The Mid-Career GPS Podcast

216: Strategies for Thriving in Tech: Empowering Black Women and Building Career Resilience with Angela V. Harris

January 18, 2024 John Neral Season 4
The Mid-Career GPS Podcast
216: Strategies for Thriving in Tech: Empowering Black Women and Building Career Resilience with Angela V. Harris
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Have you ever wondered what it takes to not just survive, but truly thrive in the tech industry? Angela V Harris, a beacon of resilience and an experienced leadership coach, joins me to reveal how she carved her path to success and now empowers Black women to thrive in the corporate world. 

In this episode, we discuss: 

  • Angela's background and leadership in the tech industry
  • Why 2022 was a pivotal year for Angela personally and professionally
  • Managing stress in the workplace
  • Facts about Black women in tech
  • The importance of allyship
  • The power of having the right career mindset
  • Why everyone needs a personal board of directors


This episode is full of insights, including why you should have a personal board of directors to tackle the early pay gap for long-lasting financial triumph. Angela's personal narrative, battling breast cancer while navigating corporate complexities, is nothing short of inspiring and stands as a vivid reminder of the power within us to transform our toughest challenges into stepping stones for advancement.

Please share this episode with someone you believe needs to hear it.

Connect with Angela!
Website | LinkedIn | Podcast | Vote for Angela - Ms. Corporate America People's Choice 

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John Neral:

At work. How do you increase your visibility to be seen, valued and promoted? It's a common question many mid-career professionals ask themselves and others as they build their mid-career GPS to whatever is next for them and their careers. Your work needs to be high quality, but it cannot be the only thing that's out there championing your efforts to get promoted and accelerate your career. You and your personal board of directors absolutely need to be singing your praises. So that's why, in this episode, I am joined by award-winning leadership coach, technology leader and philanthropist, angela V Harris. We talk about how to leverage your personal and professional challenges to fuel you to whatever is next. Plus, you will learn why a pay gap early in your career can cost you over a million dollars if you don't course-correct it right now. Let's get started. Welcome back, my friends.

John Neral:

This is the Mid-Career GPS Podcast. I'm your host, john Neral. I help mid-career professionals find a job they love, or love the job they have, using my proven four-step formula. Angela V Harris had a 20-plus-year career in the tech industry and, after a powerful 2022 where she faced some personal and professional challenges, pivoted to open her career coaching practice, where today she helps Black women in tech strategically navigate the corporate landscape so they can be seen, valued and get promoted. Angela's life purpose is to be of service, to encourage, engage and equip others to believe in the possibilities. She's a contributing author in the award-winning book A Legacy to Share Navigating Life's Challenges and Celebrating Our Greatest Achievements, and the author of a forthcoming book on Black women and workplace trauma. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Angela V Harris. Angela, welcome to the Mid-Career GPS Podcast. I'm so excited to talk to you today.

Angela V. Harris:

Hi John, Thank you so much for having me.

John Neral:

Well, the new year is off to a huge start and we know that so many people out there are thinking about what jobs are going to be next for them or what's the new opportunity going to be. We're going to get into all of that today and specifically how you help people, but as we get started, you've had some pretty defining career moments and I'm wondering if you can begin by just sharing a really pivotal mid-career moment with all of us today.

Angela V. Harris:

Well, there have been so many career moments. What's to give your listeners some background about myself? My corporate career was in the technology space. I spent 24 years working in corporate and specifically in the tech industry. As a Black woman and from a representation perspective, black women only make up about 3% of the tech industry and I chose that career path simply based on my fascination with technology. I saw my first computer when I was 6 years old, and my father nurtured that and purchased my first computer for me when I was 9. So ever since then I knew that I wanted to number one, attend college and pursue a career in technology, but I was oblivious to the fact that I was pursuing a male-dominated industry.

Angela V. Harris:

The STEM acronym was not even around when I was a child. We just simply called it computers. So I didn't have any STEM role models. There was no STEM mentorship. We didn't have computer science training or education in my schools. I simply taught myself how to do things on my personal computer at home. So, long story short, I attended college.

Angela V. Harris:

I went to Drex University where I earned my degree in information systems and entered the workforce, and I was so excited to start my professional career. I worked very hard to earn my degree, but I quickly learned that things were different for me. I was oftentimes the first or the only Black woman on my team, and that came with its own unique obstacles. I didn't have mentors very early in my career and I had to navigate some obstacles just based on my own knowledge and understanding. So I did the best that I could at that time and as I was moving around in my career, I eventually went back and got my master's degree in information technology leadership, hoping that would help elevate my career.

