Helping Women of Color Shatter the Glass Ceiling
In honor of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris becoming the highest-ranking woman ever elected in U.S. history, we talk with music industry matriarch Sophia Chang about how we can help women of color ascend in every industry: from music, film, and television to technology, medicine, law, and of course, politics. Sophia talks about the importance of mentorship, and why she created Unlock Her Potential, a free mentorship program for women of color in the United States. “You should have women of color in the room, not because it’s the right thing to do, which it is. It is also the smart, fiscally responsible thing to do.” Plus, Sophia walks you through her top confidence-building exercise that’ll have you convinced that you, too, are the baddest b*tch in the room.
You can follow Sophia Chang on Twitter @sophchang and on Instagram and Facebook @sophchangnyc.
Interested in learning more about Sophia Chang? Check out the links below:
Learn more about Unlock Her Potential, Sophia’s free mentorship program for women of color 18 years of age and older in the United States: https://www.unlockherpotential.com/
Get yourself a copy of Sophia’s memoir, The Baddest Bitch in the Room, here: https://books.catapult.co/products/the-baddest-bitch-in-the-room-a-memoir-by-sophia-chang
Stay up-to-date with all of Sophia’s work on her website: http://www.sophchang.com/
To follow along with a transcript and/or take notes for friends and family, go to http://lemonadamedia.com/show/good-kids/ shortly after the air date.
Stay up to date with Good Kids and everything from Lemonada on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @LemonadaMedia. For additional resources, information, and a transcript of the episode, visit lemonadamedia.com.
If you want to submit a show idea, email us at email@example.com.
Sophia Chang 00:07
Hi, I’m Sophia Chang, and you’re listening to GOOD KIDS. I am a mother, a lover, a hustler, a warrior, an author, a screenwriter, a mentor, a producer, a creator, a storyteller. And I’m going to talk about being the baddest bitch in the room.
Let me tell you about my life.
I am the proud child of Korean immigrants. I was born and raised in Vancouver; I was absolutely set for the path of academia. My Father God rest his soul was a math professor. My mother was a librarian and my brother is a tenured English professor at Vassar. So I was a French lit major. I thought I was going to move to Paris after college and then I met the French. I knew that I wanted to leave Vancouver, I decided to visit New York in my senior year of college, and I just took to it like a fish to water. on that trip, I met Joey Ramone, God rest his soul the lead singer of the Ramones and we kept in touch and he put me in touch with a friend of his legs. McNeil, this tremendous rock critic. I stayed with him and his girlfriend, Carol when I first moved here, and Carol got me the job at Paul Simon. So that was my first real networking move, I would say. I worked at Paul Simon. I worked at Atlantic Records; I became the first Asian woman in hip hop.
I managed a tremendous roster of clients, ODB, God rest his soul older ambassador from Wu Tang clan RZA from Wu-Tang clan, GZA Wu-Tang clan, Q-tip at Tribe Called Quest, Raphael Saadiq D’Angelo. And so what I will say is about getting into any industry. Yes, it’s about merit, but so much of it is about whom you know, which is why a big part of why I have created Unlock Her Potential, which is a program that I created for mentorship for women of color in the United States, 18 years and older. So back in 2016, I was doing a lecture at Columbia University. One of my girlfriend’s stood up after the lecture, she said, Look, Sophia, she’s a black woman, I’m nearing 50. I’ve never had a mentor. And I think my career could have benefited tremendously from a mentor. And she asked, How do you recommend that I get a mentor? And I just started riffing? And I said, Well, you know, because I never thought about it, frankly, because I’d always had a mentor, I said, I guess what I would do is whatever discipline you are in or aspire to be, and I would look at that, pick the top 10 people whom you would like to mentor you.
And maybe you know, somebody that knows them, chances are that you don’t, right? But I would craft a very succinct and very well written email, that is a solicitation that says, Look, these are the reasons I admire you. These are the reasons I think you would be a great mentor for me, these are the reasons I think I would be a great mentee for you, and just send them out just cold email those because the worst that could happen is that you get no response or a no, to me, that’s nothing. The best that could happen, however, is that you have a mentor and the upside of that is limitless. So, after Danielle Belton my girlfriend, also a black woman, she’s the editor-in-chief of The Route, she was moderating the Q&A. And afterwards, she said, You know, I’m really glad that your friend asked that question because it is historically very difficult for women of color to get mentors. Once she said that I just went down a rabbit hole, I went onto the internet and there was very little written about it. I’m sure there’s I know that there’s much more now but still a dearth.
