“As an African American woman, you may be faced with challenges along the way that will require you to take extra steps in order to be seen, to be heard, to be recognized and to stand out,” says Merrill Wealth Management Advisor Linda Davila. “I took a detour from entering law school when Merrill offered me a career in finance, and I never looked back,” she adds. Early on, Davila was paired with a senior financial advisor to present a seminar on fixed income (specifically, municipal bonds), topics she was still learning about. “I decided that it was important to be visible, even if I was still learning,” she says. “I made sure my senior colleague was ready to fill in the gaps if I didn’t have immediate answers to a question.”
Showcasing your abilities can mean taking a risk, says Adrienne Hughes, national client experience executive with Merrill. Earlier in her career, she saw greater opportunity for advancement outside the U.S. but was anxious about leaving home. Ultimately, she decided to take the plunge, spending two years in London and four in Dubai. Her experiences there formed the foundation for her future successes. “I always encourage people to be open to new and different opportunities,” she says.
Sometimes the risk comes in the form of the challenge you’ve accepted for yourself. Gwendolyn Mikell, professor emerita of anthropology and foreign service at Georgetown University, recalls, “I chose a path that’s still not chosen by many Black women. But taking that pressure head on is what helped me fulfill my potential.” She adds, “If the career path you want doesn’t appear to exist, then help create it. Learn the subparts of the specialty you envision and work hard at it. You’ll find that once you were ahead of the curve, but eventually, you could be leading a new field.”
And yes, sometimes taking a risk means falling on your face, notes Merrill Wealth Management Advisor Nedra Agnew — and that’s okay. “Have no fear of failure,” she counsels. “What is failure, anyway? There’s no such thing. If you learn something, you have taken a step forward.”
Stay focused on your goals
Developing single-mindedness can help you power through the biases and challenges that Black/African American women inevitably encounter in their careers, says Merrill Wealth Management Advisor Judith Lee. “When I find myself in spaces where I am the only Black woman, I actually find it empowering. I tell myself, ‘I’m here because I belong and can add value.’”