Odessa "OJ" Jenkins

Here’s How This Entrepreneur Is Breaking Up The Boys' Club In Sports

During the 2024 Emmy Awards, Niecy Nash delivered an inspiring acceptance speech that left the audience in awe. She declared the best investment one can make is in themselves, leading to the greatest decision she ever made. This statement resonates with many of us as we strive to achieve our goals and dreams. As a Black woman in Hollywood or corporate America, navigating the workplace can be overwhelming. Like any journey, there are ebbs and flows. However, it's important to remember that you are not alone.

Women in the workplace face unique challenges that can make it difficult to lead in their most authentic way. Fortunately, there are individuals like Odessa "OJ" Jenkins, the CEO of Bonfire Women, who are taking on the challenge of cultivating a more inclusive, supportive, and winning workplace culture.

As a trailblazer for women in football and the founder of The Women's Football Club, OJ is a Hall of Famer, a 7x National Champion, a 2x USA Football Team captain, and a 3x Team USA Gold Medalist. The football champion spoke with xoNecoleto provide critical tools and insights for both aspiring leaders and experienced professionals. She emphasizes the importance of being paid your worth and establishing best practices to receive proper recognition, especially in the face of adversity.

Because remember, it's your season to win!

xoNecole: What three lessons would you impart to women who strive to redefine success in the workplace so it won't crush their souls?

Odessa Jenkins: First, remind yourself that success is within you, not something that gets defined for you. Once you can answer the question, 'What do I want?' defining success becomes easier. It's not what the world wants for you, but what do you want?

Secondly, lose fear and ask for what you need and want. I think the idea for many women is that we are afraid. We limit ourselves because we haven't achieved or don't see ourselves in certain positions. We're afraid to be the first. We're afraid to make mistakes. Just lose all fear and ask for what you need and want.

Lastly, to realize the power of a woman. Realize that you have, as a result of being a woman in the world, experienced adversity like no one else has. That you have the power to multiply like no one else does inherently. Lean in on those very real powers to get ahead in the workplace and the world.

Odessa "OJ" Jenkins


xoN: Have you ever been in a position that has crushed your soul?

OJ: I don't think I've ever had my soul crushed because I don't think I've ever let the world have that much of me. I have been disappointed, both disappointed in myself and in the system. I can think of moments in my career where I didn't go after something I knew I could have achieved because I didn't see a person like me doing it. I can admit there are times when I let someone talk me out of taking a risk because they were afraid and not because I was.

Then there are moments, and continue to be, where I can see progress in the system. I can see sisters getting opportunities at work and the face of work and industries changing. But I also see this war on inclusion happening because things are changing in the workplace, and opportunities are becoming more equitable. While I get excited about that, I'm also still very disappointed in it.

xoN: In a recent interview, you stated, "Nothing has prepared me for executive leadership more than my time as an athlete and coach." Why is that?

OJ: Adversity and resilience. When you are an athlete and grow up as a team sport athlete, you get reminded over and over of two things: your role and your responsibility. So you get transparent about accountability. But you also get challenged daily, build courage, and build resilience. You practice it. You practice what would happen if things got harder for you; how would you overcome them?

Sports is uniquely positioned in that. How often do you get to practice what happens if something doesn't go your way, and then you get to redo it? It's not something that most people get to do. Usually, you study, take the test, fail or pass, and then move on to the next test. Well, sports isn't that way.

Instead, you practice, learn, engage with your team, and learn how to communicate. You practice the failure, you practice the success, you practice what happens if you don't, you practice having a tie. I believe those things build resilience and courage in you that are useful as a woman in executive leadership. If you are going to be particularly a woman of color in the leadership ranks in today's workplace, you must have abundant resilience and courage because you are usually sitting in virtual rooms where you are the only one.

xoN: Absolutely! And how important do you think it is in promoting transparency and vulnerability in leadership?

OJ: Transparency equals trust, and gaining trust amongst your team is critical to success because you can't know what to do with your resources, wins, losses, or plans. It's a tool you must have and always use in your toolbox as a leader. The vulnerability comes in waves. You need to know when and how it's comfortable for you to be vulnerable. You have to know what the right level of vulnerability is for you. Generally, if you're vulnerable, other people are vulnerable too. It creates this very brave and safe space, and that's how you get stuff done as a leader.

Odessa "OJ" Jenkins


xoN: As an executive leader in coaching and helping equip women for success, what are some common challenges you've witnessed women overcome in breaking down the boys' club in corporate leadership?

OJ: One of the first things you must do to break down some of these work barriers and unlock opportunities at work is to start with yourself—the willingness to go outside your comfort zone. To know when and how to share your opinions and points of view to create influence and allyship, even when you're not in the room.

But then it starts with not going at it alone. How are you networking? How are you creating a community around you? What does the sisterhood and brotherhood look like for you at work? How intentional are you being about that? That is another way to unlock it. Also, unlocking the door is one thing, but propping it open and leaving a ladder when you get there is another. I'd be remiss not to say I think things would move faster for women in the workplace if some women would get out of the way. We have to be intentional about making space and creating equity for other women and be unapologetic about it.

xoN: Can you offer negotiation tips to help women reach their salary potential and minimize pay equity?

OJ: Do your research, and don't be afraid to ask. There are a lot of tools online, but there are also a lot of tools in your network. Also, know your number. A lot of people don't know what their number is. Please don't make it mathematical because it's not about asking for 10% more than you thought, than you were offered, or some arbitrary thing. If you are familiar with the work and have researched, then figure out the right number post-offer that will make you feel valued. Not right now, not yesterday, but for doing this job for the next 12 months.

And there's nothing wrong with negotiating. It is table stakes for having a conversation. It's something that should be expected. If you have an employer who finds it offensive that you've negotiated your salary or are willing to share your value, you're probably talking to the wrong employer.

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As they say, create the change you want to see in this world, besties. That’s why xoNecole linked up with Hyundai for the inaugural ItGirl 100 List, a celebration of 100 Genzennial women who aren’t afraid to pull up their own seats to the table. Across regions and industries, these women embody the essence of discovering self-value through purpose, honey! They're fierce, they’re ultra-creative, and we know they make their cities proud.


If there’s one thing that I strive to do, whenever it comes to whatever content I put out into the universe, it’s to offer at least one thing within the pieces that provide a bit of an ah-ha moment. Today? What does it really mean if you find yourself waking up between 3 and 4 a.m. either every night or all of a sudden for several nights in a row?