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Roquita Coleman-Williams

Roquita Coleman-Williams is a member of the Memphis Area Transit Authority Board of Commissioners and former president of the Memphis World Trade Club. She became a certified train conductor in her role as a solutions manager for Canadian National Railway. She is an inclusion strategist for F&H Solutions Group. 

Choosing your fights in a male-dominated industry

By Published: May 07, 2019 3:20 PM CT

As I navigate a business development career in industries dominated by men, one of the problems I face is how to share strategic guidance with others while continuing my own corporate climb.

Like other influencers in this city, I believe sharing thought and knowledge builds the personal power we need to thrive in our organizations and in our community. But it also creates a new set of problems to solve.

Was I willing to struggle through even less time with my family, more aches and pains from long commutes across the continent? Was I willing to gain 10 pounds and become the proud owner of my first pair of Spanx to disguise the pudge in my stomach that is the result of having my exercise time reallocated to writing content for articles and keynotes? Did I really have the determination to continue my leadership development while guiding and teaching others at the level I desire to?

I thought about this on a flight to Seattle. I was celebrating my husband’s birthday by having him join me for an AWESOME  conference for female supply chain leaders. It opened at Starbucks headquarters with a conversation with Rosalind Brewer, Starbucks COO and the first person of color on the Amazon board of directors. Roz had helped Starbucks manage protests that followed the arrests of two black men who were waiting for a business meeting in a Philadelphia store last year, and she spoke candidly of the incident. (The company subsequently closed 8,000 stores for a day to conduct anti-bias training for employees.) Like myself, she has a son who is the same age as the young men involved. 

In addition to hosting meetings, I had to find time to write a presentation I was making to a large Lean In circle based in Bangkok. The Zoom Video conference was scheduled for 4 p.m. Bangkok time, which was 2 a.m. Pacific time. A week earlier, I received a LinkedIn message from the president of one of the largest woman-owned HR firms focused on the energy sector. She said she heard my TEDx talk on determination and it was a message she wanted to get out to her members, some 3,500 women across Asia.

The first half of the message I had decided to deliver to women in energy was that women who choose to work in male-dominated industries often solve the undesirable problems that others on the team find too cumbersome or simply beneath their stations. They make sacrifices that many of our colleagues would never have to. The trade-off for this pain is knowing that you are making a difference and that you are creating a space for the women after you to move a bit more freely and to be a bit less constrained.

But there was another side to this talk, a perspective I picked up in a New York Times bestseller I purchased at the Memphis airport on my way out for weekly commute: “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a (expletive)” by Mark Manson. He writes that, “Who you are is defined by what you are willing to struggle for.”

I have thought a lot about determination since that TEDx talk. Determination is about loving the fight and not just the victory. There is choosing your fight, knowing your truth and putting that truth on blast. Determination is acknowledging, 'I thought I wanted something but it turns out I didn’t.' End of story. With this truth, you can choose new problems to solve that you are willing to face.

The truth for me is I love struggling through long work hours. I love making tough decisions about which one of multiple priorities to focus on today. I love pushing the limits of my body and mind.

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