Black Career Woman Spotlight
Danielle Moss Lee - NYC
Daughter, mother, teacher, writer, lifelong student.
How do you make your coins?
25+ year nonprofit and social justice veteran currently working as Chief of Staff at the New York Civil Liberties Union in New York City, Commissioner for Gender Equity for New York City, stalled author working on a book that's part autobiography and part leadership tome, and board member of The New York Women's Foundation and Eskolta, a nonprofit dedicated to innovative school design.
What strategies or steps have you taken to achieve success in your chosen field?
I think my career has largely been driven by my commitment to my personal mission of working in the areas of education and social justice on behalf of vulnerable communities; a great work ethic; a never-ending sense of curiosity about how to do my work better; amazingly generous mentors and colleagues; and, hard lessons along the way. I never had a dream job, I had a dream version of the kind of woman I wanted to be and I've let that vision of myself lead the way in my career. I always go in the direction of my moral center - and, that has paved the way for some incredible professional and personal opportunities.
What challenge(s) have you experienced in the workplace and how did you overcome it?
It's hard to be heard and to have your expertise valued more generally, for Black women at work. But, if you do social justice work like I do, being outspoken can either be the catalyst for real organizational and community change - or it can get you fired. I've had both experiences. I've used my voice and experiences to get people to think differently about social problems and how to solve them, and, conversely, my voice has served as such an irritant that I've been pushed out of organizations. I'm learning to be more transparent about what seemed to be failures because Black women need to know that standing in your truth can and will cost you at some point in your career - and that's okay. The truth is that standing on a personal brand that's associated with excellence and measurable achievements can allow you to put those so-called failures into perspective because people will remember what you did for them and with them more than what your business card says. As a good friend said recently, if everybody always loves you - you probably aren't doing anything important. How did I handle being pushed out? I called my tribe - and remember, people won't help you if they don't know you need support - and I brushed my ego off and reminded myself that I'm not defined by my job title - I am defined by my values and the way I actualize those values in whatever space I occupy. I heard a great quote that I keep on my desk now, "Don't spend so much time trying to keep your job, that you fail to actually do your job." Take some risks. If you get rejected by the wrong people for the right reasons, you're still in good shape. Because if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.
How do you bring your authentic self to work?
The shortest and truest answer is that I just show up. On some level, I know we all find ourselves acclimating to whatever organizational culture we find ourselves in. But, I think it's also important to show up as your truest and highest self. At some point, pretending to be anyone other than yourself not only gets exhausting, but it's hard to sustain and you can find yourself buying into things or being asked to implement things that fly in the face of the things you hold dear. Don't put your values up for sale. Being authentic at work doesn't mean revealing your whole self to people who don't deserve and haven't earned the right to access your story as Brene Brown reminds us. Some aspects of your identity don't belong at work. If you can understand that, then you know that being authentic at work does require us to be someone we can respect and live with once we're off the job and back home looking in the mirror.
Who has been the most influential person in your career up to now?
By far, my mother has been my greatest influence. I watched my mother go from research librarian to business leader to classroom teacher. She took me to work when I was a kid and I saw her be a kind and thoughtful manager who held her teams accountable but was compassionate in how she dealt with folks. And, my mother was always learning and growing. She got an Ivy League master's degree in 1970 - a time when you didn't have lots of women of any background pursuing graduate degrees. It's because of her that I always saw myself pursuing some kind of graduate study and always saw myself as a leader and manager. She is my template.
What advice can you give to black career women who are striving for their next level of success?
Find good mentors, but don't be afraid to reject their advice. Mentors will push you and sometimes caution based on their experiences and fears. Be discerning. Do something that a) you're excited about, and, b) that you're good at. Because no matter what career you're in, you've got to be really good to take it to the next level. And, getting there means having people around you who will give you useful and honest feedback, committing to staying current in regards to the literature and best practices in your field, being able to stay attuned with what's coming next in your sector, and finding ways to gain access to people who are already where you'd like to go. Another thing I've been telling younger Black women is that they need to diversify their personal boards of directors - all your mentors shouldn't be other Black women. You need diverse viewpoints and perspectives. I've had white male mentors who were just as invested in my success as my Black female mentors. Finally, being good at your job, and having great mentors won't always be enough. You need sponsors - who can get you the meeting, make the phone call, get you the job. You won't always be able to pick a sponsor - mentors and sponsors are attracted to winning professionals, folks who are already demonstrating that they have something powerful to offer and are committed to getting to the next level with or without your help.
What does being a Black Career Woman mean to YOU?
I don't take for granted that my life as a Black Career Woman has created some amazing experiences and opportunities - I've had the chance to travel internationally with young people in my programs, to partner with city government to enact policies that benefited young women of color via the New York City Council's Young Women's Initiative, to teach graduate coursework to M.P.A students at City College, and, let's be real, to support myself and my family while doing work that I love. But, those opportunities have come with a deep sense of responsibility to lift other women like me as I've climbed - I never forget that. Some folks like to talk about being "the only one"...but, that's not me. If I'm the only Black woman at a table where I have influence, I know it's my job to go get more chairs.
How can we connect with you?
Twitter - @drdaniellemoss
Website – drdaniellermoss.com
Email - firstname.lastname@example.org