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Jacqueline Adams

Co-author of “A Blessing: Women of Color Teaming Up to Lead, Empower and Thrive”

After graduating from Harvard Business School, Jacqueline Adams covered the groundbreaking campaigns of Jesse Jackson for President and Geraldine Ferraro for Vice President, before spending five years as a White House correspondent during the Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations. In the 1990s, she was a prolific contributor to the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather and CBS News Sunday Morning. Then, after more than two decades as an Emmy Award-winning CBS News correspondent, Ms. Adams launched a succesful second career as a communications strategist, probably because she is a natural connector with the unique ability to hear clients’ strategic concerns and find creative solutions. Ms. Adams is also the co-author with Bonita C. Stewart – a previous Wider View interviewee! – of A Blessing: Women of Color Teaming Up to Lead, Empower and Thrive. Ms. Adams and Ms. Stewart have just released their 2020 Women of Color in Business: Cross-Generational Survey©. The new survey is an evolution from the 2019 survey that was included in their book. It contains significant new findings about “generational diversity” and the importance of manager training. Learn more about the research on www.leadempowerthrive.com.

Finish this sentence: I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for ________________.

My family’s commitment to education and excellence. As I wrote in “A Blessing,” my first conscious memory is of my father saying, “When you’re Black in America, to be equal, you have to be superior!” He was warning his tiny daughter about the pervasiveness of institutional racism. Instead of thinking that “being superior” or having to accommodate an unjust system was an unfair expectation, I said to myself, “Is that all it takes?” The world’s standard is just a C, just a barely passing grade. I devoted myself to earning As, to overachieving as a student. Having those early, concrete, external affirmations of my abilities gave me confidence to enter any room that I wanted, even if I was the only person who knew I was superior. As an adult, I have realized that NO ONE IS INFERIOR. We all have “superpowers” that can give us confidence. Identify them! Post them on your bathroom mirror so that you can remind yourself of your powers every day.

Resumes highlight professional and educational achievements. Which one of your life or personal experiences deserves to be on your resume?

I began my broadcast journalism career in the early 1970s. As one of the few Black women on television, I knew that I was in Americans’ kitchens and living rooms and I felt a deep responsibility “to be a credit to the race.”

At CBS News, I spent five of my 22 years as a White House correspondent and traveled the world with Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. I was assigned to spend Jimmy Carter’s final Christmas as president in Plains, Georgia, after his defeat, and I sat across from him at a small dinner with reporters. I had several plum assignments on the day President Bill Clinton was inaugurated. Having had unique opportunities to observe powerful leaders up close convinced me that they are all almost just like you and me. They may have been extremely ambitious and successful, but at the end of the day, they are just people. They all put on their pants one leg at a time.

What qualities do you look for when hiring someone on your team? What qualities do you avoid?

I look for people who are energetic, upbeat, smart, and are able to absorb, analyze and creatively regurgitate large amounts of information quickly. A Harvard Business School professor stresses character, competence and compassion. I like that list. I avoid people who can’t or don’t recognize their own special gifts.

“There’s an overabundance of research that shows that diverse teams in any organization drive profitability and innovation”

What’s one piece of career advice you wish you could give to your younger self?

I am tempted to suggest that one spend more time at play. But the truth is that my laser-focus on achievement and excellence allowed me to have the extraordinary career that I have had. What I would advise young people is to realize that if they’re lucky, life is long. Save some adventures for your later years. For example, I became an entrepreneur in my 50s and as such, l was an exemplar of one of the findings in our new 2020 Women of Color in Business: Cross-Generational Survey©. Black women are three-times more likely to be “side-preneurs” — to start a business in addition to their day jobs — than their white counterparts.

Which three books, podcasts, or news sources do you think everyone should read? Why?

A Blessing: Women of Color Teaming Up to Lead, Empower and Thrive,” tops the list! This is the book that I co-authored with the amazingly talented and insightful Bonita C. Stewart!

The “What We’re Reading” page of www.LeadEmpowerThrive.com, the website for our book.  This page curates the almost daily instances of women of color “winning.” There’s so much negativity in the media, specifically about people/women of color. If you need or want a jolt of inspiration, visit this page.

Another great book is Edith Wharton’s “The Age of Innocence.” The central message that I took away was that a financially, intellectually, and socially free woman is a threat to society. I aspire to be that woman and think we need more of them.

Axios.com is a smart, frequently updated source of news. The scoops are numerous. The writing is tight. The range of topics that are covered match many of my interests: politics, foreign policy, economics and just a dusting of culture.

Diversity, equity and inclusion is front and center right now. How do you express your commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in your personal and professional life?

I am expressing my commitment to DEI by researching, writing about and publicizing the scalable and optimistic narrative about the competencies of women of color that is at the heart of “A Blessing” and our new 2020 Women of Color in Business: Cross-Generational Survey©.

What’s one tangible step every employer should take to help build a more representative organization?

I will give you two steps:

  1. One of the mantras of “A Blessing,” is hire us! Hire brilliant, well-trained, ambitious, tech-forward women of color in multiples. There’s an overabundance of research that shows that diverse teams in any organization drive profitability and innovation. Accomplished women of color leaders are hidden in plain sight. No one can say they can’t find us.
  2. After conducting a second round of proprietary research at the end of turbulent 2020, my co-author, Bonita Stewart, and I have an additional mantra: great managers matter! A new era of leadership has dawned. Organizations must step up their training programs so that all managers are inclusive and transformational — that all can create “psychologically safe” environments in which employees have a sense of belonging and can thrive. The new research showed wide gulfs between the experiences and perceptions of white male managers and female managers of all colors.

Specifically, the female managers of all races were more magnanimous in their willingness to mentor anyone regardless of race or gender, ranging from 56%-65%. Only 34% of the white male managers concurred. 51%, the majority, preferred to give and 61% preferred to receive advice on the job from other white men because “I feel I can better identify with them.”

How do you recharge your batteries?

For decades, I whined that music was the gaping hole in my liberal arts education. I have always loved attending concerts, especially chamber music and jazz, but I knew that I could be “hearing” more. Five years ago, I began to fill that hole by taking Evening Division classes at Juilliard! I spent an entire school year learning how to read music, so that I could dissect the brilliance of classical composers like Bach, Beethoven, Haydn and others, note by note and bar by bar. I have also taken illuminating classes about Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and other jazz greats. I now can “hear” why they are considered geniuses. People talk about “life-long learning” but doing it, deliberately tingling your brain cells, fills me with the joy of education!

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Jacqueline Adams
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