And I had actually originally conceived of this as a consultancy, that you hire Sophia Chang, I will come into your company, your corporation, your organization, and I will help you create a program for mentoring women of color to help them ascent, right? Then I didn’t have time, I wrote my audio book. I wrote my book. I was doing all these other things. And then of mid-June, I was watching New York One. Which I do every morning, Pat Kiernan, whom I adore, and he was talking to a woman about a program that she was doing that was separate. It was about getting jobs for helping get jobs for New York City public school students. And I started thinking about that and then it just clicked for me and I said, You know what, I’m going to start my own mentorship program for women of color. The message that I’m trying to send is I’m trying to force America’s gaze read white corporate mail, to the fact that there is this huge, huge liability, frankly, it’s a frailty right in the system. And that is that you are not providing mentorship for women of color.
I simply don’t understand the concept that you have a room full of people, all these people sitting around a conference room table, I don’t care what discipline you’re in. Tech, Medicine, Law, Television, Film, Publishing, Music, Academia, I don’t care what it is, we know what the vast majority of those occupants look like they are white men, cis white men at that. The notion that having such homogeneity is an asset as opposed to a liability, I find confounding. How can you possibly expect to get the best product, whatever that product is. If everybody has in general, the same life experience, therefore the same perspective, right? Don’t you want? diversity in perspective? Don’t you want diversity in voice? Don’t you want to know how beautiful this project could be if the coalition who is determining what that project will be is diverse.
The truth of the matter is, you should have women of color in the room, not because it’s the right thing to do. Which it is, it is also the smart, fiscally responsible thing to do. Now, if you do it for cynical reasons, and because you want to look good. That’s not the best scenario. But it’s still a better scenario than what’s happening now. If you’re doing it for political reasons, all of that I again, I’m not trying to hold your hand and be your racial sensitivity trainer. If the net effect is that more women of color get mentored. I have done my job. My theory is that we are all the baddest bitch in the room.
It’s about accessing, everybody and anybody can see themselves as the baddest bitch in the room. Look at me again, I am a 55-year-old Asian woman that looks like I do. Yes, I am attractive and I am thin. But I am 55. And I am a woman of color. And for me to be out here saying with no compunction no hesitation, no fear that I’m the baddest bitch in the room. I think it’s radical. I think it’s subversive. And I think it is that for most women, because how many women? How many of us look like what we have been told? Is the paragon of beauty. I worked in fashion; I know how many women look like that. Very, very few. So my hope is that women will look at themselves and go through this exercise.
Okay, let me sit down. Let me write down all of the qualities that make me uniquely me. What are the phenomenal things about me? Who knows? I’m a great litigator. I am a fantastic artist. I’m a great sculptor. I’m a wonderful mother. I do great work with NGOs, I’m a volunteer, whatever those things are, I’m funny. I’m a few soups, I’m personable, I’m caring, I’m giving, I’m awful, I’m magnanimous, all of those things. You write down all of those things. And I assure you that as you start to write up the list, it will become longer. And as you go on and on, you think Wow, there is nobody that has my makeup. It is not one single thing. It is not beauty. It is not fitness, it surely isn’t fame, or wealth, or power, right?
It’s none of those things. No single thing defines being the baddest bitch the room is the aggregate of our qualities. And we put them all together and go oh my god, I’m not a two-dimensional object. I am in fact a multi-faceted gem. And I keep turning and going oh my god, oh my god, oh my god and every time I turn it the light refracts to it differently and it is beautiful. And it is clear and it is illuminating and it is colorful. I hope that all women go through the exercise and then say wow. Look it’s not easy and I understand that I was born with this kevlar titanium level of confidence. I get it. That’s it. That’s genetic privilege that I enjoy like my cheekbones and my metabolism. Do I think I’m the prettiest? This the most fat? No. That’s not the point. The point is that I am doing my best to be better and that makes me the baddest bitch in the room.
You can follow me on Twitter at @sophchang and on Instagram where I am most active and Facebook at @sophchangnyc. Thank you for stopping by and listening to GOOD KIDS.
GOOD KIDS is a Lemonada Media Original. Supervising producer is Kryssy Pease, Associate Producer is Alex McOwen and Kegan Zema is our engineer. The show is executive produced by Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer. The music is by Dan Molad with additional music courtesy of APM music. Check us out on social at @lemonadamedia, recommend us to a friend and rate and review us wherever you listen to podcast. If you want to submit a show idea, email us at @HEYlemonadamedia.com. Until next week, stay good.