After seeking out a mentor for several years, 28-year-old PR professional Lauren Wesley Wilson knew there had to be a better way to connect with other women in the communications field. Knowing the importance of building meaningful relationships in your career, the idea of ColorComm started with a small invite-only luncheon in Washington, D.C. that featured top-level guest speakers in the media field. From there, the attendee list grew bigger and the demand for similar luncheons and events grew larger.
Wilson tells EBONY.com how the once small D.C. organization has now expanded to New York and, soon, Chicago on May 9 with EBONY magazine editor-in-chief Amy Dubois Barnett as its featured speaker.
EBONY: What’s the difference between ColorComm and the numerous other networking organizations for professionals of color?
Lauren Wesley Wilson: One, it is access to some of the highest-level people within your industry. If I have access to Amy [Dubois Barnett], our members have access to her. Another thing is, this organization provides brand opportunity and visibility for our members. We care about what they’re doing. We want them to be on panels and we want to highlight their accomplishments, so that way the larger community can see they are rising stars.
Not to knock other organizations, but some aren’t consistent. In the case of hiring—not saying you should only come to our events for a job—companies come to us to see who could be the right fit for an open position. In turn, we want to compliment our members and say, “Here’s exactly who to reach out to and here are some opportunities that haven’t been posted yet.”
EBONY: Your dinner and dialogue events provide an intimate setting for ColorComm members to connect with some of the best in the media field. What’s your advice to young professionals for building lasting relationships in the business?
LWW: I think everything needs to be organic, not forced. I know there are people that we look up to and want to know, but it’s important to figure out why you want to learn from them. If you’re a part of an organization, reach out to them and think about them for panels and expanding opportunities. We have to think beyond “Can I go to coffee with you and pick your brain?” because they’re likely already someone’s mentor. Think of what you can offer them so that they would want to get to know you better.
EBONY: Your organization is geared towards women in media networking with each other. How important do you think it is for women of color to help each other out? Do you think it’s a myth that we don’t?
LWW: I don’t think that’s a myth at all. I don’t think we help each other out at much as we should. This organization is for women of color, and although it consists of mostly African-American women, I think it’s really important to know people beyond your race. Who are the heavy hitters in the Latino space, Asian space? And expand beyond our comfort, because a lot of us face similar challenges. We also need to get into the mindset of, there are opportunities out there for everyone.
EBONY: What is the biggest mistake that you think twenty somethings make in their careers?
LWW: One is not being proactive enough and waiting for opportunities to come to you. One thing I learned at a younger age and in my early 20s is that we need to say “yes” more often. We need to learn to figure out how to get everything done and manage it. Showing that you are eager, proactive and wanting to learn helps your move up a lot faster.
EBONY: Outside of your work with ColorComm, you also have a day job. Tell us what you do during the day and how you find time for ColorComm?
LWW: I work at a corporate P.R. firm in D.C., and a lot of times what I work on goes hand-in-hand with ColorComm. I feel being in the P.R. environment on a daily basis helps me to connect with the members better and makes things a lot easier. I also have a great team; it’s not just me who runs ColorComm. I wouldn’t be as far along if I didn’t have a good team, such as Whitney Stringer, who’s our executive director, and Mercy Chikowore, our communications director. They are two people I rely on heavily in D.C. Currently I don’t have much of a social life, but at the end of the day, this is a professional organization that requires a lot of time and energy.
EBONY: What’s the best career advice you’ve ever been told?
LWW: As you progress, reach out and help someone. Also, stay focused and follow your mission and keep tunnel vision. When you stay focused you can get rid of the distractions, and the people meant to be in your life will hang on. It’s really easy to get caught on people who aren’t meant to be in your journey and it will set you back. Stay humble, stay focused, and people who are meant to be there will be there.
EBONY: Where do you hope to see ColorComm in the future?
LWW: Right now, I see ColorComm expanding. It’s already expanded to New York, Chicago and hopefully Atlanta soon. In August 2014, we will be hosting an annual conference at the Ritz Carlton Biscayne Bay.
What I really want to do is recognize some of the people that are often underrepresented. The real point of ColorComm is to highlight women of color at the executive level who aren’t recognized because they aren’t on any “list” or in publications. Recognize those who have paved the way. I think that’s the purpose because it needs to be done and it hasn’t.
To learn more about ColorComm and how you can join, visit www.colorcommnetwork.com.