to] ask for help. That’s not a bad thing. Collaborate. Work with other team members. Bring like-minded people in to take things to the next level. Time management is also something that’s big for me and that I’ve learned in leadership, especially with me having 50-11 jobs,” she says with a laugh.
To keep everything organized and work at her best for both her job and her business, Carnegie implements systems, uses apps and tech tools like Canva, Later, Asana, and Microsoft Outlook, and she practices calendar blocking to set clear boundaries for managing her time. “The most important part for me was not feeling like I had to give up on my business dreams, but I can juggle both as long as I keep up with what I’m doing and make conscious decisions about my business and what I want to happen. Just having teams, projects, and setting goals and tasks is helpful.”
Deliberate Choices, Big Wins
Standing firm in decision-making is also key for Carnegie. “It’s about using my voice and not being afraid of being headstrong and confident in [the choices] I make, and knowing that I’m making the correct decisions and sharing that with my team, especially as a woman—a Black woman,” she says. “I’ve worked my way up to now being in this amazing position with a hair care brand that I love. I believe in myself and know I’ve done the research, I have the education, and I have the background to support my decisions.”
For women who would like to advocate for themselves at their 9-to-5 in order to launch a business, Carnegie recommends not being afraid to spark that first conversation. “Just start. Share it with your team. Tell them why you’re doing it and why it’s important to you. I think your ‘why’ is very important. That will fuel you at your full-time job just like it fuels you in your business.”
And if your boss or company isn’t too keen on the idea? Owning your career and leading today requires being empowered by the choice to work for companies whose policies, practices, and missions align with your long-term goals. “I would have a sit-down discussion or meeting to see what the reasons are and to see if we could make something possible,” Carnegie adds. “If it’s something I’m really passionate about, I would try to find a position or company that respected my values and my idea of the life I wanted to create for myself, and let them know that [while] I’m still passionate about my full-time job, this is also something I’m passionate about and will do just as well.”
Featured image by Brandon Grate Photography