with angelina darrisaw
Angelina is the founder and CEO of C-Suite Coach, a groundbreaking career coaching platform that provides accessible professional development content and resources to diverse, millennial professionals.
Angelina holds an M.A. in Management from Wake Forest University and a Certificate of Coaching from New York University. She also has a B.A. in Political Science from Davidson College. Angelina proudly serves on the board of Youth Communication, as well as the steering committee for the Alvin Ailey’s Young Patrons Circle and has previously served on Wake Forest School of Business’ Development Council. In 2014, she was selected as a Council of Urban Professionals Fellow for exemplary leadership. She is a two-time Top 20 finalist for Miss New York USA and a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated.
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Episode 1: Redefining Mentorship with Angelina Darrisaw (Via YouTube & Soundcloud)
Written by: (Brandon Alexander)
what growing up was like for you?
Angelina: I'm a native New Yorker originally born and bred in Brooklyn and it's changed quite a bit since when I was growing up. The area of bed-stuy that I lived in people didn't even want to go to. My mom is an amazing woman and she also was a single teenage mom when she had me. I actually come from four generations of teenage moms. That was what my college essay was about when I was applying to college. My mom had that fortitude and passion about making sure I wasn't going to be generation number five. My mom made sure I was disciplined. She had me up early on weekend mornings working on stuff, like I see those memes about moms busting into the kids room and I have like traumatic flashbacks haha.
What was the first job you had out of college and how did that affect your trajectory?
Angelina: That was my mother so I started interning early. As soon as I was 14 I was interning and writing for a newspaper. It was a non-profit newspaper for New York City teens and I'm now on the board of that organization. All throughout high school I was either public policy training, some sort of program or an internship. So by the time I was in college at Davidson as a poli sci major, I had already interned at Bloomberg, ESPN, HBO, Fisher-Price and I didn't know what I wanted to do. So, I decided to get another degree I went to Wake Forest University for my Master's.
ShineHard creates virtual mentors and transfers knowledge to the next generation. Who are some mentors that have helped you along the way?
Angelina: When I think about that I think of a few different things, because it's a theme that's been coming up a lot recently for me in conversations that I've been a part of. So on a personal level, my day-to-day go to mentor is my mother. We have totally different career paths and trajectories but from the standpoint of someone who I can truly trust to have good logic, always be in my corner and also just a very smart strategic thinker. My mom went from being a teenage mom to being an assistant superintendent with a PhD.
What are philosophies around mentorship and what trends are you seeing in this age of technology?
Angelina: When you look at the scope of mentorship it doesn't have to always be a same consistent person that you're meeting with every week or every month. I'm a huge advocate for strategic mentorship programming but when you're thinking about if you're not a part of a program, “Do I have to now go find an executive that I'm having a weekly catch-up with?” Buying lunch buying and coffee. Noooo, it doesn't have to be like that. It can be a combination. So, I actually to this day still have notebooks from when I met with every person I admired at past companies. But the point is when you get time with someone to just soak in whatever knowledge that they can share with you in that moment, be a sponge! Ask them the questions and come prepared. What were they talking about last? What kind of information is publicly out there? What can I ask differently that they might not have heard and what's actually going to make a difference to me and what I currently need? Sometimes I even come with a problem and say “what would you do if you were in this situation?” That's a good way to leverage a mentorship without having to put that pressure on someone to meet with you constantly.
The other thing I heard recently at a conference was someone was saying Oprah was their mentor and she broke down what that meant and she was like, “I read everything she writes, I watch her and I look at how she presents herself, and how she speaks”. You can be a sponge of someone without even knowing them.
You started off at ESPN and Viacom. What were those experience like?
Angelina: Well, I really enjoyed the work! I came into the media industry at a time when there was a lot of room for innovation. I was working on partnerships and deals that helped us figure out how to put our content on digital platforms. Fast forward, It's so common today for us to be at dinner and watch television on our phone or watch content even Instagram just recently launched the TV product, right? And that was so exciting for me to just be a part of that; what turned out to be a truly innovating time for the industry. It was a fun time to be in media!
You were ascending the corporate ranks quickly, why did you leave?
Angelina: I had some good growth and was able to triple my salary in just about two and a half years. I enjoyed that experience, but what happened was the more I was growing, the less I saw people who looked like me in the room and also the more people who looked like me were coming into my office looking for help. They didn't want to talk about partnering with Snapchat to have MTV content. They wanted to talk about their bosses being really difficult or the fact that they couldn't negotiate even the most basic things that they should have access to as employees. I realized, what my company was providing to talent from the realm of development really didn't always have a good strategy behind it and it wasn't really focused on helping diverse professionals grow.
