Small Acts of Courage with Minda Harts
by Patrick Stewart
from Thrive Together Leadership Conference 2020 | Advancing Women of Color in the Workplace with Minda Harts
Racial Growing Pains
After 15 years as a fundraising consultant, Minda Harts is used to being the only woman of color in the room. Five years ago, after yet another particularly hard day of being made to feel “other” at work, she sat in her car on her lunch break and cried. The radio was playing, and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” by Whitney Houston came on. Harts wondered- where do the broken hearts of women of color go when they’ve been broken through their daily struggles? And she knew that she needed to do something to be part of the change that was desperately needed. As she says: “I’d cried some of the same tears that my grandmother had cried.”
What Minda Harts decided to do in July of 2015 was to start a weekly blog post, and The Memo was born. She publishes every Monday, and hasn’t missed a week since. At the time there was no larger plan, this relatively small action felt like enough. And that’s an important part of what Harts teaches: finding your voice is not a single monolithic discovery (what she calls a “Beyoncé Moment”) but “a series of small acts of courage.”
Of course, it didn’t stop with a blog. There were more small acts of courage that, when taken together, represent a great journey. Harts started the #SecureTheSeat Podcast, where listeners can “Hear stories of everyday women of color as they lean into a workforce that isn’t always invested in their success.” She has always believed that “success is not a solo sport,” so she worked with co-founder Lauren Broussard and turned The Memo into an LLC. They began consulting full time, 60-plus hours a week. For four and a half years, they didn’t get a paycheck or a day off. And now, the blog posts that started as a way to take back some control five years ago have turned into The Memo, a bestselling book.
Four out of the five major publishing houses turned the book down. They said that it was too niche, that it would never sell. One even offered to publish if she would make it “more inclusive,” a book for all women in the workplace. Harts said no. As she saw it, this book already existed. She had read books like Lean In, and while she appreciated what they had to say, they came from a viewpoint of white women in the workplace. Some of her experiences were the same, but many were not. She believed that what she had to say was important, and she fought for that belief.
To anyone who knows Minda Harts, none of this should come as a surprise- she’s always been a go-getter. At 12 years old she wanted to learn to horseback ride, but her family couldn't afford it. Where most 12 year-olds would have moved on to a different, more achievable activity, she started calling everywhere in town with a horse. She offered to work cleaning out stables in exchange for riding lessons, and it worked.
That’s not to say that Minda Harts has always felt confident or that she belonged. She recognizes that people of color, and particularly women of color, “have to deal with the reality that you will go through things that the majority of people in the workforce will never have to go through.” This presents itself in a tendency to experience above-average levels of imposter syndrome. At times like this, Harts likes to remember what Audre Lorde wrote to Pat Parker: “Beware feeling you’re not good enough to deserve it.”
Harts understands this feeling better than many: as the first person in her family to go to college, the first to work in the corporate world. As she puts it, “There are so many forks on the table, which one do I use? My coworkers are taking a vacation to the Hamptons- where are the Hamptons?”
What she reminds others --and herself-- when these issues come up, is to change the story that you’re telling yourself. Instead of thinking that others are smarter or better because of where they came from or the schools they went to, remember that, like you, they’re just living their lives. And that you are there for a reason. “I have a unique perspective and this rooms needs it. I am the prize. Our backgrounds are beautiful.”
It shouldn’t be a surprise that this journey is the hardest thing Minda Harts has ever done. But whenever she isn’t sure if she can keep going, she tries to remember that what she is doing isn’t just for herself, or her peers, but for the next generation, and the one after. That maybe they won’t have to cry the same tears that their grandmothers did.
Listen to the full talk on the Career Thrivers Podcast here.
Watch the full talk here.
Patrick Stewart is a freelance writer based out of Nashville, TN.