‘I feel like there’s a lie that has been told to us, especially women, that somehow we have to put our head down, be understated, and be humble, in order to gain respect. And I disagree wholeheartedly. I think we need to celebrate ourselves more. We need to show up.’ – Bozoma Saint John
Bozoma Saint John is a force of nature and one of the most sought after marketers and speakers on the planet. Her career path is one that most people can only dream of. Bozoma was recently named Global Chief Marketing Officer at Netflix. Before that, she was the Chief Brand Officer at Ube and the Chief Marketing Officer for Endeavor, a global leader in entertainment, sports and fashion. She’s been on list after list, including Forbes’ Most Influential CMOs list and Black Enterprise’s Most Powerful Women in Business.
This interview with Bozoma was recorded live in front of an audience at a Girlboss Rally before Boz was at Netflix—but her message is more relevant than ever.
Listen in and learn why Boz thinks women need to celebrate themselves (and their sisters!) more, hiring for diversity, hiring our friends, balancing our personal and professional lives-and how to tackle tough work situations – with men.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Let’s start with Uber. You went there to make the brand stronger, make the brand better, and to tell different stories, but you’re ultimately there for culture, and to make the place amazing for your team. What does that look like?
Bozoma: Well, it’s a combination of things. My job is to figure out the storytelling for the company. And the brand of Uber. So it’s a combination of telling the innovation stories around tech, what we are developing, and the personal stories of drivers and riders. What are the stories about how we all interact in pop culture, and how do we bring that to life? For me it’s a multi layered job. On top of that, yes, for the culture.
Let’s all talk about our representation for people of color. Women are a dismal number, especially in the executive ranks. And you can only increase those if the pipeline is strong. There’s this idea that we can’t find people, and therefore the pipeline is not strong. I really think that there is an opportunity for us to change that and to be representatives of what that change looks like.
What does that look like? I hear it all the time–”I don’t know how to hire it for diversity.” What do you say to those people? Do you even even engage with them?
Bozoma: Yes, I engage with them. I engage with them in a very hot way. The population numbers are telling us that there are more women than men. You can’t tell me you can’t find women.
How do you think about your personal brand and how your careers affect your reputation?
Bozoma: There have been very few moments in my career where I’ve made a change and people have said “yeah, that’s a good idea.” It’s all about following the intuition, or as some call it “the inner voice” or even God. That voice that comes in and says, “you should really go and do this thing over here.” Regardless of what the rest of the world is saying. It has always been about following my passion. I liken it to falling in love. If I’m feeling it, I’m going that way, regardless of what the temperature is. Because at the end of the day, my brand is my passion. It comes through in the authenticity of what you feel from me. And I can’t be authentic if I’m over here strategizing. To me, the real brand is the authentic self. And it only comes true when you are following the path that is set for you.
It seems like you from a place of really being confident in the things that set you apart. You’ve cultivated that sense of really showcasing what’s special about you.
Bozoma: I feel like there’s a lie that has been told to us, especially women–that somehow we have to put our head down, be understated, and be humble, in order to gain respect. And I disagree wholeheartedly. I think we need to celebrate ourselves more. We need to show up. When we say we’ve done something, take the credit. There’s too many times when you’re in the office and you’ve worked on a project and your colleague is using “we,we.” No, not “we.” It’s I!
I’ve coached women to practice the I’s statement. It’s a muscle. You have to practice it because it feels uncomfortable, at first. We have to build that muscle of celebrating our accomplishments, of celebrating our sisters. Because if we don’t do that, no one else will, truly.
Bozoma : If you say to me, that I’m celebrating myself too much, what I want to know is what is there to celebrate about you? Let’s celebrate that too. There is something to celebrate about each one of us. Because if you’re noticing that I’m celebrating myself too much, and that gets on your nerves, that means you’re not celebrating yourself enough. So let’s all celebrate ourselves.
I’m perpetually dazzled by the way you handle questions about tokenism. You handle those questions and they roll right off. What can the world look like? What does the world look like for your little girl?
Bozoma: The change comes because of us. The change comes, because we’re the ones who are going to force that change. How can we break the glass ceiling? We’re all rising to keep crashing that ceiling. So that’s going to happen because of our power. We are the ones who are going to do that.
