The Courage to Be Herself

Tameika Pope found success by forging a unique—and authentic—path.

Tameika_Pope_smallWhen Tameika Pope graduated from Morgan State University with a degree in broadcast journalism, she applied for several entry-level positions in the industry. She didn’t get any calls for jobs, so she asked a family member who happened to be a recruiter to look at her résumé. The verdict: The content was fine, but “Tameika” was an ethnic name that broadcast that Pope was an African American woman. Although Pope didn’t want to believe that her name—and therefore her race—could hurt her job prospects, she was willing to try anything to jump-start her career. So she changed the name on her résumé to “Tammy.” Almost immediately, recruiters began to call.

It was at that moment that Pope decided to change career paths and enter the field of human resources. There, she would be able to stop others from being victimized by name discrimination. She started as a recruiter and then ascended in the field, eventually serving as vice president, global learning and development, for both Morgan Stanley and Legg Mason Global Asset Management. During her climb up the corporate ladder, she reclaimed her birth name, putting “Tameika” back on her résumé where it rightly belonged.

Today, the 44-year-old is a deputy associate director in the Division of Banking Supervision and Regulation at the Board of Governors of the U.S. Federal Reserve System. Appointed during the tenure of former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke, Pope now serves under Chair Janet Yellen, the first woman to lead the Fed in its 100-year history. In her position, Pope is responsible for the Fed’s banking supervision and regulation (domestic), and international learning and oversight strategy. Her duties include overseeing leadership and professional development, coaching and consulting, international training, organization development, succession planning, and performance management.

Pursuing her passion for personal development, Pope has launched a professional human capital development coaching and consulting company called CULTIVATE; a relationship coaching business called Evolution Partners; and a nonprofit mentoring organization for African American women called AAWLN (pronounced “all-in”), which stands for African-American Women’s Leadership Network. She balances her corporate and entrepreneurial activities with her role as wife to her husband, Jonathan, and mother to their daughters, Chandler, 12, and London, 9.

Diversity Woman asked Pope about the need for authenticity in the workplace, the importance of healthy professional relationships, and how she inspires her team.

Diversity Woman:
What is the biggest career challenge you have overcome?
Tameika Pope: Figuring out how to “play the game” while still holding onto my authentic self. It took me a while, but I figured out the delicate dance between assimilating and bringing who “Tameika” is to the table.

DW: A lot of minority women, in particular, struggle with bringing their authentic selves into the workplace. How do women get past their fears of letting their diversity show?
TP: It takes confidence, courage, and mastery of your craft to be able to do it effectively. It also takes building relationships. When you have earned trust through your relationships and through consistent, demonstrated stellar performance, you have also earned grace. So the flaws that I have, that I used to be so fearful of anyone seeing, I now embrace and they are a part of my package. I don’t run from the fact that I may talk too fast while presenting or I may have worn a red suit in a sea full of blue and black suits. I will be granted grace on those things because of the value-added contribution I make in other areas.

DW: How important are relationships to succeeding in the workplace?
TP: Relationships are staples to any successful career, in any capacity. Without them, you can’t grow. You will be stagnant. Your advancement depends on it. Many times, relationship currency will outweigh performance currency, so it would be wise to invest in building and maintaining strong relationships.

DW: What advice would you give women for building healthy, rewarding professional relationships?
TP: Be vulnerable. It requires give-and-take. That is not always easy. We need to have a strategy, and that strategy should include an intentional daily action item to build and maintain relationships. Make a phone call, invite someone for coffee, listen to what people tell you interests them and ask one question about it. Ask people about their weekend. Ask about their kids or their vacation. The key is consistency. You don’t have to have an extensive dialogue with someone every day in order to connect with them. But you do have to be consistent with your intentional touch points in reaching out to them.

DW: How important is it to be authentic when building professional relationships?
TP: Anyone can tell when you don’t have an authentic interest in somebody, and it’s just for your own gain and benefit. I think you have to be selective and intentional. You don’t have to know everybody, but you do need to figure out whom you need to know to help you get to where you want to go, and what you can offer them. It’s a two-way street.

DW: What led you to create AAWLN?
TP: Throughout my career, I have many times been the only African American female executive in my circle day-to-day at work. I would look for mentors and sponsors who look like me, and there weren’t many. I learned a lot of lessons through trial and error and stumbling my way through, versus having a guiding hand on my shoulder to help me navigate through new experiences. Having the perspective of other women of color with like experiences would have certainly helped me. Since I struggled to find it in my day-to- day, I decided to create it for myself and others. AAWLN gives African American women a safe place to cultivate their professional development, and it provides a level of support that is missing in a lot of organizations.

DW: How do you inspire your team?
TP: By being the example of what the bar should be. I don’t ask anything of them that I am not willing to do myself. At the core, the inspiration comes from the trust and belief in who is leading. You have to connect with something in people for them to want to follow you. I think my team connects to my authenticity, and they know my authenticity from seeing me demonstrate it in my interactions with them.

DW: What advice would you give women who want to ascend in their careers?
They should work on being as self-aware as possible, identify their skill gaps, develop a plan to address those gaps, and then work the plan to create the habits that will ultimately assist them in reaching their goals. They should identify their own personal “board of directors” to help with this—mentors, trusted advisers, colleagues, friends, people who will tell the truth and who have a vested interest in seeing them succeed.

DW: How important is it to stay true to your own path?
TP: All of our journeys are different, as they should be. I believe our lessons are customized along the way so no one will ever take the exact same path as someone else. We each have our own yellow brick road. Finding that first brick on the road is the toughest step. After that, things start to fall into place. Trust the process. Trust the journey. Don’t give up. The journey won’t be perfect; however, it doesn’t have to be perfect to be useful. DW

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, DC–based journalist who writes about diversity and careers.

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