What advice would you give your younger self?
Persevere. To my 11-year-old, Cameroonian self, whose endless daydreams, story writing and harboring of contraband fiction at a Catholic missionary boarding school made for furious dancing and planted seeds of a disruptive, entrepreneurial mindset way beyond my reality … I say persevere.
To my 16-year-old self, whose mere existence as a smart, immigrant Black girl in New Orleans threatened an equally competitive student to draft a personal letter to me about why I had essentially stolen his spot at the University of Virginia due to my “undeserved” admission … I say persevere.
To my newly married, postgraduate school self whose pregnancy meant a forced reckoning with the realities of stay-at-home motherhood as an act of survival vs. the pursuit of a career in creative arts and entertainment … I say persevere.
To my early-30s self deciding whether joining a design startup in a garage would be little more than a pipe dream, or the beginning of sense of purpose in leadership … I say persevere. Do it—and do it scared!
What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
Trusting my instinct. For the longest time, my perceived biggest risk was taking the leap to join two founders in a garage and start a design company. While that leap certainly paid off to become Mycotoo, I strongly believe my biggest risk was my decision to be more honest about who I was, in and out of the workplace. To be more vocal and transparent about my life experiences as an immigrant, as a dark-skinned woman in entertainment, as a mother navigating a fast-paced entertainment culture ... and as me—a theater kid who chose never to grow up. As I speak to more designers and storytellers across all different disciplines, I know that daring to celebrate oneself (flaws and all) honestly as a form of inspiration and taking space while making space for others isn't just risky, it's urgent.
If you weren’t doing your current job, what would you be doing and why?
Wait, I have a job? Because it doesn't feel like a job ... and I've had many “jobs.” I suppose that's the point, that when you unlock your voice and find the culture, the team and the environment in which your voice can be amplified (in script, in performance, in design, etc.) ... then you're not working, you're just channeling. If I weren't able to conjure up worlds and design experience with my amazing team at Mycotoo, I'd probably still be doing some version of that no matter what my professional title was.
What should the industry do to encourage more women and people of color into its ranks?
Three things I know for sure: 1. Stories matter. 2. To change the story, you change the storyteller. 3. Storytelling alone is not a substitute for representation. It's not enough to simply celebrate diverse life experiences for outward consumption or exposition only. It's an internal barometer that should drive the “why” and should be critical to early strategy, hiring and vision planning. The real question to our industry is who is benefiting from the consumption of the stories we market? Who's benefiting financially, emotionally and sustainably? It's not enough to encourage women and people of color into ranks but to invest (with capital) in breaking down invisible barriers such as employment bias, inclusive practices in the workplace, prioritizing company culture, including diversity as a metric for strategic partnerships and holding ourselves accountable not just because of the fanfare of national outrage, but also when nobody's watching. Ultimately, you know what we say? To the doors that shut on us, we come back and buy the building!