Not enough books on leadership have been written for Black women by Black women. But entrepreneur and seasoned social justice publicist Jennifer R. Farmer is disrupting that trend. and helping Black women thrive.
Her new book, First and Only: A Black Woman’s Guide To Thriving At Work And In Life, (Broadleaf Books; $22.99) published this month, uncovers some struggles women face that are often overlooked and not talked about enough.
The book comes as Black, women-owned businesses remain among the nation’s fastest-growing small businesses. Yet, multiple findings show lack of capital and cash flow are some of the largest challenges for African American women entrepreneurs.
Farmer says her self-help book differs from others as it explains to Black women how to care for their bodies and minds while fighting for workplace success. She adds that that is a big deal for Black women because they face issues such as colorism and hair discrimination as well as bias against how they communicate. She says those are struggles women of other races don’t deal with as much.
“I wrote the book because far too many leadership books were written by white men and those books do not speak to the racism, sexism, and classism that Black women experience at work and in life,” Farmer says. She adds her book is “not about how to keep or get a job; it’s about to heal yourself so you can sustain yourself.”
The book also has pragmatic tips to help Black women flourish at work. It includes spiritual healing tools along with insights from psychologists and organizational experts, among others, to help Black women overcome past trauma.
“We need to create new opportunities so that black women don’t constantly find themselves as the first and only,” Farmer says.
Farmer is the founder of Spotlight PR, which offers public relations support for people committed to racial justice. She says her clients include rapper and activist Killer Mike, former Ohio State Senator and 11th Congressional District Candidate Nina Turner, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, and asset manager Jacob Walthour.
She also works with the Black Women Leadership Project, a collection of Black women executives in the South. Plus, she is the author of Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide. Her work has appeared on CNN and in Sojourners, The Root, Huff Post, and other media.
Black Enterprise caught up with Farmer to get a glimpse of her new book.
BE: What advice does your book offer business owners?
Farmer: Many Black women have come to entrepreneurship due to unworkable conditions in their full-time job. This book encourages Black women to consider business ownership, especially if they are in unhealthy work environments, have a marketable talent, and believe they can meet an unmet societal need. For the existing business owner, this book is inoculation for what we will experience. It encourages business owners to create more welcoming and inclusive spaces for Black women and offers tips on how to be better allies to Black women. It also documents strategies for Black women to take to maintain their power, navigate difficult situations, and thrive.
What is a surprising aspect of the book?
One of the things that surprised me as I was conducting research for “First And Only” is the short-sighted guidance given to Black women around networking. Telling Black women to network their way to success without telling white men and others to open their networking circles is not helpful. If no one in our circle is in a decision-making position to hire, promote, and support Black women, networking can only go so far. We should be urging those with power to throw open their networks and really consider Black women and other marginalized groups. They must see the benefits of sharing power and creating space for different types of leaders.
How do Black women gain contacts in predominately male environments?
When we enter male-dominated spaces, we must always remember that our identity is a strength not a weakness. Even if no one around us validates us, we must have a deep assurance and conviction of our worth, belonging, and value. Armed with this information, we must commit to being true to ourselves, and not contort to become one of the guys.
One of the biggest mistakes I made in my career was adopting the style and approach of the Alpha males I worked for. It didn’t always fit me and it was viewed differently on me as a Black woman than it was on them. So understanding who we are, what we bring, and how we want to show up is crucially important when we are in environments that are dominated by men or people different from us.
Next, Black women must look for points of relatability. While our gender may be different, identify the similarities you share with the team and then lean into those areas to create and deepen relationships.
Why should people read this book?
If you are a Black woman, you should read this book because it is an affirmation of your existence, a testament to your resilience, and an inoculation against the attacks you’ll experience.
If you want to be a better supporter or ally of Black women, you should read this book to learn about ways to show up effectively and consistently.
If you work with or employ Black women, you should read this book to glean strategies for ensuring the work environment and culture are welcoming and inclusive for Black women.