MADAMENOIRE is highlighting a Black women who have helped themselves (and who are helping others)step into their power as well. One woman who is helping other women find their strengths and their magic is Denise Hamilton, the founder and CEO of WatchHerWork. “You shouldn’t have to have powerful friends to have powerful information,” says the nationally recognized Diversity & Inclusion leader. Hamilton is cultivating the space she needed as a young woman navigating life- both personally and professionally. WatchHerWork.com is a multimedia digital platform that intends to close the achievement gap for professional women by providing access to important professional and personal advice—advice that will drive those women towards the success they both desire and deserve. MN had the pleasure of catching up with Denise Hamilton to ask what advice she offers women who want toboss up, cultivate their personal gifts, and practice radical self-care in the process.
MADAMENOIRE: Let’s begin by discussing the amazing digital platform that you’ve created—WatchHerWork—and why you were moved to create it.
Denise Hamilton: It was totally selfish. I created WatchHerWork to solve my own problem. I have been the only woman, or the only black person, in so many different roles, at so many different companies, in so many different positions. Like, every job I had, I was the only one. So,through that experience, I developed a skill set of navigating those spaces successfully, and I became a lightning rod for mentees. People would say, “Hey, can I take you to lunch?” or “Hey, can I pick your brain?” At the same time, I was talking to my peers at my level, and they all had the same experiences I had. And we were like, “Yo, we don’t get to see our own children, but all of a sudden, we’re in charge of equality?” So, I was really struck by this idea that the people that are at the tip of the spear, they’re fighting their own battles. They’re the only woman in an all-white male environment or the only black person in that kind of environment. Like me, these women were fighting their own battles, but everyone wase putting all this unpaid work on top of the already hard work that we were doing. And it just felt, to me, like there must be a way to use technology to solve this problem. I thought, there must be a way to scale this work. Because essentially people are all asking the same questions, right? “What do I do here?”“How do I handle this situation?” And so, we just made a list of those questions. We turned on the camera, and we started filming women answering those questions
MN: And the list of videos is so expansive! They cover topics from office romance to job relocation to caring for aging parents. And it’s all truly expert advice.
DH: A thing we tend to do, as a society, is we marginalize women after a certain age. We don’t listen to them anymore, and so I love that my platform gets the people that know where the bodies are buried to give good, honest advice. These women know what happens, they know how to do it all, they know who said what. You know? I wanted to get them in front of the camera, and ask: What do you think? What’s your advice? What have you seen? I wanted to create a space that is free-of-charge to share this wealth of knowledge and experience. Every woman doesn’t have mentors. Every woman doesn’t know someone who has achieved broad levels of success. Unfortunately, we tend to ask amateurs for expert advice. WatchHerWork is a space where women can receive expert advice, for free, without having to do the work of building relationships over years and decades. I wanted to help women skip over the puddles, to give them the secret sauce. We already have 700-800 videos. We’re getting ready to move into an entirely new filming season. My goal is to be the destination for online, video-based, professional advice for women.
MN: This is really care work. Giving women access to this kind of advice that can literally help them sink or swim as they build and maintain their careers.
DH: Yes! I want to democratize access to information, you know? I think of my own story. My father worked at the post office; my mother was an operator at the phone company. I had to start from scratch. So, my heart is here in this work. In helping women succeed and honor their gifts. Women shouldn’t have to have powerful friends to access the kind of powerful advice that they might need to change and enhancetheir lives.
MN: Let’s talk more about this heart work that you do with WatchHerWork which, to be clear, is really about creating opportunities for success for womenand creating more space for women to find and own their freedom. So many Black women are trying to define what freedom looks like for them, in this moment. How do you define free Black womanhood? And how has that definition evolved over time for you?
DH: My definition of freedom has changed 100% overtime. It has even changed a great deal within the last year and a half. So, to me, what it means to be a free black woman is to have the ability to identify, name and develop your giftedness—whatever that is. If my gift is to teach… If my gift is to be a great mother, if my gift is to be the CEO of a company, I can do it. I have the space to do it. I have the room to be whoever I was designed or created to be. And that is absent of other people’s preconceived notions of who I am. It is absent of statements of low expectation that have the capacity to limit what I think I can do. Freedom is about choice. Choosing where I want to be; how I want to be there; what it looks like; what time I have to make those choices. And sometimes the choices are to not do something at all. Simone Biles just made the choice at this year’s Olympics to say, “No, I’m not ready to do that today. I don’t feel equipped for that conversation today. And guess what? I don’t have to… Because I’m a millionaire. I’m the best gymnasts in the world.” This is why it is so important to have the ability to develop your giftedness. Your giftedness is a ticket to be able to create your own power.
