Blair Imani, 24
Civic Action & Campaign Lead at DoSomething.org
Identifying as Black, Muslim and Queer is far from easy in a society still built predominantly on stereotypes and status quo. But for Blair Imani, the Civic Action & Campaign Lead for DoSomething.org, being a triple minority - and the judgement she’s faced because of it - has fueled her crusade to implement social justice. The activist, who works for the largest tech company for youth engagement, has a simple mantra: “honor yourself.” Judging by her fierce, fearless dedication to the cause, change is on the way.
1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?
I have always imagined being a full time activist and today I work with the largest tech company for youth engagement and social change. My greatest achievement is likely yet to come as I am just starting out in this role but so far it is overcoming the belief that I could not do what I love and make a living doing so.
2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?
I’ve been told that I was too concerned about social justice to ever be successful. I have also been told to "grow up" or "join the real world" many many times. Now, people seek out my expertise about grassroots and social activism!
3. What was the hardest part of overcoming this negativity? Do you have an anecdote you can share?
I am constantly facing the stereotypes of what it means to be Black, a woman, a Muslim, and a queer person. After I came out very publicly on Fox News as a queer Muslim woman, I realized that people are going to find a reason to hate you no matter what.
"After I came out very publicly on Fox News as a queer Muslim woman, I realized that people are going to find a reason to hate you no matter what."
When Tucker Carlson implied that I could not be Black, Muslim, and a part of the LGBTQ community I made a split second decision to #SWAAYthenarrative and make a declaration of who I am.
4. As you #SWAAYthenarrative, do you feel empowered? What has been your emotional reaction?
I now understand that the healthiest thing you can do for yourself is develop a fierce and unapologetic love for yourself. This does not mean you should be consumed by your own ego but you should be gentle and respectful of yourself. You may as well fall in love with who you are!
5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?
I would say that it is key to realize where these biases come from. To keep from internalizing and believing them, arm yourself with knowledge of the historical context from which these stereotypes emerged. Once we know what we are up against, in my experience, it becomes easier to navigate through the nonsense and realize your full potential. Above all, give yourself credit for what you have survived, what you are creating, and who you have become. Honor yourself.
"Once we know what we are up against, in my experience, it becomes easier to navigate through the nonsense and realize your full potential. Above all, give yourself credit for what you have survived, what you are creating, and who you have become."
New parents re-entering the workforce are often juggling the tangible realities of daycare logistics, sleep deprivation, and a cascade of overwhelming work. No matter how parents build their family, they often struggle with the guilt of being split between home and work and not feeling exceptionally successful in either place.
Women building their families often face a set of challenges different from men. Those who have had children biologically may be navigating the world of pumping at work. Others might feel pulled in multiple directions when bringing a child into their home after adoption. Some women are trying to learn how to care for a newborn for the first time. New parents need all the help they can get with their transition.
Women returning to work after kids sometimes have to address comments such as:
"I didn't think you'd come back."
"You must feel so guilty."
"You missed a lot while you were out."
To counteract this difficult situation, women are finding mentors and making targeting connections. Parent mentors can help new moms address integrating their new life realities with work, finding resources within the organization and local community, and create connections with peers.
There's also an important role for parent mentors to play in discussing career trajectory. Traditionally, men who have families see more promotions compared to women with children. Knowing that having kids may represent a career setback for women, they may work with their mentors to create an action plan to "back on track" or to get recognized for their contributions as quickly as possible after returning to work.
Previously, in a bid to accommodate mothers transitioning back to work, corporate managers would make a show at lessoning the workload for newly returned mothers. This approach actually did more harm than good, as the mother's skills and ambitions were marginalized by these alleged "family friendly" policies, ultimately defining her for the workplace as a mother, rather than a person focused on career.
Today, this is changing. Some larger organizations, such as JP Morgan Chase, have structured mentorship programs that specifically target these issues and provide mentors for new parents. These programs match new parents navigating a transition back to work with volunteer mentors who are interested in helping and sponsoring moms. Mentors in the programs do not need to be moms, or even parents, themselves, but are passionate about making sure the opportunities are available.
It's just one other valuable way corporations are evolving when it comes to building quality relationships with their employees – and successfully retaining them, empowering women who face their own set of special barriers to career growth and leadership success.
Mentoring will always be a two way street. In ideal situations, both parties will benefit from the relationship. It's no different when women mentor working mothers getting back on track on the job. But there a few factors to consider when embracing this new form of mentorship
How to be a good Momtor?
Listen: For those mentoring a new parent, one of the best strategies to take is active listening. Be present and aware while the mentee shares their thoughts, repeat back what you hear in your own words, and acknowledge emotions. The returning mother is facing a range of emotions and potentially complicated situations, and the last thing she wants to hear is advice about how she should be feeling about the transition. Instead, be a sounding board for her feelings and issues with returning to work. Validate her concerns and provide a space where she can express herself without fear of retribution or bull-pen politics. This will allow the mentee a safe space to sort through her feelings and focus on her real challenges as a mother returning to work.
Share: Assure the mentee that they aren't alone, that other parents just like them are navigating the transition back to work. Provide a list of ways you've coped with the transition yourself, as well as your best parenting tips. Don't be afraid to discuss mothering skills as well as career skills. Work on creative solutions to the particular issues your mentee is facing in striking her new work/life balance.
Update Work Goals: A career-minded woman often faces a new reality once a new child enters the picture. Previous career goals may appear out of reach now that she has family responsibilities at home. Each mentee is affected by this differently, but good momtors help parents update her work goals and strategies for realizing them, explaining, where applicable, where the company is in a position to help them with their dreams either through continuing education support or specific training initiatives.
Being a role model for a working mother provides a support system, at work, that they can rely on just like the one they rely on at home with family and friends. Knowing they have someone in the office, who has knowledge about both being a mom and a career woman, will go a long way towards helping them make the transition successfully themselves.