Rhonda Broussard, Founder of the Nonprofit Beloved Community, Gets Real About Supporting Black, Queer Women at Work – and So-Called “Professional Attire”
Welcome to the FQuestionnaire, a regular forum where we talk to change agents across different industries to learn from their unique perspectives on career building, as well as how they are advancing equality in their work and personal lives. Rhonda Broussard is an award-winning education entrepreneur, sought-after public speaker, and founder and CEO of Beloved Community. This nonprofit seeks to create sustainable paths to regional racial and economic equity at the nexus of schools, work, and home. Her vision for Beloved Community is informed by her leadership in education and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s goal “to create a beloved community” that would “require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.” Broussard is also the author of “One Good Question: How Countries Prepare Youth to Lead.”
Learn what Broussard has to say about the women who inspire her, the worst career advice she ever got, and the meeting that changed her life.
The Female Quotient: Name a woman who has inspired you in your line of work recently. What did she do and how did she do it?
Rhonda Broussard: Gabrielle Wyatt, Founder of The Highland Project, has inspired me so much this year. Gabrielle exemplifies the phrase “dream bigger.” With her vision for The Highland Project, she is challenging, supporting, and funding Black women to plan for multigenerational wealth. I thought my current vision was big enough until Gabrielle asked what our legacy would look like in seven generations. I’m still trying to answer that question.
FQ: What’s one example of how you and/or your organization are moving the equality needle — at work or in life?
RB: At Beloved Community, we are a pro-Black, pro-queer, pro-woman organization. This means that we design our worklife to acknowledge the specific ways that our communities have been undervalued in the workplace and we design and redefine operating practices to consistently support Black, queer women at work. One way that we move the equality needle in our organization and our sector is by building in pay equity audits and transparency about compensation for all roles. We shouldn’t have to teach women to negotiate in order for businesses to give them equal pay.
FQ: What are the three most important character traits in modern leadership?
RB: Vision, self-awareness, and empathy are at the top of my list. Having a vision doesn’t depend on your leadership type. If you don’t have a vision for your organization, your team, or your product, where are you leading them? On a tactical level, self-awareness helps leaders build out complementary teams and delegate work streams. On a relational level, self-awareness enables leaders to model hard lessons for their teams. You’ve got to be able to do both. Empathy is the hardest trait for me. I’m not a naturally empathic leader; it’s something that I’ve had to learn and practice over the years. Whether you think about it from a design perspective, a manager perspective, or a client-facing perspective, embedding empathy into your process helps every leader to get to the root cause of the problem they’re trying to solve.
FQ: What do you think is the single biggest obstacle limiting women’s career growth today?
RB: If I had to narrow it down to the single biggest obstacle that is limiting women’s career growth, I think it’s outdated beliefs about what leadership looks like. Whether a woman is going after the C-suite, growing her own business, or switching careers, we constantly have to prove to others that we can be effective leaders. That impacts how much capital we’re able to raise, how much political cover we get from governing bodies, and how supported we are in positions of leadership.
FQ: What is the worst advice you received from someone in your career, and how would you reframe it to someone today?
RB: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. I definitely spent my early years as a CEO trying to adopt the leadership styles of white men, including wearing the gray pants suits and drinking bourbon neat. Today, I would say that you can definitely learn how men play the game, but your strength will always come from your own self-awareness.
FQ: If you could rewrite one rule of the workplace, what would it be?
RB: I would definitely rewrite the professional dress code expectations. There are still businesses that require women to wear skirts and pantyhose. I’ve never understood how that attire helps you perform your job better.
FQ: What’s one career-related question you wish people would stop asking women? (AKA, is there a question that we’d never ask a man?)
RB: How are you going to manage your career and your family? Just stop it.
FQ: What is one career-related question you wish people WOULD start asking women and aren’t?
RB: What will retirement look like for you? I don’t just mean the “I want to retire on a beach close to my family,” but the real nuts and bolts of money management to get us there. If you’re taking time off to care for your family, how will that impact your retirement goals? .
FQ: Describe a moment in your career where you realized your potential. What sparked this eureka moment?
RB: I started my career as a high school teacher and really thought I would be working in the classroom with young people until I retired. After I had my daughter, a group of parents came to meet with a few faculty from our school to get our advice on how to open their own school. It blew my mind! Until that moment, I hadn’t thought of my parent self as powerful nor had I thought of my educator self as an expert. That single meeting put the wheels in motion for me to start my first two nonprofits.
RB: What’s one strategy you have for boosting self-confidence during moments of doubt?
RB: To talk to my people. If you don’t have a close circle of people who will hype you up in moments of doubt, start one today. Seriously, they remember what you’ve been through to get to this current moment and will remind you of how you’ll make it through the next challenge.
RB: Name a woman whose mentorship has had a positive impact on your career and life. What made their approach unique and memorable?
RB: Judy Katzman was my department chair when I was teaching in a Connecticut high school. Judy exemplified a warm, demanding coaching style and was always helping me think through strategic moves in my career. She was also very adept at navigating community politics. I learned so much from her because she shared her analysis and strategy with me, so I wasn’t left guessing or wondering what was driving a particular leadership decision.
FQ: What’s giving you optimism about equality and the future of work?
RB: The new TV series “The Bear” is giving me lots of optimism these days. I’ve always been inspired by how the writers’ room can carry social change messages. It’s a fictional series, but I really appreciate how it is actively narrating a future of work, especially in traditionally male-led, high-paced environments, that leans into a young, Black woman holding her own and asserting her unique leadership voice.
FQ: What is the one piece of advice you wish other women would have shared with you when you started your career?
It’s okay for your dream or career plan to change. I think that younger generations are much more adept at this, but I definitely wish other women had given me permission to see my career in several acts.