WE Communications Blog: CEO Melissa Waggener Zorkin
Aloha! I’ve just returned from beautiful Hawaii, where I spoke at one of the coolest gatherings I’ve ever been invited to speak to: C2, the ColorComm Conference, an annual gathering for women of color working in the communications field from coast to coast (and beyond). It’s run by an organization called ColorComm, which its executive director calls a “professional sisterhood” — and I have to say, over the course of my three days in Maui, I saw just what she meant by that. More important, I felt what she meant by that.
ColorComm’s purpose is pretty straightforward: to bring more women of color into the communications industry and to champion — and celebrate — those who are already here, wherever and however it’s possible. What that means is that every room I entered was filled with extraordinary women fighting hard for one another. That is the kind of purpose I can really get behind.
As we know, for entrepreneurs, there’s no such thing as a solo success: It’s all about collaboration and co-creation, listening to others and lifting them up to amplify their voices. And so, today, I want to lift up three of the dozens of inspiring women I met at the ColorComm Conference: ColorComm founder Lauren Wesley Wilson, Carol’s Daughter founder Lisa Price, and Bonnti founder Maude Okrah. (Maude moderated my conversation, called “Unleashing Your Entrepreneurial Spirit,” with Lisa.) For these three entrepreneurs, “purpose” is everything — it’s the air they breathe, and it’s the foundation for all they’ve built.
Lauren worked in corporate and political communications for years — and for all that time, no matter where she went, she almost never saw anyone in leadership who looked like her. She felt this absence keenly — as she put it in a 2014 Essence profile, “How can we believe we can achieve a title, if we don’t see examples?” — and she set out to change it once and for all. She founded ColorComm in 2011 to provide a strong, visible network to help women of color thrive in communications, marketing, advertising and digital. And speaking of strong networks — Lauren’s family was at C2 with her, an in-the-flesh reminder that there’s really nothing more important than the love and support of family and friends.
ColorComm started as a luncheon, and to a certain extent, it still feels that way: friends and colleagues reuniting, candid talk, and a supportive, caring, fun atmosphere. But it’s also becoming a movement —one that’s influencing an industry for the better.
At WE, we talk a lot about the power of story, and Lisa Price has a great one. Early in her life, Lisa told me, she struggled with body image and self-esteem — and a big part of that struggle came from her inability to find great beauty products that worked for her hair and skin. In the early 1990s, while she was working in TV production, Lisa started to make beauty products in her Brooklyn kitchen, selling them at farmer’s markets on the weekends. Soon, her company — which just celebrated its 25th anniversary — was a sensation. “I chose the name Carol’s Daughter by making a list of who I was at the time,” she said during our conversation at ColorComm. “Robert’s daughter, Hank’s secretary, etc. My mother’s name was the one that gave me goosebumps.”
Her after-hours passion turned into a booming business, and something more — her products are on display at the new Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.! Carol’s Daughter is a way for Lisa to help other women to feel beautiful exactly as they are. That is a bold purpose.
Maude’s work in strategy and global business development brought her all over the world — before starting her own company, she lived in London, Paris, Germany and China. And whenever she’d move to a new city, just after finding an apartment, the first thing Maude would look for was a hair stylist — something that was never as easy as it sounds. There’s a tech solution for everything, Maude thought — why not this?
Not long ago, Maude and co-founder Simone Tetteh launched Bonnti, an app whose name is derived from a Ghanaian phrase that means “braid her hair.” “Think Tinder meets LinkedIn for hair,” Maude explained in a recent interview in Forbes (penned by Lauren!). “We want women of color to be able to quickly and easily find the right hairstylists regardless of their hair type, while also making it a fun experience. As far as hair stylists, we want to provide them with the same opportunities to grow and expand their businesses and careers that are offered to us as professionals. Professionals in the beauty industry need and deserve platforms to network and grow their businesses.”
Maude was a nontechnical founder, and she says she’s faced a lot of challenges, particularly as a woman of color, as she became familiar with the language and systems of tech. But she stuck to her purpose: using technology to solve a common problem for women of color, full stop. Maybe that shouldn’t be so revolutionary — but, right now, it is.
Thank you, Lauren and the entire C2 team for an amazing conference. Our WE team of Kate Richmond, Seema Bhende, Tamara Braunstein and Kona Luseni (who is awesome at the hula) enjoyed every minute and learned a ton.
C2 reminded me that when you’re doing what you love, and doing it alongside others who share your values and your purpose, it’s so much easier to navigate the challenges — and share the highs — that you’ll encounter. ColorComm is a community, and it does just what communities do: It offers strength in tough times and celebration in good ones. For me, that’s the most fundamental purpose of all. As Lisa said in our session: “We do nothing alone. This is a collective.” And that, far as I’m concerned, is the real secret to success.