Life, Career & Parenting Advice from Bozoma Saint John

Life, Career & Parenting Advice from Bozoma Saint John

Bozoma Saint John in the Girls' Lounge at Cannes Lions 2018.

Bozoma Saint John in the Girls’ Lounge at Cannes Lions 2018.

Marketing powerhouse, mother, and diversity champion Bozoma Saint John was introduced as ‘the badass in stilettos’ by Carolyn Everson, VP, Global Marketing Solutions at Facebook, in The Girls’ Lounge at Cannes Lions. The Endeavor Chief Marketing Officer and former Uber Chief Brand Officer shared her insights on how to navigate difficult times with resiliency and creativity. Here are her top lessons learned on how to keep hustling and stay true to yourself.

Don’t Wait To Network Until You’re Looking For A Job

I always find it interesting that when we’re ready to move [to a new job] all of a sudden we start networking…going into our contacts, making phone calls, trying to have lunches. Why do we wait until that moment?  We should always be in the constant flow of making friends, keeping relationships up.”
“That’s what I feel has always helped me, in that I have never been in the position to have to pick up the phone and start making tons of calls, because somehow it has always come through somebody else who knew me. Relationship managing has been a secret weapon.”

You Don’t Always Need A Plan

Bozoma didn’t map out her career path, which has included leadership positions in big companies such as PepsiCo and Apple.  “It’s the lack of a plan that is probably the biggest blessing in my life. I know that probably sounds crazy, but I don’t have one. There is no strategy that says, ‘Hey, I’m going to do this for three years,’ and ‘I’m going to go do that for two years.’ I’m really following my spirit.”

Flexibility Is The Key To Resiliency

“My husband died when he was almost 44 years old, and we certainly didn’t plan for that. But, my upbringing was really varied in terms of location. I was always trying to make new friends and become accustomed to new situations. It wasn’t strange for me to have to regroup, recalibrate.”

Blazing A New Path Sometimes Calls For A Leap Of Faith

With this mindset, Bozoma met with Jimmy Lovine, record producer and head of Apple Music, who recruited her to lead marketing for the company. At the time she said, “I didn’t know Jimmy. I didn’t know the business. I didn’t know what streaming was, but I [said] listen, I know what I’m capable of. I know I’m a fast learner. I’m a damn good marketer. I’m just going to go and try it. And so every move since then has been a faith move.”

Carolyn Everson of Facebook asking Bozoma Saint John about resiliency.

Carolyn Everson of Facebook asking Bozoma Saint John about resiliency.

Your Child Can Also Be A Partner

“Motherhood changed when Peter [my husband] died. When you’re going through grief, of course there are lots of sleepless nights…one night when she was 4 years old and sleeping in my bed, I thought, I can’t do this by myself…she woke up and I said, ‘Listen, it’s me and you kid. So we’re going to do this together. You’re going to tell me what you need. I’m going to tell you what I need.’
“It has changed the dynamic of our relationship, I think we’re much stronger because of that. I would have managed her as a mom before, but now she’s literally my partner in raising her.”

Success Comes From Being Yourself

Bozoma’s family relocated from Ghana to Colorado Springs when she was small.  Though Colorado was welcoming, it was not diverse, and Bozoma’s mother “refused to have us assimilate into that culture. She was very conscious of the fact that she didn’t want us to ever be less than proud of who we are and were.”
“That has absolutely been instilled in me, so that I don’t walk into any space and feel like I need to conform to that space. You should conform to me. Every work review I’ve ever had in life [has said], “We’d like you to tone it down.’…For black women, when we show up in environments, we’re less likely to show up as ourselves. It’s in even simple things which become really detrimental, like our hair. You don’t show up with the big Afro to work, right? Because it’s too wild…”
“You have to pretend to be somebody else. Now, if you’re spending all your energy pretending to be somebody else, how are you going to give anything authentic, or real, or interesting in any of those situations?…So I just come out all natural. You’re going to have to love me.”

It’s All Of Our Responsibility to Create Inclusive Cultures

“Unless there is true inclusivity on all levels with all people, it is not possible to change a culture…Everyone actually needs to participate in this discussion around inclusivity. No one person can come into an environment and fix it. I need white men to do it. I need white women to do it…How many of you have black friends? Recruit your black friends [into your companies]. It’s up to all of us to create change.”
Want to get more advice from Bozoma on how to be a badass? You can listen to the full talk here. For more inspiration on how you can make a difference, check out:
Influence & Impact: How To Use Your Platform For Change
Olympic Champions On Why The World Needs You To Be Yourself
Rewriting The Rules Of Work To Create More Inclusive Cultures