Lakisha, what is your personal story and what made you so successful in your career path, including what it took to answer this calling as a black woman in a the often homogenous field of Management Information Systems in the southern part of the U.S.?
Education changed my life. My mom dropped out of high school and birthed me when she was just 17 years old. I know all too well what it means to have very little. While skipping class one day in high school, I was fortunate enough to see a flyer in the hallway that read, “Historically Black College Tour.” I was immediately intrigued and wrote the phone number on the flyer. I couldn’t wait to get home and call to inquire about the tour. I was able to fundraise enough money from different family members and go on the tour. I count my blessings for that opportunity because I was able to visit and then attend Tennessee State University (TSU).
Due to my interests in technology, I chose to study business information systems while at (TSU). I began my post-collegiate career as a business analyst at Caterpillar Financial. It was there that I first learned about the PhD Project through a flyer I received in the mail. I still don’t know how they knew to send the flyer to me.
During my time at Caterpillar, I earned an MBA degree and achieved the rank of Six Sigma Black Belt. I became one of the youngest in the company to become a Black Belt at the time. Despite my success in the corporate world, a career in academia was always in the back of my mind. I eventually left Caterpillar to begin my doctoral journey at the University of Mississippi. I chose the institution because one of my college professors also went there to earn a PhD in management information systems. I credit her for helping me navigate the path to becoming a college professor.
As a PhD Student in 2007, I became involved with The PhD Project (national organization) whose mission is to diversify business by supporting minority students through their PhD journey towards becoming a business school professor. I have had deep and sustained involvement with this organization since 2007 (2009 Secretary; 2010 President; Mentor and Panelist).
My journey to tenured professor has been a very unlikely one, given my childhood upbringing. I’m among a small number of Black women that have earned a PhD and tenure in my field. At Belmont University, I’m the first Black person to earn tenure in the business systems & analytics department in the business school. My life’s circumstances and experiences fueled my desire to achieve at the highest level. I’m now financially independent and at a point in life where I dedicate time and energy to helping other women achieve their dreams. This year I have been focused on helping women set prosperity goals through a number of virtual goal setting party workshops. I am also helping women achieve financial security through money management and investment workshops in February.
What made you write the book, The Unlikely AchieveHer? How does this impact your work in and out of Belmont University where you are an inclusive leader?
While my expertise is in data analytics and information extraction, I’ve learned that my passion is in equipping and empowering girls and women with the soft skills and professional development they need to succeed in this world. As a woman in the field of information technology, I’ve witnessed that knowing a tech skill is insufficient for advancement or for high levels of success. Women face barriers, especially in technology fields, and I’ve honed my political and networking skills for success to break down those barriers. This fact has inspired me to provide women of all ages the training they need in these areas. While I do share my story in The Unlikely AchieveHer®, It is a workbook for women learn to overcome obstacles, breakthrough glass ceilings, and reach their highest potential. It’s an action oriented guided book focused on personal, professional and financial development.
Through my book, I have been able to reach many young girls and women with my story of achievement in the face of insurmountable odds. My story has resonated with my female students, as well as women that are leaders in business. For that, I’m thankful.
In addition to being a college professor, you are also part of the 1% of women entrepreneurs. What motivated you to start Brave Consulting?
Throughout my career as a business professor, I’ve learned the importance of business ownership, especially in regard to women’s empowerment. I started BRAVE Consulting as an entrepreneurial venture that would allow me to create value while building a company to support women. I always encourage women to take advantage of the opportunities available to them and I regularly speak to groups at national and international organizations to empower women to lead and break glass ceilings, which is truly a joy to do!
What do you most want to say to young people today who aspire to be as successful as you, especially our emerging African American talent as we celebrate Black history in this past year of multiple measure difficulty?
As a black woman in tech and higher education, the burden is on me to give future black leaders, CEOs and PhD’s their wings through mentoring and empowering them. I want to especially let women know that it’s okay to be bold, poised, persistent, and prosperous! I’ve had to overcome so much as a child of teen. I am the epitome of the Unlikely AchieveHer™ and someone reading this may be too.
To reach your highest potential and be as successful as your wildest dreams, you must give back. I founded The Achiever Academy in 2017 and it is my greatest life accomplishment so far. The Achiever Academy is a mentoring and leadership platform to develop poised, persistent, and prosperous women. Our main initiative is the Nashville Period Project. Its purpose is to bring awareness to the fact that many girls lack access to feminine products, which causes them to stay at home from school. Due to my own childhood experiences, I wanted to make a difference in the lives of other young girls. With my leadership and support from community members, the Nashville Period Project has collected over half a million feminine products for young girls in public schools across Middle Tennessee since 2017.
I was once a Black girl that bounced around schools, lived with and was raised by multiple family members and felt hopeless as a child. But during high school, one opportunity to travel on a weekend college tour inspired me to change my outlook on life. Now I am a Black woman and a professor, living a happy and prosperous life that I never thought was possible. I defied the odds and became an AchieverHer! No matter what your situation is, you too can become an AchieveHer. You are an AchieverHer, you just have to believe it.