Towanda Braxton, the younger sister of 90s songstress Toni Braxton, is fearless in every sense of the word.
The Braxton Family Values star, who is also a singer, entrepreneur, political activist and executive television producer, is certainly not afraid of putting herself out there. From dealing with a fresh divorce as a single parent to navigating the intricacies of a famous family on a reality television show, Towanda has used her celebrity to catapult business and philanthropic ventures that are as varied as they are directional.
“I love singing and always loved music," says Towanda. “Music always came easy to me but I always wanted to act. Instead, I went along the path of what my family wanted to do. Music was a family business but I didn't want to do it. I never really broke rules when it came to family."
Towanda, who began her career as a singer in the short-lived girl group The Braxtons with sisters Toni,Traci, Trina and Tamar Braxton, with Arista Records, is now focused on building an empire all herself, defined only by what is important to her.
“I got a theater scholarship at Howard University and I passed on it," says Towanda. “I am thankful for the path I took but i can't help but wonder what my life would be like if I followed my passion for acting."
“When I turned 40 I told myself 'self, you went all these years pleasing other people. You have more years behind you than in front' and I thought I have to create a legacy."
These days Towanda is very focused on following her own passions. From her show to her businesses, she says she is taking each day as it comes, letting her instincts guide her.
“Braxton Family Values is a blessing," says Towanda, who has filmed over 100 episodes to date. “The show is about healing and family and knowing you aren't alone. It was important for me for this season to be open about my marriage and how I'm feeling. I've always been private and never really worn these things on my sleeve. But I want women to know they aren't the only women out there in relationships they shouldn't be in and not putting themselves first."
Of course there are downsides to putting your life on the airways. For Braxton, this comes in the form of internet trolls.
“There are some negative people who watch the show and think they have you pegged," she says. “They tend to sit on the negative things and not the positive. For a while, people thought I was jealous of Tamar. But why would I be jealous of her and not Toni, who has acquired so much more in life? I just don't give them energy."
And what about that jealous for the platinum-selling r&b artist sister of hers? Although it has been widely reported that she felt left behind by her own sister, Towanda says it's not the case.
“I never look at it like I was left in the dust because when Toni first came onto the scene she made sure she did everything with all of us first; Jay Leno, Letterman, the Grammys, the AMAs, we were there. We looked at it like her success was our success and it opened opportunities for us."
Regarding her very public divorce, Towanda is not afraid to tell it like it is.
“I'm going through a divorce but I'm happy and thankful," says Towanda, who was married for 13 years to author, Andre Carter. “I know that he's hurting but it's not about him though. It's about me growing and being happy and working on me. Even before I got married I was broken because of what was going on with my family.
“It's wonderful for my kids to understand the Braxton family legacy but they need to understand their mom's."
Towanda also got involved in politics as of late, publicly promoting Hillary Clinton and getting involved in her election campaign.“I'm a politics nerd and I was a Hillary supporter," says Towanda. “I was very disappointed at the turnout at the election and even more now. The silver lining is that [Donald Trump's presidency] is making people aware about politics. Because they are unhappy they are getting more educated."
When asked about her most memorable moment in her life, Towanda says it was when she got to meet President Obama.
“I had the opportunity to meet him four times," says Towanda about our former commander in chief. “His skin is impeccable. He smells so amazing. He's got that swag. I can't even put it into words how good he smells. If only we can put that in a bottle and sell it. I didn't wash my hands for a couple of days and had to tell myself 'Towanda get it together.' He's so cool."
Towanda says that she believes her outspoken nature and affinity for drama, and for entrepreneurship, is related to the fact that she grew up in a home with so many big personalities.
“I love my sisters but there are moments where i don't feel like being bothered," says Towanda, who has just launched Braxton Beauty, a line of gel nail polishes and hair care. “There's no ill intent but sometimes I just need my own space because the personalities are so overpowering. It has gotten more challenging because we are adults who are creating boundaries and it doesn't always mesh."
Here, Towanda dishes on each of her sisters:
“Tamar's personality has always been hers. She's always been spoiled rotten and and now we have to create boundaries because we've allowed her to get away with it for so long."
“Trina has always been the sensitive sister. She believes in love and it's ok to believe in love. She is all about giving people a chance.'"
“Tracy is fun and crazy. You never know what's going to come out of her mouth. Sometimes things makes sense and sometimes they don't."
“Toni has always been the controlling older sister who's right about everything. She's a Libra so she knows everything. She's an attorney, a pediatrician, a pharmacist, a hairstylist, a pro at everything."
Part of the legacy Towanda wants to create is one of giving back. To wit, she works closely with Saving Our Daughters - a non-profit organization that focuses on creating the tools to get teen girls discussing key issues in their lives. In addition, Towanda has been named St. Jude Children's Hospitals "Partner In Hope, and continues to give back to the community through grassroots initiatives.
“There are single moms and dads who can't afford to buy diapers and baby clothes, so we give out diaper bags to the less fortunate," says Towanda, who plans to build out an organization that helps moms in need have the proper supplies to care for their babies. "It's a cause that is very important to me."
Towanda, who is currently co-executive producing a new reality show, has also launched The Secret Squirrels, to provide training, certification and placement for those looking to work as professional personal assistants, Looking to the future, Towanda said she will continue to grow her business and charity initiatives and support her children's (Braxton, 11, and Brooke, 10) careers, which seems like they may follow in their famous mom's footsteps. “They walked in Nike's Fashion Week show," says Towanda. “Watching them grow is the most important thing, and I will continue working to inspire them."
The Quick 10
1. What app do you most use?
2. What's the first thing you do in the morning?
Grab my phone.
3. Name a business mogul you admire.
4. What product do you wish you had invented?
5. What is your spirit animal?
6. What is your life motto?
I always tell people live the life your soul intended. You will never will be unhappy if you follow that.
7. Name your favorite work day snack.
Green olives with pimento in the middle.
8. Every entrepreneur must be what to be successful?
9. What's the most inspiring place you've traveled to?
Baden-Baden. It's the most beautiful place and most never even know it exists.
10. Desert Island. Three things, go.
Water, my bible, my iPad, and my nails would have to be done
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.