When Watchen Nyanue realized that not all women had the same support of accomplished and nurturing mentors as she did over the years, she decided to create an avenue for women to garner the tools needed to elevate their corporate careers.
A strategic marketing and business development executive from Liberia who resides in Chicago, Nyanue is currently the senior vice president of marketing partnerships for the WNBA Chicago Sky. A self-described advocate for female leadership and empowerment, Nyanue launched a company called “I Choose the Ladder” to serve as “a global community for Black women on the corporate climb.”
Her annual signature event, “THE CLIMB,” now in its second year, takes place later this month. Here, Nyanue and I discuss her career journey and her hopes for Black women go-getters in the workplace.
TNJ.com: What inspired you to form I Choose the Ladder?
Watchen Nyanue: I think recognizing my own privilege, after being called out by my friends, was one of the biggest deciding factors in starting I Choose the Ladder. I have had highly influential mentors and sponsors who have poured into me and my career for as long as I can remember. For example, one of my mentors was on the cover of Forbes while I was in undergrad and that didn’t seem odd to me. I just assumed that everyone had that same type of support and access. Once I realized that that was not the case, I wondered how I could share the access and knowledge that I have with women who look like me who may need the support but may not know how to get it.
TNJ.com: What can attendees expect to get out of the second annual “The CLIMB” career summit, and what makes it different from the average career conference?
Watchen Nyanue: They should expect an experience that centers them. Oftentimes, Black people are treated as an afterthought. Not at The CLIMB. This summit was curated specifically with Black women in mind. The sessions, the speakers, the networking sessions, the giveaways, etc. were all designed to answer the questions, “What challenges are Black women facing at work that could be holding them back?” and “How can we be a resource to help them overcome those challenges?”
One thing that I make sure to tell everyone is that this is not a women’s empowerment summit. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with empowerment summits, they are needed, the goal of this summit is action. Inspired action. Heavy on the action.
I want each person to walk away from every session with at least one tangible action they can apply within 48-hours of the summit to help move their careers forward. I have told all of our speakers, if the only thing that attendees walk away with from a session is inspiration, we didn’t do our jobs.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the summit won’t be all work. Our structured networking sessions will give attendees an opportunity to get to know each other, while also testing their knowledge of Black popular culture. And our #BlackJoy session will be a celebration of Black life.
TNJ.com: What do you want Black women professionals to take away from the experience you’ve created in this summit?
Watchen Nyanue: We hear all the stories about women not being able to work together, and all of that other nonsense that I won’t give much space to, so for me, The CLIMB hopefully provides a narrative that is counter to that. Here, we can begin to talk about a space where Black women who work in Corporate America can walk into with other Black women and just be.
The theme for the summit this year is “Reimagining the Narrative” because I want us to reimagine what it means to be a successful Black woman in a corporate environment. When we tune out all of the noise, all of the stats, and all of the stereotypes, what do we want our experience to look like? What do we want the experience of the next generation of Black women in corporate to look and feel like? Once we have a clear vision, we can then begin the intentional work to make it a reality.
TNJ.com: Why is it important for Black women professionals and aspiring Black women executives to convene and share their career journeys?
Watchen Nyanue: While there are certain challenges that women as a whole face in corporate, there are some very unique challenges that you face as a Black woman. There are times when you are not only the only women in the room, but you may be the only woman and the only Black person. There are the micro aggressions, and sometimes having to play the role of cultural educator, when all you want to do is your job.
The sad reality of it though, is that the challenges that we face today as Black women in the corporate world, have been faced by generations before us, so I think it’s important to have a safe space to share your career journey so that you know that you are not alone, but also, so that you can pull from the wisdom of the Black women who have come before you, who can help hopefully help make your climb a little smoother.
TNJ.com: Any short to long-term goals you’re working on for I Choose the Ladder?
Watchen Nyanue: We are actually releasing our first physical product for pre-sale at The CLIMB.
For the past nine months, we have been working on a product called The Review Planner. In Corporate America, advancing your career can seem difficult at best and impossible at worst. Even the most ambitious, hard-working people face obstacles on their corporate climb—and that’s especially true for every Black woman who has to fight for a seat at the table.
The Review Planner bridges that gap, giving you the tools and confidence to own their worth and earn and get what you deserve.
The planner’s unique design helps you leverage your skills and focus your growth throughout the year with thoughtful tips, goal-setting guidelines, and a strategy for your success. That way, when it comes time for your annual review, you can be armed with a plan and ready with the receipts.