L. Michelle Smith shares tips and tricks to get Black women to the C-Suite

'No, Thanks: 7 Ways to Say I’ll Include Myself' is divided into seven affirmations, each of which Smith says are designed to teach women of color how to combat microaggressions and move up the ladder in the workplace

Professional speaker and business coach L. Michelle Smith says Black women in corporate America are taught to blend in. 

“If I stand out, if I shine, I get backlash,” Smith says. “I heard from women who lost their positions because the shine got too bright.”

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That’s why Smith says she wrote her latest book, “No, Thanks: 7 Ways to Say I’ll Include Myself,” which Smith describes as a “hardcore leadership book.” “No Thanks” is divided into seven affirmations, each of which Smith says are designed to teach women of color how to combat microaggressions and move up the ladder in the workplace. Smith says the book had been in the making for three years, but after a summer full of reckoning with institutional racism and racial injustice, Smith decided that it was the “perfect storm” to go to publish.

“Now is the time to hold them to their words, make that ask and make that demand,” Smith said. “Black lives and Black livelihood are tied together.”

Despite being the most educated group in the United States, Black women are still severely underrepresented in senior management roles. Smith says that more and more Black women are leaving or being pushed out of their jobs, getting passed over for promotions, or finding themselves stuck in the same positions. She says that the first step to combat this is to “lean out and lean in.”

“These institutions were not built with us in mind,” she says. “Don’t wait until things go bad.”

The book’s sixth affirmation states, “I will bet on my brand.” Smith says this means not being afraid to take a leap of faith and trust in your own talent or value. The chapter states that Black women are often betting on other’s hopes and dreams before their own because it feels safer. Yet, Smith says that this poses an even greater risk. She believes that in order to achieve true success in corporate America, Black women need to put their needs and desires above all else.

“Society tells us to chase success, chase a career, and you will be happy, but happy people are successful people,” the author said. “Black women tend to be risk-averse. We bet on others but not ourselves.”

“No Thanks” also emphasizes the importance of uplifting other Black women in Affirmation #5: “Some Sisters Have Made It To The C-suite Being Themselves. I Can Too.” Smith cites Cynthia “Cynt” Marshall, Ursula Burns, Cheryl Grace, and other Black women who have found success in the executive offices of big businesses in America and still reach back to open doors for others.

Smith writes about Marshall, “But even she has stories to tell when it comes to microaggressions, successfully climbing, and bringing others with her. Marshall frequently offers sage advice for women in the workplace; encouraging women to #HASU or, ‘hook a sister up.'”

Unlike similar self-help books that focus on theoretical or figurative changes, “No Thanks” gives concrete and practical steps that Smith says Black women can take immediately to improve their professional lives from speaking up in a meeting to advocating for oneself at a year-end review.

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“You don’t need to wait on these companies to do what God has put you on this planet to do,” Smith said. “You are entitled to every good thing.” 

“No, Thanks: 7 Ways to Say I’ll Include Myself” is available now as an ebook.

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