Engaging & Retaining Black Female Talent...

3 min read | Vanessa Phipps

How to Mix & Serve the Perfect Corporate Cocktail


Many a career-impacting conversation has happened over a great drink. Not with any intent of impropriety – simply away from the confines of cubicles and conference calls. So, as a Black professional woman with years of earned and discerned corporate experience, I’d like to share some tips on how to build a better “corporate cocktail” for Black women like myself* who want a career they can sip and savor without the anguish of a 30-year hangover.   

Let’s start by agreeing that the word ‘cocktail’ suggests, for most who imbibe, an upscale drink that has at least two ingredients, one of which is liquor. In Corporate America, that core ingredient (served by any talent acquisition professional who knows how to close a job req) is expectation – the expectation that in exchange for my talent, experience, and stellar performance, there will be open communication, recognition for my work, and respect for what my diversity brings to your company’s ability to build its business. Here’s how that might be getting served in your tumbler of choice:

Straight-up: Although shaken with ice to achieve the right temperature, a straight-up drink remains undiluted, which also happens to be my preferred method for delivering (and receiving) information or offering my perspectives. My direct communication style doesn’t make me confrontational. It means I’m confident and comfortable with sharing what I know or asking questions if I don’t. I do, however, appreciate the importance of being a savvy communicator, so can tailor my method and message to suit my audience. I’m cool like that. So, I ask that you appreciate the absence of mixed messages and hyperbole in our conversations.

On the rocks: A great way to smooth out a strong drink, but not if it sits for so long that it becomes watered down. Out of all women-of-color groups, black women are the most likely to see their opportunities to advance to senior positions diluted over time. According to the Center for American Progress, “…the public narrative about women has focused primarily on the experiences of white women as opposed to those of Black women and other women of color. While it is increasingly common for employers to tout the steps that they have taken to respond to women’s challenges in the workplace generally, there is less conversation about specific, targeted efforts to address how different types of biases play out for women across race, ethnicity, and other factors. The lack of intersectional analysis can result in an incomplete picture that excludes crucial perspectives and gives little attention to why disparities, such as those between white women and Black women, in earnings, advancement opportunities, unemployment rates, and other areas continue to persist.”1


Well / Call: If you go to a bar and you ask for a scotch-neat you'll probably get the well brand. If you want a Chivas Regal 12 instead of Old Smuggler, you must call for it by name (no slight to Old Smuggler – just a denotation of cost and perceived value). In the workplace, I’m all in with being a team player. When I have planned, promoted and peddled an idea that has garnered acclaim and income for our company, however, I want to hear that it was something more than “a team effort.” That means calling me out for the part I played in that effort.

Finally - Shaken but not stirred: The perfect corporate cocktail is not shaken by the incongruous promises made at inception but lost during consumption. It is, instead, stirred by the mix of diverse ideas, contrasts, harmonies and dissensions that make up who I am and how I will continue to contribute to your company’s success.

Cheers to that!

Today's post was written by Leading Women Senior Consultant, Vanessa Phipps

If you would like to talk more about how Leading Women can help you meet your Diversity & Inclusion goals or how to help engage and retain Black and African American female talent, please contact us

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1Center for American Progress: “Racism and Sexism Combine to Shortchange Working Black Women,” 22 August 2019

*This article is meant to reflect only the views of the author and not those of other Black and African American women.