Tara Jaye Frank is an equity strategist, consultant, author, speaker and a member of the T.D. Jakes Foundation’s Advisory Board Committee and International Women of Influence Network (IWIN). We recently had a chance to talk with her about her fascinating career journey as well as the inspiration behind her upcoming book, The Waymakers: Clearing the Path to Workplace Equity with Competence and Confidence, available May 3 wherever books are sold. Read the interview below:
Thanks for joining us today. To get started, can you tell us a little about your career and how you got where you are today?
I spent 21 years at Hallmark Cards in creative product development and business innovation. I designed their Multicultural Center of Excellence, to help the consumer facing divisions better understand how America’s population was evolving. We provided support to meet those needs in a meaningful and sustainable way. When I moved to Dallas, I served as Corporate Culture Advisor to the president of the company. Then, I resigned from Hallmark and poured myself into my own consulting business, TJF Career Modeling LLC (TJFCM).
What is your favorite part of what you do?
I would say working with executives to build their capacity around equitable and inclusive leadership. I love helping them better understand what it looks like to lead across differences, and giving them the tools and insights they need to do that confidently and competently. I spend most of my time with C-suite teams shining a light on the current state of their employee experience and workplace culture. I help them to envision a preferred future, and then build a bridge between where they are and where they want to be.
What is it like being a Black woman in the C-suite world?
Growing up as a Black woman in predominantly white spaces, when I go to C-suites as a woman, I feel very prepared to own my power in almost any space I walk into, because I’ve had to learn to stand tall. Not only in my womanhood but also in my Blackness. Over time, it has become less and less of an issue. I am confident in what I know, and I am confident in my ability to provide value because of my experience and proven success in this area. I’m not conscious of my Blackness or my womanhood when I walk into C-suite rooms anymore — I’m just here with the goods!
What do you think corporate America needs to do to become more inclusive?
The way I talk about it in The Waymakers book, there are three parts to being more inclusive:
- Embrace realism. Leaders need an honest assessment of how their employees are currently experiencing their teams and companies. I don’t think we know enough about what employees are experiencing. When we learn what’s actually happening day-to-day, it informs us as to what we should do next.
- Take responsibility. All leaders — anyone who has a role in managing, supporting, developing, hiring talent — need to take responsibility for creating and cultivating a more inclusive environment. Sometimes we let our HR partners figure that out, or we let our DEI officers fix things for us. We abdicate our responsibility as leaders in creating an environment where every person feels they can thrive and fulfill their highest aspirations. Once we take responsibility for something, we must figure out how to do it well. Until we take responsibility, we’ll keep sitting back waiting for somebody else to fix it.
- Build relationships across differences. A few years back, there was a study by Coqual saying white people in America have 91 times as many white friends as they do Black friends. I don’t know about you, but I don’t even have 91 friends. If we isolate at home, we’re probably doing it at work too. The reason I wrote The Waymakers is because systems change is critically important, but all the Black and brown people I know who made it to the top of the house made it because somebody made a way for them — someone cared enough about them as a person and a professional to open a door, remove a barrier, and usher them through. We need more of those waymakers, but we don’t get there if we don’t start building more bridges across differences.This work is not easy, but it is simple. If you really know what the person across from you aspires to, if you know what they value, if you know what their skills are, if you know what they’ve done and accomplished, if you know what is means to them to be seen, respected, valued, and protected, then you as a leader have an opportunity to meet those needs for them and to partner with them in the pursuit of their career aspirations. That’s relational. There must be proper processes and practices, but at its core, it’s relational.
Tell us more about the book!
I was spending so much time in rooms with CEOs and their teams, and I began to notice they have three things in common:
- Most of them want to do the right thing.
- Most of them didn’t know what the right thing was.
- They felt unsure about stepping into the work. They didn’t want to offend or insult or do it wrong or bring reputational risk upon themselves.
Top leaders need to better understand the current state of affairs and what they can actually do to change it. They also needed some confidence building — to be encouraged to step out on a limb and take the risk, because this work is messy. It’s messy because it’s human work. And we humans are a complicated bunch.
I wrote the book because I wanted to help people with power and position figure out how to open doors for people and better understand why we get stuck and how to overcome those barriers to progress. I want to help them see how equity
and inclusion are connected to their business outcomes. Employees need to feel seen, respected, valued and protected; everybody needs that at work! When you exist on a dimension of difference, you get those needs met to a lesser degree.
Essentially, if we make people feel seen and we drive diversity, that helps us with talent attraction because people see themselves in higher levels. They know they won’t be isolated at your company. The respect is what really creates the belonging. Belonging isn’t simply welcoming people; it’s respecting who they are and what they know. And in my research, I’ve found that people who feel valued are most likely to stay.
When you were growing up, who were some women that inspired you and who inspires you today?
The easy answer is my mom, which is absolutely true! But in addition to her, I used to watch Oprah Winfrey create emotionally safe spaces for people when they were going through difficult times and trying to figure out the next steps in their lives, and I really resonated with that. From a young age, Oprah inspired me because she uses curiosity, compassion and creativity to deepen connections. Ultimately, my entire career has been about that as well.
At Hallmark, I worked with Dr. Maya Angelou for 10 years, serving as her editor, and we made greeting cards and gifts together. That was a phenomenal experience because I learned so much from her personally, but also as a creative person. She inspires me so much and I feel her presence often — especially when I’m doing something new, it’s like I feel the “wind beneath my wings.”
Another huge inspiration for me is T.D. Jakes. I remember several years ago, he said that people always ask him, “How do you do all of these things? How do you do movies and TV and books and conferences and be the pastor of this church?” And I’ll never forget what he said to them: “I don’t do ‘all of these things.’ I do one thing: I change people’s lives through the power of communication.” When he said that, it really spoke to me because as a creative person, I always felt like I was doing all these disparate things and it helped me identify my one thing. I’m really doing is building bridges between individuals and new ideas. For years now, I’ve been saying my purpose is to build bridges — that’s how I think about my work.
What is one piece of advice you would give to young women coming up?
Clarify your story. Ask yourself: What do you believe and value? What kind of impact do you aspire to make on the world and the people around you? What are you currently good at? How can you leverage all those parts of you to propel you forward and do good works? I tell people all the time that the story you tell yourself is going to create emotion in you, and that emotion will influence your behaviors, which in turn will influence your results. We must be mindful of the story we tell ourselves about what’s possible for us. I invite people to create that — don’t just come up with it based on the past or what has happened to you before. Create the story that will make you behave toward your goals.
Order The Waymakers on Amazon.com now!