Angela V. Harris:

I've always been a lifelong learner, so I also knew that I wanted to obtain a master's degree, and doors just weren't opening for me. As I started applying for opportunities, I was always told the same story over and over again you need more experience, you need more experience. While I've gone to college, I've gotten degrees, I have years of work experience. When is it ever going to be enough? And over time it just wasn't fun for me anymore. I realized I believe it was lacking that passion. People always talk about their careers with such passion. Oh, I can't wait to go to work. I love my job. And I never really had that feeling because I was always navigating those unique obstacles of being rejected or being the first and the only and I knew that there was. There had to be more to life than that.

Angela V. Harris:

I was looking for that in my career, so I just started investing in my own personal development.

Angela V. Harris:

I started pursuing my passions, I got involved in nonprofit boards, I started leading ERGs and a pivotal moment came for me in 2018. I was accepted into a leadership development program specifically for women of color in the tech industry and as I was reading the description, it sounded like everything that I was looking for and missing in my career. Number one it was specifically for women of color in tech, and I've heard of tons of women's leadership programs and nothing so specific for women of color and in the tech industry. So I would have community. I would also have access to executive coaching and that was a year long program and I finished that program in 2019. And, honestly, that was a very pivotal moment for me because it boosted my confidence. For me, it was the first time I felt like someone actually saw me and valued the contributions that I was bringing to my career, and I ultimately landed a new opportunity after completing that program. So that's a long story, but that's my background.

John Neral:

Yeah, so let's stay on that for a second. So you find this leadership program that offers you not only a ton of professional development but also a sense of community that you weren't able to find elsewhere, especially in the organizations that you had been working, where, to your point, you weren't getting the kind of mentorship and support. What advice would you have for somebody listening right now that is perhaps experiencing that same kind of thing, where they're lacking community? Where would you offer for them to go find that kind of community support for their professional development?

Angela V. Harris:

Yeah, things have definitely changed since when I first entered my start of my career to now, so I feel like there's a lot more options. First and foremost, if they are a college graduate, I would say start with their college alumni association, and there's a couple of ways you can do that. You can go directly to the university. Most alumni associations host networking events in person and virtually throughout the year. One of my favorite tools that I share with my clients and my mentees is the LinkedIn alumni tool on LinkedIn.

Angela V. Harris:

So if you bring up your college or university's page on LinkedIn, there's an alumni tab, and so on that alumni tab, you can filter and find alumni in your specific city. If you're looking for an alum that works for a specific company or has a specific job title, you can filter around those parameters. There's also professional organizations. We're both members of the International Coaching Federation, icf. Or if you're in the project management industry, there's the Project Management Institute. They have chapters locally and nationally that hold events and oftentimes professional organizations will offer mentoring programs or cohorts as a part of their programming.

John Neral:

So those are all really good things in terms of getting that kind of support. I wanna jump ahead to 2022, because that was a really difficult year for you. You had some health issues, you had some professional changes and things that were going on but to kindly share with us a little bit about why 2022 was such a pivotal year for you.

Angela V. Harris:

Yes, it was a very pivotal year for me on many fronts and, to start, I was working in an organization and, unfortunately, I experienced a very traumatic incident. I was in an all hands meeting and the leadership team made some very offensive comments and those comments left me feeling really unsettled, and my manager was also involved in those comments and I was the only black person on the team. So how do you feel comfortable working for a manager that has publicly said some offensive comments? So that incident I was just never able to fully recover from or move past it, just because I've had other instances like that throughout my career. So it was like a tipping point instance for me.

Angela V. Harris:

I just enough was enough and I was literally going to work every day with this unsettled feeling in my body and I recognized that I was also having issues concentrating and focusing and completing tasks at work, but also all the organizations that I was involved in outside of work. I was the president of a nonprofit organization, so I was leading a 38 member nonprofit organization. I was executing flawlessly in those areas, but when it came time for me to actually do my job, I was unable to secute after that incident. So fast forward, it was February 8th of 2022, I get a phone call from my doctor and I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Angela V. Harris:

So that unsettled feeling was a tumor that was growing inside of my body. Yeah, thankfully, early detection saves lives for all women over 40 or 40 and over, when the doctors tell you to get your mammograms and their early detection saves lives. I am a poster child for that. The tumor was detected early, thankfully, so my treatment plan included having a lump back to me and going through radiation, but again, I was also dealing with that in the midst of still being in this toxic work environment.

