Lauren Wesley Wilson knows first hand the challenges of being a black woman who works in the communications field.
As a former professional and strategist for some of the country’s top corporate public relation firms, Wilson is well-aware of the unique experiences women of color face working in a profession that she says is dominated by white men and women. The most glaring issue she says she faced early on in her career was not having access to or knowledge of the people of color who were in leadership positions in her field that she could reach out to for mentorship and guidance.
Wilson decided to change that and she did with the creation of ColorComm.
Thursday marks five years since Wilson launched ColorComm, which she calls the first and only nationwide network of women of color in communications that provides them with professional advice, guidance and resources to encourage them to create connections that will help them get ahead in their careers.
"When I was thinking about launching ColorComm, I was 25 and I looked around where I worked and didn't see people of color in leadership positions and was wondering how I was going to be able to carve out my trajectory in communications if I didn't have people to look up to at the executive level," Wilson told The Huffington Post.
"You really need a support system when you're navigating your way through communications and it doesn't happen formally," she added. "You kind of just have to figure out how to get there on your own."
During the first year of the organization's launch, Wilson hosted invite-only luncheons with senior executives from various companies and brought women together to meet, mingle and learn from one another.
"What I thought was why don't we get all these women together in one room and show them how to develop mutually beneficial relationships," Wilson said.
The luncheons quickly grew and within a year, ColorComm transitioned into a paid membership organization with 40 members based out of Washington, D.C. Over the next three years, it continued to boom and it is now a professional membership organization with over 500 members in six different cities: D.C., New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Wilson also made huge headway when she kicked off ColorComm’s first annual conference in August 2014.
"The conference was driven by people in cities where ColorComm did not exist," Wilson said. "We really realized that we could connect women throughout the country and we don't necessarily have to have ColorComm chapter in their city to have the ColorComm experience."
Wilson was right -- women from all over traveled to Miami, Florida, to attend the inaugural conference and engage in the experiences it offered. Standout journalists like Soledad O'Brien spoke to the crowd and reporter Lisa Ling attended the following year. The Huffington Post's very own Arianna Huffington will deliver the keynote address at this year's conference.
Within five years, Wilson has managed to launch and build a successful network of women who work together to help uplift, congratulate and inspire others through their work. It is a crucial platform for women of color who Wilson says often don’t receive the respect or recognition from their bosses that they deserve.
"[Women of color] need to be the drivers of our own careers," Wilson said. "Taking advantage of your own career, we think we have our bosses and that they're going to do that for us and frankly they don't."
Wilson offered five tips women of color should consider to get ahead in their careers:
- Take an assessment of yourself, where you are and where you want to be.
- Set goals that are actionable and can be achieved.
- Be proactive and set deadlines for yourself (time moves quickly).
- Get outside of yourself and get uncomfortable (i.e., go to events alone, introduce yourself to higher ups, ask for promotions).
- Always be prepared, have a portfolio of great work to show.
Through her work at ColorComm, Wilson has helped to curate a crop of women who have become industry influencers.
Now, five years after ColorComm's inception, Wilson says she is still blown away by the organization's success and proud of the return on the investment her dedicated team and passionate members have made in the organization.
"[ColorComm] gives me sense of purpose in the work that I do," Wilson said. "This work isn't easy. I’m glad we’re celebrating five years… it's bigger than where we started. Doing work every day where you know that you're fulfilling yourself and others really just makes me want to go to work and do this work."
To commemorate the organization's five-year anniversary, ColorComm hosted a special celebratory luncheon on Thursday in Washington, D.C., with over 120 leaders in communications including renowned professionals like TV One's host and managing editor Roland Martin, White House correspondent April Ryan and Chairman of Ogilvy Public Relations, Chris Graves.