MN: That’s so good! “Your giftedness is a ticket to be able to create your own power.” Tell us more!
DH: I make space for myself by operating in my gifts. I resist the frame to “fix.” I don’t try to fix my weaknesses. I don’t have to be perfect at everything. I don’t have to be the perfect wife or the perfect mother, or have the perfect house, or cook the perfect meals, or have the perfect wardrobe or the perfectmake-up. It’s exhausting. Even the concept of perfection drains the life from your body. I believe we all have been given a certain set of gifts, and if we would, instead of putting a penny on a hundred things, would put a solid quarter on a couple of them, we can be successful. That kind of agency creates freedom—the freedom to choose.
And let’s be honest, everybody doesn’t have that freedom. Most people can’t tell their boss to take this job and shove it. They can’t make their child’s father help with the children. There’s a lot of people who are in situations where they don’t have certain levels of agency. So, to me, there are so many spaces where we don’t have agency that the spaces where wecan create it, we gotta do it. We must be about that work. We have to really develop what we’re good at and stand and be inour giftedness without everyone else’s opinion shaping it—without even our sometimes-low expectations of ourselves, limiting it. That to me is freedom.
MN: Sadly, many Black women struggle with moving past challenges and barriers that will allow them to operate fully in their giftedness. What advice do you have for Black women who are trying to find their agency, their power, and their freedom?
DH: Unpaid work. That’s the barrier; it’s unpaid work. It’s carrying everyone else’s trauma. It’s being the keeper of the crisis. We should have the freedom to put that down and pick it up when we want to. Obviously, I’m an inclusion strategist, so I work in the DEI space, working with issues around women in the workplace, but also specifically with issues affecting Black people and all people of color in the workplace. And, so, I’ve stepped into that role. That was my choice. Even though I’ve chosen to do this work, I get to further choose what I want to do and what I don’t want to do in it. No one else gets to decide when I need to give them a book to read; they can Google that. I have mastered giving people back their work. So, the unpaid work, the assuming responsibility for everyone, I have let that go. When your mask isn’t on you first, you haven’t secured your own safety before you’re worryingabout everyone else’s safety. Black women, specifically, do too much of this unpaid labor and it stands in the way of our progress. We must learn to give people back their work.
And we must learn to cultivate ease in our lives. To make it not only look easy but to feel easy. We have to be able to say, “I can’t be on the PTA. I can’t do that right now. I don’t have the bandwidth for that.” And we have to master not giving in to the guilt we might feel for saying no. If you have a goal that you set for yourself, and you have budgeted a certain amount of energy towards addressing that goal, it makes it easy to tell everybody else no. Because you know what you’re working towards. Establishing goals should be a priority. I believe that energy is finite, and I think we spend it frivolously and we spend it on other people. I literally move through the worldwith the understanding that I get 100 pennies of energy every day. What am I spending my 100 pennies on? Because my pennies aren’t infinite. Do I want to spend 15 of my pennies having a dumb conversation with somebody at work over a confederate statue? No, I do not. That is not a good use of my energy. It’s going drain me, and it’s probably not going to make a difference anyway. Think long and hard about how you spend your pennies—how you spend your energy. Give people back their work. Cultivate ease in your life.
MN: This is really the radical self-care we need to speak about as a community. Too often, we only think about self-care as massages and vacations. And while, we—as Black women—absolutely deserve these kinds of experiences. You’ve mentioned some alternate ways that we can practice radical self-care. Conserve your energy. Stop providing folks with unpaid labor. Learn to say no, so that we can focus on cultivating our gifts. Before we end this amazing chat, do you have other advice for Black women wanting to practicing radical self-care?
DH: Listen, it’s Black girl season! I think there’s a crack in the universe, and we currently have the capacity to walk through it to greatness, but we can’t walk through because we are exhausted. I don’t want my shot to come, and I’m too exhausted to take it. Talk about a tragedy, that’s a tragedy. You get a chance to sing your song for the entire world and you’re hoarse, because you didn’t sleep last night. That’s what Black women are experiencing, I think, right now. We talk a lot about external self-care, but not enough about the ways we need to care for ourselves internally. It’s easier to make a facial appointment than it is to tell your mom no. Radical self-care is deciding to leave a job because we know we are working in a toxic environment that is depleting us. Radical self-care is going to therapy, and even working to find a therapist that honors who we are culturally, spiritually, and otherwise. It’s these kinds of everyday choices that heal us and make us whole. We have to protect our magic, and it’s nobody else’s job. It’s our job. And we have to constantly think about what self-care looks like for us and practice it every day until it becomes a part of our muscle memory.
Josie Pickens is an educator, writer, culture critic and community organizer. To read more of her work, catch her on Twitter and Instagram at @jonubian.