Angela V. Harris:

So, fast forward. I get through the cancer treatments and I'm still literally dragging myself out of bed, going to work every day, trying to show up as best that I could. In the midst of all that, I was also applying internally to try to get away from this team and get a new opportunity. So in the course of under a year, I'd applied for 10 internal jobs and was not selected for any of those jobs. So I was trying to get away from this team, went unable to get away from this team, dragging myself to work September of that year. I'm diagnosed with work related depression, anxiety and PTSD by my therapist. So all of that together resulted in me making the decision to end my 24 year corporate career to prioritize my mental and physical well-being. So I pivoted full time into my coaching business in October of 2022.

John Neral:

Angela, first and foremost, thank you for sharing all of that. I mean, as somebody who we've had a couple of conversations before this, but hearing you go tell this story again, it really is unfathomable to know what specifically you went through. I mean, it's just, it's one of those kind of things where, to me, it speaks so loudly about your resilience, your bravery, your confidence, your tenacity to truly advocate for yourself, both personally and professionally, and I just want to celebrate that with you for a moment.

Angela V. Harris:

Thank you, john, thank you.

John Neral:

Yeah, yeah, and so you're healthy, you're well, everything is good.

Angela V. Harris:

That's iron cancer-free and I plan to keep it that way. Yes, absolutely.

John Neral:

Let's keep it that way, right, but no, and just to reiterate your point, I mean that goes for anybody with anything health-wise early detection is always key. So great, great message there. Hey there, we'll get back to the episode in a moment, but I've got a quick question for you. Are you currently getting ready for your annual performance appraisal? These can sadly feel like a check the box kind of meeting and in reality they are important and necessary conversations to discuss what you've done well, develop some new goals and talk about where your career is headed. But here's the thing you have to show up for these meetings prepared to talk about all of it, and you can't rely on your supervisor to know everything. After all, they're busy too. But you can help them by showing up to these meetings with more evidence and greater clarity about what you want and why you believe you are ready for your next advancement opportunity.

John Neral:

So to help you, I've got a free guide it is called 12 Questions to Help you Prepare for your Annual Performance Review. You can download it for free on my website at johnnarrellcom or check under the Resources tab, and I'll have a link for it in the show notes as well. Let me help you build your mid-career GPS and be more prepared for your upcoming performance review. Now back to the episode 2022. Has that moment for you where you start building some components of your mid-career GPS to say you know what? I have an opportunity to help more people outside of my organization than I can inside of it Absolutely Story I can relate to very, very well. Talk to us a little bit today about the kind of people you specifically help and what you help them do.

Angela V. Harris:

Yeah, so I am leveraging my over 20 years of experience in the tech industry and my coaching practice focuses on supporting Black women in tech. So I help Black women in tech strategically navigate the corporate landscape so they can be seen, feel value and get promoted. And this is important to me because research says that 56% of mid-career women in tech are leaving the industry and I fell into that bucket for a variety of reasons. And again, when you look at the representation of Black women in tech, that 3% statistic and actually it's dipped to about 2.2% but that 3% statistic has been around for the last 10 years, if not longer, so the numbers aren't changing and I have firsthand experience of why they aren't changing. But I want to leverage my experiences to move the needle.

John Neral:

So I have a few questions around all of that that we're going to dig into here. So the first thing is for somebody who wants to be a better ally, who wants to be someone who is championing the cause and the careers of Black women in tech, what are some advice or suggestions you can give people, especially people in leadership roles, to help them be better allies in supporting Black women in tech?

Angela V. Harris:

When it comes from a tech perspective. I just look at the response that I heard numerous times you don't meet the qualifications, you don't meet the competencies, but the competencies aren't applied equitably. I'll give you examples. I've worked for managers that didn't have college degrees or had unrelated college degrees to the teams that they were managing. But yet when I was trying to get promoted or apply for these roles, I was told I didn't fit the bill. So people always talk about transferable skills. So I've always tried to leverage those transferable skills, but they weren't valued. So I think we have to take a different approach to hiring and I guess that's one way.

Angela V. Harris:

A lot of this research that says blind hiring should help with processes like that. Also this expanding your recent terms of where you're looking for your candidates and if you don't have a diverse slate of candidates, specifically say I want to see a diverse slate of candidates. And also I would add that pay equity is still another issue. So last year there was research that came out that said it will take 100 years for black women to reach pay equity and over the course of a 40-year career, black women are losing a million dollars. So one way you do this there are some states that are enacting pay transparency laws, and companies can also do pay equity audits to see if candidates male, female are being paid equitably. And if you see this as a discrepancy, do something about it.