How is your company The C-suite Coach serving companies in New York and beyond?
Angelina: Sure, I partner with companies in a few different ways, from offering coaching to individuals. So, some companies will reach out to me to coach their top talent. To also designing programs, so that could be designing a mentorship program, that could be designing a coaching program, or programming that helps develop leaders. I’ve done a bunch of work around personal branding, personal storytelling, skills that diverse talent really need and a lot of times we don't focus on. Companies like to use these one-size-fits-all solutions and it really doesn't work when you think about someone personally. We need custom solutions that are catered to diverse talent to ensure that we're preparing them to be resilient and resourceful in situations and also to find ways to comfortably engage because when you're seen as someone that doesn't engage that can be seen as someone that doesn't really care about your work.
What is the primary barrier to entry that you see for diverse talent getting to the c-suite?
Angelina: there's definitely an under leveling that's a big issue. That means to have skills where you could and should be at a higher level, but for whatever reason you're staying in your position for too long or you're taking a lot of lateral moves where that across-the-board isn't happening to your peers that are not diverse. So one thing that I'm seeing a lot more companies place emphasis on is looking at the trajectory for their diverse talent, alongside the trajectory for their majority talent and see is there a disparity in how long this group of people stay at their position versus another group. Something else is we tap out, right we leave our careers which for some of us that's great. I mean everybody's, I did it yeah and that's great but I can we can also talk about although the challenges of entrepreneurship and how my first year I lived off of savings and my business didn't pop off year one. Its year three now and I'm doing really good, but it was too hard years of struggle right. So there's a lot of barriers for young entrepreneurs and the so two challenges at work can't be we all quit our jobs because then we'll never see a c-suite that reflects us ever.
So why is having a diverse C-suite important?
Angelina: I mean I can write a dissertation about this, it's important because it's better business. It's important because visibility makes a difference for the entire employee population. It's important because you better serve your customers when you're reflective of the marketplace. There's all kinds of studies that prove this I'm glad this is something that's being measured now, but it's truly important for us to have that kind of reflection.
Johnny: Part of the mission for ShineHard is to create visibility so we feature diverse millennial leaders from all different walks of life and industries to show our peers that hey “they're people that look like you doing amazing things”. And a lot of times if I see someone else do it I believe that I can do it too.
Angelina: That's really, really critical I recently heard from an African-American woman pilot and her talking about going to a funeral another black woman pilot, just so she could see that the dream she had for herself as a child wasn't something that couldn't be accomplished. And so she said I didn't know any real ones, I thought if I at least went to a funeral I could see one. Make it real yeah we need to see reflections of ourselves to have the idea of what's possible really expand.
You've been in the corporate world and now you ventured into entrepreneurship, what's been the biggest challenge for you in your career thus far?
Angelina: so, I would say I mean funding is an issue, bouncing back making pivots when I started my business I had an app that I spent a lot of money trying to develop and it didn't work out and you have to stay the course and find new ways to keep going even when that thing that you thought was a sure thing doesn't turn out the way that you want it to turn out. That's pivot, pivot is important, so really for me is just finding new ways to be resilient when it's challenging to keep going has been the toughest part.
What separates people who have made their dream a reality
and the people who haven't?
Angelina: How much someone is willing to develop that dream and be honest with themself and own it. But sometimes we don't even support our own selves. We could be wanting to do something but keep excusing it away, like "I shouldn't do this because I have a kid already,” “I shouldn't do this, because I'm too poor to do this.” and giving ourselves all the reasons, for why our dreams shouldn't work. We get used to and accustomed to doubting ourselves.
What advice would you give to someone who's trying to do that and what's the mindset around being successful?
Angelina: so I would say to you be a student of the business that could sound maybe a little bit cliché but it's not there's constantly things I'm teaching myself. Like even how to identify a good accountant I have to read about accounting. I'm always having to learn things yeah and that should never stop if you want to be successful anything that means you're doing informational interviews. We talked about being a sponge you’re a sponge for information with other people. You're putting yourself even in the rooms where it might be uncomfortable like I don't care about accounting stuff. I don't care about legal stuff but I have to force myself to get comfortable with it so even if I outsource that which likely those things I would. I'm knowledgeable enough that I'm not getting myself in a compromising situation that compromises my business so the same is the case in corporate. And then the other big piece of advice I would say is speak up, twice this week I was in rooms where I was the only woman that asked a question. What happens afterwards, I see a group of people that come to me and say “I had that question or I would have asked a question but I couldn't formulate the words” and they're second-guessing themselves. We have to just put ourselves out there, so I want to see more women especially, more people of color raising their hands and speaking up.
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