“A lot of us can get caught in this cycle of wake up, go to work, do the job either happily or not happily, come back to relax and go to bed. And if you’re not paying attention, it’s very easy to miss the countless opportunities we have to be of service,” said Zain Asher, Journalist, Author and Advocate.
Many struggle to find the right role models or mentors to reach new professional heights. Mothers are still missing from the pre-Covid paid workforce. And although there were modest gains, women are still underrepresented in leadership roles. The numbers are even worse for women of color
But what if we can flip the dynamic? And not only engage with leaders among us but usher in change for others? Zain was blessed with a masterclass in modeling excellence, from her Mother. A story she distills in her new memoir. Although those early lessons helped shape her success, you can use these power moves at any stage of your career. To grow and help others realize their potential.
Find Your Role Models
Despite a family tragedy in her childhood, Zain was exposed to powerful role models. “When we were kids, my Mother would find articles from British newspapers with Black success stories. And she would paste them onto our walls so, when we came home, we would see image after image of Black people who had overcome something quite bad and soared.”
Long before vision boards became a thing, those stories influenced her trajectory. She added, “My Mother wanted to change the way we thought about what it meant to be Black. And to see what we were capable of achieving. That had a fundamental impact on my life.”
Choose Your Rituals
Zain explained, “Every time my Mother saw a Black person or Nigerian on TV, because that’s where we’re from, she would call us. And we would rush downstairs and sit in front of the television to watch.” Celebration and rituals have been proven to help people navigate uncertainty and achieve goals. Zain credits this with her career direction, “I believe that had a meaningful impact on my subconscious, in terms of what I wanted to do with my life.”
Always Aim High
Zain said, “I went to Oxford University. And I know so many people who didn’t even bother to apply because they just didn’t see that as a realistic possibility. They think Oxford or Harvard is a magical fantasy land on par with Narnia or Oz. But because I had Black success reinforced in my house day after day after day, I didn’t.”
Women tend to apply to fewer job opportunities and are more hesitant to ask for referrals. This lack of confidence isn’t surprising. Between bias, harassment and the Motherhood penalty, traditional work doesn’t provide positive reinforcement. But you can use strategies from Zain’s upbringing to help counter this conditioning.
Select Mentors who See You
Zain said, “I saw Femi Oke, who was a Nigerian BBC journalist at the time, representing my culture prominently on British television. And when I moved to the United States and saw her on CNN, I reached out and she gave me her phone number.” Zain was a journalism student at the time and let her idol know how inspirational she was.
Although not every icon will respond with such generosity, choosing mentors that share your interests, alma matter, culture or background, can spark a deeper connection. And honing that skill, of reaching out for support, will prepare you to leap at life’s big opportunities.
Learn Everything You Can
Femi Oke lived up to her image. Zain said, “She gave me such invaluable advice about how you make it in the newsroom, especially as a female journalist in America. Many years later when I applied to CNN for a correspondent position, I reached out to her again. And she explained everything from the interview process to what happens when you go in for the screen test.”
Zain added, “She was working in radio at the time, and invited me to her station just to practice. And when I got the job at CNN it was incredible because I realized how important representation is. Because not only was seeing her this beautiful nod to my culture, it literally changed my life.”
And Share Your Gifts
As a result, Zain incorporates mentorship into how she lives and works. She said, “My priority is always to mentor other people because I’m so moved by what Femi Oke did for me. It’s very tempting in our daily lives to be concerned with how busy we are. Between juggling kids, a busy job and being married.” Sigh.
She added, “And oftentimes if you see a random email, asking for advice, the temptation is to ignore it. Or maybe to respond with a few key pieces of advice and that’s that. But she gave me her phone number, even though I was a total stranger.” Good fortune tends to favor those who are well connected. So, mentorship and sponsorship are proven onramps to growth.
To Pay It Forward
Zain explained, “I really try to pay it forward because so many people in my life have worked to make my dreams come true. When people reach out to me, often asking a lot of the same questions I did, I endeavor to write back. It’s important for me to make other people’s dreams come true now.”
Women supporting women is more than a hashtag. It’s part of the bold solution to the persistent problem of underrepresentation. And in communities of color the need is even greater.
And be of Service
The Nigerian culture places a premium on community-based support. An influence that remains part of how Zain approaches everything. “Not to get too spiritual but I think we’re here to be truly helpful to one another in varying capacities. And it can be something as simple as giving somebody your undivided attention. There are countless ways to be of service to people.”
You can adopt your own unofficial mentors through books, on social or programs like Zain did. And by reaching out to other leaders or colleagues for support. And remember, you can also help others at all stages of your career. So, consider becoming someone else’s fairy godmother through intentional mentorship.
Many thanks to the talented Zain Asher!
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Zain Ejiofor Asher was born to first generation Nigerian parents in South London. The third of four children, she spent her childhood in the United Kingdom and Nigeria. She attended Oxford University, where she earned degrees in French and Spanish before moving to New York to pursue a graduate degree in journalism from Columbia University.
After working as a receptionist for a production company in California, Zain moved to New York, where she worked as a freelance reporter at News 12 Networks and later Money Magazine before becoming a business correspondent at CNN. She is the anchor of One World with Zain Asher on CNN International, a primetime show devoted to giving every continent, especially Africa, an equal seat at the global table. Her first book, Where The Children Take Us, is available now. She lives in the New York City area with her husband and two young sons.Tags: mentorship, Moms Career Growth, professional development for moms, workplace representation