Producer, actress, and writer Issa Rae spoke with Laysha Ward, Target’s EVP & chief external engagement officer, during the 2020 Texas Conference for Women. Here are the highlights of the conversation, lightly edited for brevity and clarity:
Laysha Ward: How did you learn how to be a successful entrepreneur and leader?
Issa Rae: “I think once people see that you are serious about you, you’re serious about your product, serious about your journey, they are more inclined to come along for the ride with you.” She also added that it has helped to be a lifelong learner, know what she doesn’t know and be confident about what she does, working with passionate people, and being very collaborative.
What are some of the most important things you learned about being a leader, especially in what remains a male-dominated industry?
“Relying on my female peers. I foster a community of women who support one another. I think that’s essential because we’re constantly pitted against one another and underestimated and I think there’s nothing more valuable than a support group of women who understand and whose power, whose intelligence, whose drive you also respect and appreciate.”
You have been so successful about bringing other women along. What has been your secret to success?
“I’m drawn to other women because I appreciate the leadership values. A lot of the women that I’ve worked with in the past have been extremely ambitious but also very lax, and intelligent and knowledgeable. They’ve always had to do more. They’ve always had to compete and prove. I just seek out people who want this, who are innovative, are excited. I am just naturally drawn to passionate people because I feed off of that. I feel women have a special skill in terms of motivating people around them.”
Some people do worry that as time goes on and we focus on recovering from COVID and a disrupted economy, the energy to confront racial injustice is going to take a backseat. What do you think we need to do to keep it alive amid all of these important priorities?
“Unfortunately, part of the frustration is we’re going to have to do a lot of the work. I think black people have been doing the work to be recognized and to achieve equality and fairness for centuries now. But, while we continue to do that work, we have to have allies, white people specifically looking around and deciding to take action, deciding to hold one another accountable. Progress is only going to come when white people can recognize that we’re not equal. We don’t have the same opportunities. We’re operating at a deficit. It’s up to the people who understand existing systems to understand that and do something about it, and want to do something about it.”