Negotiating For Your Worth: Minda Harts On Creating Your Own Table

Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Written by Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Minda Harts
Minda Harts is an Adjunct Professor of Public Service of NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. She is the founder of The Memo LLC, a career development company for women of color. | Image Provided by Minda Harts

Corporate giants get free publicity by hyping their commitment to diversity, but women continue to be underrepresented and it’s worst for women of color — just one in 25 senior business leaders is a woman of color.

In her book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg encouraged women to solve this problem by leaning in — to be assertive and move toward a leading, rather than a following, role. “That sh** doesn’t work all the time,” Michelle Obama famously asserted.


Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 43: Jewel Burks
Partpic founder and CEO Jewel Burks discusses how she developed an idea to streamline the purchase, repair and maintenance of parts. Partpic was acquired by Amazon in 2018.

“What (“Lean In”) left out was the experience that women of color and working-class women have every day,” said Minda Harts in a Moguldom interview.

Harts is the founder of The Women of Color Equity Initiative, The Memo, LLC and host of the #SecuretheSeat podcast. She isn’t just taking a seat at the table. She’s creating her own tables.

Sixty-four percent of women experience microaggressions in the workplace, according to the Women in the Workplace 2018 report.

Black women report demoralizing work environments with demeaning remarks on their appearance, according to Dnika J. Travis, vice president and researcher at Catalyst Research Center for Corporate Practice.

If you want to get ahead, you are just going to have to stand up for yourself. That’s the message Harts has been sharing with women of color ever since white male colleagues referred to her as “the Black girl”.

Harts’ Women of Color Equity Initiative aims to increase the number of women of color in management and C-Suite roles in corporate and nonprofit organizations. By matching women of color with organizations recruiting for leadership roles, this initiative is working for a more equitable playing field across industries. Harts’The Memo is a digital subscription platform offering access to content, curriculum and a community of women. In addition to resources, members can participate in online career boot camps. As the host of #SecuretheSeat podcast, Harts interviews expert women such as Natalie Gillard, creator of the Factuality inclusion board game, and Regina Gwynn, co-founder of Black Women Talk Tech and TresseNoire.

Oftentimes as women of color, we try to make a table work for us. Sometimes we have to realize that this is not the table for us, and we have to find where that right table is or create our own … It’s not just trying to make ourselves adapt to a certain culture, but it’s finding the right culture that allows us to be ourselves.

Minda Harts, founder of The Women of Color Equity Initiative and The Memo, LLC and host of the #SecuretheSeat podcast.

Moguldom spoke with Minda Harts about the challenges of being a woman of color and negotiating for your worth.

Moguldom: Describe a memorable encounter where being a woman of color was a challenge in the workplace or in your personal life.

Minda Harts: One, in particular, was about six years ago. It was really the basis for creating my company and writing this book. I took a new assignment in the south. I was the only professional Black woman in the workplace of a predominantly white institution with white colleagues. I felt every bit of being the only one. In my career, I had been used to being the only one so I was not surprised by that. But this was the first time I was treated with micro- and macro-aggressions. Always having to defend my point of view. Up until then I really only heard about people having those experiences. I was one of those people who didn’t necessarily know if that was legit or not until you’re in the situation to experience it yourself. You feel like your back is against the wall and your color is the first thing that everyone sees, and not your ideas. It was really a hard time for me. It made me start to think about how many other Black and brown women are feeling this way too. Oftentimes the office politics of it all requires a person to be silent and that’s not good for anyone’s health.

Moguldom: We often hear about the microaggressions. What were the macroaggressions you experienced in that position?

Minda Harts: I was in the position for over a year and every day was a challenge. It was to the point where I had some of my colleagues calling me “the Black girl.” That was how they referred to me instead of saying my name — and that was on the low end of the insults. It got worse over time. I didn’t have anyone advocating for me and I didn’t know how to advocate for myself in the way that I needed to. I didn’t have the support of my manager to be able to do anything about it, because he was in a rock and a hard place too. And so, it was like you’re being on the island by yourself and trying to navigate waters that are not meant for you to be in. I think oftentimes as women of color, we try to make a table work for us. Sometimes we have to realize that this is not the table for us, and we have to find where that right table is or create our own.

As women of color in the workplace, we have to be validated that we’re not making up these inequalities because they do exist. We are always silent and isolated and it hurts us. I think our counterparts or allies need to know this is how we feel so they can be better allies, managers, and colleagues.