But the question about tokenism really pisses me off. When people assert that “you got this job because you’re a Black woman and the brand needed to change their image,” that’s insulting. It’s insulting to my resume. It is insulting to what I’ve accomplished, because I got receipts. I’m the best at what I do, not because I’m a Black woman, but because I’m the best at what I do. And being a Black woman is just the sauce.
There are so many women who are exceptional at what they do, and they still can’t say it right. What’s a baby step forward?
Bozoma: Practice. We can all find our ways of our own celebration and having the confidence to celebrate. I also employ my girlfriends. If you’re going in for a big presentation, a big meeting, or need a pep talk about anything, who do you call? Not Ghostbusters. Your girlfriends. Those reminders are so important.
The inner voice, that inner dialogue that we have with ourselves is equally as important. It’s a built muscle. Negative self talk diminishes our shine, then we walk out of the house feeling less than. For me, it’s a constant journey of reminding myself how dope I am every day. You don’t need to necessarily wake up every morning feeling flawless. But, can you talk yourself into flawlessness? Yes, you can.
There is a prevailing sense in culture that people are pitting women against each other. How do you handle that?
Bozoma: There is more room for all of us. We do not need to compete with each other. We need to crack open this entire space so that we can rush in there. When I see another woman who is trying to do it, I’m going to support her because guess what, if there are more of us in there, then we have an army.
What is something that every woman in this room could do to push another woman forward, today?
Bozoma: I do really believe in the circle of sisters. It is that circle of sisters that are going to help push us forward. And again, I can’t say it enough. I love celebrations. I celebrate my sisters all the time. Because I’m just so filled with joy. So you pick somebody and say well, it’s you today, we’re gonna pick you up today because by doing that, really all boats rise.
Bozoma: I have had my fair share of bullshit in my career. It takes a combination of things because there’s no silver bullet to fix the issue. First, I make sure I have the strategies and the confidence to address it head on. I rarely do things in the moment. I find myself sometimes unable to correctly address a situation when my heat is up at a thousand. I keep going back to my circle of sisters, because it’s so important to me that I get advice and thoughts from that group. Because they see things more objectively than I can. Sometimes there is some truth in whatever I thought was bullsh*t. And so if they tell me, I might listen. The last piece is actually addressing whatever that issue is. I’ve become more strategic in my direct feedback, because I always want it to be constructive. Because I could curse you out if I want to. But I want it to be constructive so that you learn. So you won’t do that to somebody else.
What’s your advice on hiring friends for the job?
Bozoma: I do believe in hiring friends. However, that’s an area in which we have to be careful and self-aware. How are you creating boundaries? If you’re unable to do that, then you can’t hire your friends. If you’re not hiring them but know of a job across the street that’s perfect for them, help them get that job. If there’s a job in another department, within your organization, I highly recommend helping them with that. The army only grows when we have recruits.
Bozoma: So here’s another lie that we’ve been told–that we must have some balance. I don’t know who made this up. If somebody knows where the balance is, can you point me in that direction. But on a serious note, balance for me is managing how I feel–being very in tune to what is happening to me psychologically, and physiologically. For instance, there’s a bake sale at school but I got a flight to catch. I’m gonna go to Ralph’s and buy those cookies. I’m gonna put it on a plate and make it look like I baked it.
Bozoma: There are certain tricks that I apply. My daughter and I spend time at the beginning of the month going over my travel schedule, so she knows where I am. This gives her a sense of confidence. We use technology. I try to absolve myself of the mommy guilt. I’ll tell you a story–It was her first day of school, first day of third grade, just this past year. They had invited the parents to come in but I had to catch a flight, and I could only drop her off. So I’m arranging her desk, very close to tears, and thinking that I cannot believe I’m gonna miss this day. Then I overheard her in the corner with her little girlfriends. She’s saying, “my mommy’s not gonna be here today. But she’s got this amazing meeting she’s going to and I’m so proud of her and I can’t wait for her to tell me.” This just reinforced for me the example that I’m setting for her. Me sitting next to her in class would be really nice, but me going out and busting down those doors is equally important.
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