Talking with Young Dynamic Women in Business panel: Elevating Ourselves
By Olivia Barrett
29 March 2022
As these women move through their careers, they unlearn old habits as they push to create space for themselves and future generations of Black women in business.
Panelists Toshiba Billings, Allison Gibson, and Shereen Simon spoke about their experiences navigating corporate structures and how they remain resilient in the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce’s discussion on March 29.
With Makayla Forster as moderator, these women discussed the perks and detriments of being Black women in business, and why they chose to branch out from their routine office jobs.
“There are no handouts for Black girls,” said Toshiba Billings, a consultant and author of nine books. Billings recalled the moment which changed everything for her, explaining how a comment made by a colleague, who was also the CEO’s daughter, invalidated everything she had done and the company’s reaction to the situation.
“After years of giving all of myself, I said, ‘never again,’” Billings said, crediting this moment as her push out of the corporate world.
While Billings said she’ll never turn back, Simon explained her hesitancy for not yet making the leap.
“I think about that leap all the time,” Simon said, adding that she thinks about the steps and strategies needed in order to compensate or surpass her current wages.
As for Gibson, she said she’s “right in the middle.” She explained that while she has a nine-to-five corporate job, she said she also has her own business which will bring in more than any corporate job she has worked before.
“There’s no wrong way to do it,” Gibson said about leaving the corporate world to create your own business.
“I love just getting to be myself because I’m at the top, so who’s going to check me,” Gibson said while talking about the perks of her position. She added getting to be “super Black” in situations where she couldn’t be before.
Billings shared similar sentiments, saying, “I don’t have anyone muting my voice,” because she publishes her own books. She also noted having the freedom to create her own schedule is another thing she enjoys about being her own boss.
As for Simon, she noted getting to collaborate with her daughter as one thing that brings her joy as a business owner. She explained how her daughter gives her business “a youthful touch” which helps bring some business ideas to fruition and allows her to express her voice and be creative.
While the women talked about the things that bring them joy as businesswomen, they also discussed things they have unlearned as a result of moving up in business.
“You need to speak up, you need to be heard when you’re in a room,” Gibson said. She spoke about her experience learning how to navigate speaking up and being strong, even at the risk of being labeled as “aggressive.”
Adding to this sentiment, Billings talked about the strength of Black women being their detriment.
“Interdependence is a good thing,” she said, explaining how Black women are taught to be independent to the point where it causes them overwhelming stress and health complications.
Gibson added to this, saying, “productivity doesn’t mean you have to be moving at the speed of light.” She also explained how learning that it is okay to not know pushed her to learn more.
“The loudest one doesn’t always know what they’re talking about,” Gibson said, adding how not knowing doesn’t bother her anymore.
Building on this, Simon explained that not having any formal education used to make her feel underqualified. However, she said, “now I’m very comfortable and confident so I definitely ask all the questions.”
As the panel came to a close, the women left the audience with some final reminders and words of encouragement. Gibson talked about the importance of holding yourself accountable and needing to put in the work to see the results you want.
“People don’t care if you win or you don’t win,” Simon said, after reading a quote she lives by about taking chances. She said, “just do it and fight past those fears.”
Olivia Barrett is a Bachelors of Journalism and Humanities student at Carleton University. Her interests include photography and poetry which she uses to explore social justice issues and other intriguing fields. She also loves learning about history and ancient religions. Olivia writes on social issues, well-being, and out of curiosity.