Minda Harts, founder of The Women of Color Equity Initiative and The Memo, LLC and
host of the #SecuretheSeat podcast.

Moguldom: Having authored a book and launched an online platform,
what would the Minda of today say to the Minda of six years ago? How would you treat that situation differently?

Minda Harts: I was just surviving in that environment, I was not thriving. I think if I had access to The Memo, I would have felt like I wasn’t alone. I think sometimes we function in isolation, which eventually leads to depression. And we’re just not living our best lives in these types of environments. When you’re in isolation you just know that this isn’t right. Having the book or support on the platform, I would have found validation and would have known how to navigate those waters. As women of color in the workplace, we have to be validated that we’re not making up these inequalities because they do exist. We are always silent and isolated and it hurts us. I think our counterparts or allies need to know this is how we feel so they can be better allies, managers, and colleagues.

Moguldom: For the white male who doesn’t believe the odds are stacked against a woman of color in a professional setting, is there anything you could say or could show them? Or will some people never get it?

Minda Harts: When Sheryl Sandberg wrote her book “Lean In,” it was looked at as the woman’s manifesto. It was a onesize-fits-all for women. What it left out was the experience that women of color and working-class women have every day. I found that a lot of white men who were interested in the book were curious about what women experience and what it’s like for them to lean in. And so, I feel there’s an appetite right now for people to understand how to make their environment more diverse, more inclusive, and more equitable. I think oftentimes, as Oprah said, “if you know, better, you do better.” But you will find some people, once they know better, they still don’t want to do better. And I think that’s good for us because we know where we want to be, and where we don’t need to be. I think that’s a key thing to understand. It’s not just trying to make ourselves adapt to a certain culture, but it’s finding the right culture that allows us to be ourselves.

Moguldom: You have been working on your book since last summer. What did you think when former First Lady Michelle Obama said, “It’s not always enough to lean in because that s*** doesn’t work”?

Minda Harts: I’ve been advocating since 2015. Then there weren’t a lot of people who were latching on to the conversation. They were giving me the side eye. My co-founder and I learned we just have to keep building and providing resources for women of color in the workplace. So when the former first lady was on tour and said that, I’m like, “Yes, thank you!” Because it validated what I’ve been saying out here in these streets. When you have someone as revered as Michelle Obama saying it, it puts some validity behind the work. I’m definitely hoping I’ll be able to get a copy of my book in her hand.

Moguldom: Is there a tip you can share from your book on how women of color can navigate the money conversation in the workplace?

Minda Harts: Yes, it is all about the coins. The main thing is don’t be ambivalent about what you want from the job or from your employer. I think sometimes we leave it up to others to define what success looks like for us. If you want more money, then put your case together. Do the research behind the market rate of the position based off of where you live and job description. If you know your worth you can ask for your worth. You can’t ask for more if you don’t believe you deserve more. Oftentimes, as Black and brown women, we don’t always advocate for ourselves. Putting yourself in the position of advocating for yourself can be uncomfortable, and sometimes doing it for money can be very uncomfortable. But if you don’t do it, who will? Always put yourself first, do the research today, and then make the ask. Remember that negotiation happens on both sides. Come to the table with your wants and requests and make them known. Then work from there.

Minda Harts

Moguldom: Being a Black female founder for a tech company poses its challenges. Any tips for women tech entrepreneurs?

Minda Harts: “The Memo” provides resources online through a subscription model for women of color to help them to move forward in their career. When I started the company, we tried to fundraise for “The Memo.” I had a lot of white men and white women tell me “we don’t understand why this is necessary.” It was really hard to build our company. We bootstrapped for almost four years. So, I do understand the inequalities that happen with trying to raise funding. But one thing I will say is to continue to move forward and don’t give up on yourself because you’re not receiving the validation from investors. Don’t stop. Because if we would have stopped after the countless no’s we had in this industry, I would never be sitting here talking to you or sharing with others. Know what your values are and your mission statement, so no one can come and tell you that you can’t do it. I think it is so important not just in the tech industry, but in entrepreneurship. If you know, you have a solid business plan, make sure that you stick to it, regardless of if you’re getting funding or not.


About Ebony Grimsley-Vaz

Ebony T. Grimsley-Vaz is an author and digital marketing and PR expert for consumer brands, retailers, causes and events. Based in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, she owns Above Promotions, a digital marketing, publicity and promotions company. She wrote the book, "Because You're Small: Effective Marketing Strategies for Immediate Implementation."