John Neral:

When you say that black women are losing on average a million dollars in pay. I used to teach mathematics. I have a very, very weird math brain. What immediately popped in my head was over the course of a 25-year career, that's $40,000 a year.

Angela V. Harris:

That's a salary that's probably a starting salary for somebody.

John Neral:

Right, exactly, we think about $40,000. It's a lot of money. It's not a lot of money, it's a hell of a lot of money when that happens year after year after year, that we get to that statistic of they're being paid a million dollars less.

Angela V. Harris:

There's also the wealth gap. You have to consider that a lot of students are taking out loans to fund their college education. They're graduating with thousands and thousands of dollars in student loan debt. That prohibits them from buying homes and building generational wealth.

John Neral:

Absolutely. It just compounds over and over again, it's a doubtful asset.

Angela V. Harris:

Yes, it's a doubtful asset, without a doubt.

John Neral:

We want people to be better allies. We want people to really advocate for greater transparency, especially when it comes to hiring. One of my biggest pet peeves, angela, was being told we just don't have enough time and roll. Okay, well, what else do I need to do? Because I'm looking at the competencies and I'm checking all the boxes here. Yeah, you are a confident person. Obviously, through everything you've been through, both personally and professionally, you have learned to show up in a very confident and competent way where you are assured in your skills and abilities. As we start off this year and there are people who are listening and they're saying to themselves that they're going to set a goal about, I'm going to be more confident or I'm going to speak up more in these meetings, you've developed this strong sense of self-belief and self-worth that has contributed to your success. How can you help people who are listening achieve that kind of self-belief and self-worth so they can get their success?

Angela V. Harris:

It really goes back to mindset. It probably sounds so cliche, but really mindset is everything. One of the things that I do personally every day. I read affirmations, I recite affirmations. I think that plays a huge role in how I show up and conditions my mind for the day.

John Neral:

Thanks.

Angela V. Harris:

They can recite affirmations. There is a TED talk. I believe it's a TED talk by Amy I think it's Amy Cuddy the power posing. That's supposed to help where you stand in the Wonder Woman pose for, like, I think it's like five minutes. So that's supposed to help with your confidence. It's really something.

Angela V. Harris:

It's the muscle and a skill that can be developed. But it can't be developed if you aren't exercising it. So I always tell people to start small, start with one affirmation or get an accountability partner, say I really want to work on my confidence, make sure that I'm raising my hand and speaking up in meetings. And if you aren't comfortable speaking up in meetings, there's ways around that. You can speak to the meeting organizer ahead of the meeting to say, hey, can you give me five minutes on the agenda and prepare your remarks or your comments in advance so that you aren't having to speak off the cup if you aren't a great and prompt to speaker. But definitely there's ways to build that muscle and there are people out there that are willing to help and support you.

John Neral:

Well said, and my coach shared something with me last week when we met and it was saying how if you do a regular activity and you do it differently, and you give an affirmation or you reinforce a thought, it'll stick differently. So he's like I brush my teeth now with the opposite hand.

John Neral:

OK, wow, and he's like and then I'll say this thought that I want to reinforce for the day. I will tell you, I don't brush my teeth as well as I do with my right hand and I have to go back and do it with my left, but I am reinforcing some new thoughts, and that whole bit about just how do we get to believe in ourselves more is so key and it's something with which, especially for us in the career space, we know our clients typically just struggle with a little bit more and understand.

Angela V. Harris:

I'll just add one thing. What you share with me actually just reminded me of something meditation. So I prefer I wouldn't say I'm like a meditation expert, but what I do is mantra meditation. So I pick a mantra and I'll just kind of recite that mentally for the five minutes that I am meditating. And also, a friend has shared this with me recently. She said when you're washing your hands, you can recite a mantra as you're washing your hand.

John Neral:

Yep, I have. I've said to clients, like when you're in the bathroom, like put a sticky note up there, like when you want to reinforce it that way, then when you're washing your hands you just kind of reinforce that particular thought or idea that's on the sticky note to kind of help, yeah, and you're speaking my language, because in my home I have different canvas prints that have various affirmational messages on them throughout my home.

Angela V. Harris:

In my office, I have one that says mindset is everything, so I have those reminders around my home as well.

John Neral:

So let's think about the mid career professional for a moment who is feeling a little stuck, undervalued, underutilized in their current job and they know that something needs to change Right. Whether it be inside of their organization or they're going to leverage their talents and expertise and take them elsewhere and, because of whatever situations or circumstances that have happened at their job, their confidence has taken a hit. Who in their network or what would you suggest that they do to give them that kind of professional boost that would help them take one step toward either making their current work situation better internally or creating that belief that they're valuable elsewhere?

