Cracking the C-suite Code: Advice from Black Women Executives in Tech

Black professional woman in tech standing in front of computer servers

Moving up professionally is always a difficult task that takes lots of dedication, hard work, and support. But for Black women in tech, reaching the C-suite is a goal that many aspire towards, but only a few attain. In fact, a lot of Black women express wanting to leave the industry because they don’t have career mobility and can’t seem to secure more lucrative positions.

Although it may be a difficult journey and process, reaching the coveted C-suite is not impossible for Black women. Soak in and implement the following advice from some of the incredible Black women executives in tech!

Never Stop Learning

Achieving a top-level position in tech definitely means making sure that you have the education and skills to do the job effectively. And in the rapidly changing tech world, staying relevant means continuously learning to ensure you have the skills, education, and exposure to deliver. 

Elfreda Pitt-Hetherington, who is currently serving as the Managing Director of Business Enablement & Strategy at BMO Financial Group, says that she went back to school after spending years in the corporate world because she wanted to be considered for more senior management roles. Her advice: “Do as much as you can to remove any question marks that a decision-maker may have about your ability to do the job.” 

The good thing about tech is that anyone can be successful, even if they don’t have a four-year technical degree. There are tons of paid and free resources that Black women can use to equip themselves with the knowledge needed to stay on top of their game so that they can be solid candidates for C-suite roles.  

Some popular resources for upskilling in tech include Codecademy, Udemy, and Treehouse. For broader industry learning, Obsidi by BPTN offers free weekly tech learning sessions for members through the Global Masterclass Series. With these resources and more, Black women can keep themselves sharp and intellectually ready to handle top positions. 

Diversify Your Network

Our human inclinations make us look for people who are similar to us in as many ways as possible. This is because we are comfortable with what we know, and therefore the people who are most like us. However, there is value in variety. If you want to climb the tech ladder, you have to fight the familiarity urge and diversify your network. 

Kristen Ransom, CTO and Founder of Include Web Design says, “Look for people who complement the skills that you don’t necessarily have.” It’s all about strengthening the areas that are not as strong by learning and networking with people who possess different skills and strengths. In this way, Black women gain insights from different professional areas while also providing value to others with their subject-matter knowledge. 

Using Obsidi, Black women on the path to C-suite can search for professionals with different experiences and skillsets so that their networks are truly diversified. In this way, they’ll be able to tap into a wider network that will make them one step closer to accomplishing their goals. 

Use Impostor Syndrome to Your Advantage

Impostor Syndrome can be characterized by feeling like you’re not as competent and skilled as other people think you are. It doesn’t matter how successful or accomplished they are, people who experience Impostor Syndrome feel like they aren’t good enough to be where they are and constantly doubt their own abilities, despite having an impressive track record. 

A study done by the International Journal of Doctoral Studies found that women of colour were more likely to experience Impostor Syndrome than any other group of people. Dana James Mwangi, the founder of Cheers Creative, says that “the biggest challenge most Black women are facing in the tech industry is believing that they can actually succeed”. 

Even CEOs feel Imposter Syndrome. Shellye Archambeau – a former executive at IBM, still experiences Impostor Syndrome, despite being one of the first Black women to become a CEO in Silicon Valley. Her take on Imposter Syndrome is simple yet encouraging and profound: “You wouldn’t be where you are if people didn’t think you belonged. Even if you don’t believe in yourself, believe in them believing in you. In the worst case, fake it. Act like you’re comfortable, confident, and like you know what you’re doing until you actually do because eventually, you will.”

While it may not be something you can instantly conquer and overcome, you can definitely use Impostor Syndrome to your advantage. Valerie Phoenix, who is the Founder & CEO of Tech by Choice, believes Black women should be empowered by Impostor Syndrome. From her experience, Impostor Syndrome is often the result of the internal dialogue that we have with ourselves. Valerie suggests that Black women assess what they are saying to themselves and instead of doubting and talking negatively, they should switch to using empowering language that will help them boost their self-confidence. 

Create Success for Yourself

Since Black women often experience barriers in career mobility within tech, they should create success for themselves by putting their careers in their own hands. Alysse Anderson, who is currently serving as the Vice President of Frontline Platform Strategy and Enablement at CIBC, says that after struggling to gain upward mobility for years, she just had to forge her own path. “Since no one would give me the opportunity, I had to go make the opportunity for myself,” she says. 

Erin Mathurin, who is the Senior Manager of Global Accounts at LinkedIn says that “in as much as finding people who look like you matters, you can still go into a space where no one looks like you and kill it! If you love something and you feel like you are capable of doing it, then go for it!” 

Prioritize Your Wellbeing

C-suite is in the big leagues when it comes to the tech world. Getting to this level isn’t a piece of cake, nor is staying there. But achieving a certain level of success should never compromise your wellbeing. Black women who are looking to thrive in the C-suite need to learn to create a healthy work-life balance to ensure that they do well in and out of the office. 

Erin Mathurin offers this advice: “Be transparent when you need time. It’s okay to step away from work. Focus on your priorities, and at times, they won’t be based on work. It may be family, your physical or mental health, or something else entirely. Honour those priorities and don’t feel guilty about doing so.”

Surround Yourself with Support

While you should never let being the ‘only one’ stop you from entering and succeeding in a space, it’s still important to have people who can support you in your career. Find comfort and support from other Black women in the industry through online communities. And, with Obsidi, Black women looking to become executives can find additional networking and sponsorship opportunities on their way to the top!

So, although we don’t see as many Black women in executive roles as we’d like, the advice from these women shows that it’s very much possible. Black women in tech, take notes and continue succeeding because we can’t wait to see you at the top!