HER-Story: 10 mantras from strong women in business

by | Mar 11, 2019

Local professionals offered advice and personal stories during Thursday's Black Business Student Association HER-Story panel.
Her-Story 2019

HER-Story guests (top, from left) Dacia “Innergy” Polk, Ashley Harris, Paris Forest, Eric’el Johnson, Janell Buckner and Jeanetta Hawkins watch an opening video produced by Black Business Student Association members. The panelists went on to answer career-focused questions as part of the Women’s History Month event. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Before she even completed her introduction, Black Business Student Association President Myrina Otey was interrupted by applause.

The audience that filled the U.S. Bank Executive Education Room Thursday in Anheuser-Busch Hall at the University of Missouri–St. Louis was quick to congratulate Otey and her organization and to welcome the panel of five female professionals seated in front of them.

“I’m so proud,” Otey began, before holding for the UMSL students, faculty and staff in attendance. “HER-Story is about inspiring women and speaking on the women who are here today currently writing their stories.”

BBSA hosted the HER-Story event in celebration of Women’s History Month and to share the stories of black female professionals in St. Louis. Dacia “Innergy” Polk, an award-winning activist and entertainer, moderated the panel discussion, which featured Janell Buckner, CPA for Ernst & Young; Paris Forest, director of strategy and operations for Boeing; Eric’el Johnson, an electrical engineer for Boeing; Ashley Harris, community outreach specialist for World Wide Technology; and Jeanetta Hawkins, president and CEO of Personal Touches by Jeanetta.

They shared plenty wisdom with those in attendance.

1) Remind yourself of your worth.

Thursday’s panelists agreed on many ways to navigate careers and personal lives. But the most common thread between their advice was taking time to recognize their individual values as employees and members of society.

“It’s not just thinking about how you show up and go to work every day,” Harris said. “It’s reminding yourself that you get up and make a difference. I have my job because they wanted me here, and I’m supposed to be here. That is another layer of self-love. You not only are assuring yourself of where you are, you are assuring yourself of who you are and the person you are to other people.” 

2) Forgive on purpose, trust on credit.

Forest lives and swears by this mantra. She says while working in a male-dominated field it can be important to examine unintentional insults and learn to forgive those actions.

“There have been times where I have gone into a situation and someone has stepped completely on my toes,” she said. “They have insulted every fiber of my DNA. But my job is to forgive on purpose and trust on credit. I have to reframe myself in the moment so I can trust whoever is in the room for whatever I need to get done.”

3) Talk to yourself as if talking to a friend.

The panelists said they are often more critical of themselves than they are of others. Harris and Forest labeled that voice “the critic in the corner.” They advised that self-doubt can be debilitating and to tell the inner critic, “When I need you, I’ll call you.”

4) Provide a reality check for others.

In addition to personal development, a portion of the panel discussion focused on bringing others up along the way. Johnson, who earned an electrical engineering degree from UMSL in 2016, encouraged the audience to engage with their peers and younger generations as often as possible. She noted that, with the rise of social media, it can be difficult to decipher reality from a filtered depiction of life, so personal interactions can have a powerful impact.

“Be that support system for other people,” she said, “because you needed that support system to get to where you are today.”

5) People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Hawkins worked as a high school recruiter for many years before starting a special events decorating and rental company. While spending time with students, she realized she had the most success connecting with others when she was transparent about her intentions and care for them.

6) Learn to say no.

Declining opportunities is simple in theory but difficult in practice. However, Johnson advised that it can be an important component in finding time for yourself and making sure you aren’t spread too thin.

7) Live life by airplane rules.

Before every takeoff, flight attendants remind passengers to place oxygen masks on themselves before assisting others in an emergency. Forest recommends taking this advice to the ground as well.

“What happens is we tend to run around the airplane and put the mask on everybody else and then wonder why we can’t breathe,” she said metaphorically. “Then when we fall down in the aisle, everyone with masks on is like, ‘Oh my goodness. Someone help her.’”

8) Think of yourself as a corporation.

No company devalues itself, and individuals shouldn’t either. Whether it’s salesmanship or financial know-how, each professional has strengths they should develop, embrace and share.

9) It’s OK to be a boomerang employee.

Boomerang employees are the comeback kids, those who leave a company and later decide to return. Harris advised not to be afraid of taking new opportunities or ashamed if you want to go back to a previous position.

“If you need a break from something or if you need to go see what something else is about, go try it,” she said. “Just make sure your relationships are in place and the connections are there. If you want to come back, ask. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

10) Listen to others.

Many times friends and coworkers recognize strengths you’ve yet to identify in yourself. Absorb the advice and use it as a guide when making decisions.


HER-Story was planned and organized by BBSA President and Events Coordinator Myrina Otey, Vice President Donella Johnson, Treasurer Aliyah Bradshaw, Secretary Kalynn Clinton, Secretary Wangui Gathungu and supported by advisors Dorian Hall and Michael Elliott. Video interviews and an e-book, which were shown during the presentation, can be found here: http://renaissancetjs.wixsite.com/tjsphoto

Sara Bell

Sara Bell

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