Angela V. Harris:

I always recommend that folks have their own personal board of directors, and that consists of a variety of folks such as mentors, and mentors can be senior mentors, peer mentors Also. Your friends are also your mentors. So, with that, reach out to your friends like what am I good at, what are some of my unique traits and qualities? What do you appreciate about me? So get that feedback from your friends. But also do your own personal inventory. Make a Bradbook or impact list of all the amazing accomplishments or projects that you worked on.

Angela V. Harris:

And I recommend that folks don't say small win, a win is the win. So this is keep a running list of your wins. It's something that I've been mindful of doing within my own personal life is every week, just writing down wins and not classifying it as a big win or a small win, but just writing down my wins. So talking to your mentors and asking what your, what's your mentors seeing you as it relates to your career? Sometimes people see things in you that you don't see in yourself, and it's completely normal to have that self-doubt trickle in, but the important thing is to not let it zoom us and learn how to put it past us. So you know, getting that affirmation from your mentors and people in your inner circles to help build you up so you have your skills and traits that you can leverage moving forward.

John Neral:

Thank you for all of that. I'm a huge proponent of having a personal board of directors as well, and I loved what you said there about any win as a win. It is so absolutely spot on. Well, angela, we are going to start wrapping up here and I want to thank you again for your time today. But as we start wrapping up, what advice do you have for someone to help them build their mid-career GPS?

Angela V. Harris:

First and foremost, keep going. Never doubt yourself worth. There's a quote by Steve Jobs that says the people who are crazy enough that they think and change the world are the ones who do, and that's been a guiding mantra for myself. So don't give up. Leverage your network, have your personal board of directors, your personal board of advisors, and also get clear on what you want and don't be afraid to pivot. As we were speaking, my corporate life was in the tech space, but now I pivoted and I found a very rewarding and fulfilling career as a professional coach. So don't look at pivoting or shifting gears as a bad thing.

John Neral:

Absolutely Well, Angela. If people want to connect with you, learn more from you, I'm going to turn the mic over to you. Please tell us all of the great things and places where people can connect with you.

Angela V. Harris:

Thank you, john. Well, I'm working on a few exciting projects this year. I'll be launching a podcast in March of this year called the Flow Podcast, and Flow stands for fearlessly leading our way, so they can follow along on that journey. At bitly, the Flow Podcast with Angela. I am also competing in the Miss Corporate America pageant as Miss Northwest Washington DC, and that is a business friendly competition for professionals and entrepreneurs, and that competition will take place in Orlando, florida, june 20th through the 22nd. But I would love if folks would give me their People's Choice Vote, and so they can do that by visiting bitly Miss Northwest DC, msnwdc. And if folks would like to stay connected with me, they can visit me on the web at AngelaVHarriscom.

John Neral:

I will make sure all of those links are in the show note. Congratulations on the new podcast. That sounds absolutely exciting. Good luck with the competition and everything else that you have going on. You're doing phenomenal work. I'm glad to share this mic with you today and thank you so much for telling your story here today on the Mid-Career GPS Podcast.

Angela V. Harris:

Thank you so much, john, I enjoyed our conversation.

John Neral:

I did too. And so, my friends, if there's one big takeaway I want you to have from today's conversation with Angela Harris, it's this Everybody's got a year. It's that time in your life that causes you to pivot, and Angela's story that she shared with us about her personal and professional triumphs. I want to be inspirations for you. Whatever you are at, whatever you are doing, know that you're worth it. Know that there is something better out there for you. Lean on your network, build your personal board of directors and whatever you need to do, keep taking that one step towards building your mid-career GPS to whatever is next.

John Neral:

So until next time, my friends, remember this you will build your mid-career GPS one mile or one step at a time, and how you show up matters. Make it a great rest of your day. Thank you for listening to the Mid-Career GPS podcast. Make sure to follow on your favorite listening platform and, if you have a moment, I'd love to hear your comments on Apple Podcast. Visit JohnNarrowcom for more information about how I can help you build your mid-career GPS or how I can help you and your organization with your next workshop or public speaking event, and don't forget to connect with me on LinkedIn and follow me on social at JohnNarrowCoaching. I look forward to being back with you next week. Until then, take care and remember how we show up matters.

Increasing Visibility and Career Advancement Strategies
Challenges in Corporate Career and Support for Black Women in Tech
Boosting Confidence and Advancing Careers