If you’re looking for a promotion at work... Elaine Welteroth has some tips. She’s got a lot of "firsts" on her resume - from being the first Black beauty director at Condé Nast to being the youngest editor-in-chief in the publisher's history. This week, Elaine told us she hit those milestones by being intentional about everything she did. From the emails she sent to who she sought out as mentors.
On Seeking Mentors
Carly: Harriet Cole, you mentioned her in the beginning when you skimm'd your resume. Talk to me about the gentle stalk we call it sometimes. [Or] how you get your foot in the door.
Elaine: ….I found her assistant's contact information online. And I emailed over [a] magazine that I had created and [a] video. And I wrote this really personal, thoughtful, very intentional email. And it was a letter that I also snail mailed. It was very tailored to Harriet and why I thought Harriet in particular was the woman that I wanted to model my career after. And how much it would mean to me to just have 15 minutes of her time for an information interview. And I called so often that they thought I was insane. And I remember finally getting to the point where I kept getting shut down. Like, she wasn't available, she wasn't available. They wouldn't give me a date. So I just was, like, “Would you mind telling me her coffee order?” And the assistant was like, “Excuse me? Don't you live in California?”
Oh, I really stalked. Basically, I offered to bring coffee to Harriet from 3,000 miles away. And that was the moment where the assistant was just, like, okay. And so I will never forget. I was a recent graduate and literally days after graduating I got this informational interview with this career role model of my dreams, Harriet Cole…. And then [later] she hired me.... And the rest is history. I moved to New York to work for her. And it was sort of a Cinderella career dream come true.
But I think there's a lot of universal takeaways that a lot of ambitious people, in whatever field they're in, could say they relate to. It’s the relentlessness of going after it. The fearlessness and the unapologetic approach to just go after really what you want. And finding someone who inspires you in a singular way. Not casting this broad net and being kind of vague in your pursuits. But being really focused and deliberate in your pursuit of what you want.
On Being The First
Elaine: Often I was the only brown girl, Black girl, in the room. And that feeling of otherness is so central to the formation of your identity. And I think for many years, you wrestle with that. You think that you can conform your way out of it or be a chameleon and blend in and overcome your otherness, in order to be accepted and respected and to rise through the ranks. And, you know, the reality is, in certain spaces, that was almost required of me, or so I felt. And it was part of a survival mechanism.
My turning point came when I became the first Black beauty director in Condé Nast history. And I put that in air quotes because it's not like you apply for the position of making history. You work your butt off to go after dream job after dream job. You put your head down and you do the work. And you feel that you have to do better work for less respect for the majority of your journey. And then, by happenstance, you find that you've made history. It's this daunting moment. There's mixed feelings that come with that. Because first of all, you recognize that it's overdue.
We love a celebration of a first. We do. We love to celebrate the first. But I think we also need to recognize in those moments that they're actually indicators of just how much more progress we actually need to demand. And we also need to create space for more public discourse about what it takes to be first. What’s the reality of the cuts and the bruises and the scars that come from being a first and breaking through those glass ceilings?
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