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Dionne Mahaffey

Source: Courtesy of Dionne Mahaffey / Dionne Mahaffey

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Black women are leaving their jobs in droves. More than 181,000 have left the workforce since September 2021, according to the Brookings Institution. While a good many are leaving to become entrepreneurs, others have been forced out because of pandemic shutdowns or a lack of childcare, according to The Center for Public Integrity. 

“When you think about The Great Resignation, [some Black women] are resigning and quitting because they desire more flexibility, they want to have more control over their time and a lot of women are starting businesses because they want to have control over their income potential,” said Dionne Mahaffey, a tech founder named to Forbes’ 2021 Next 1000 list of upstart entrepreneurs who are redefining the American dream. 

With a lengthy career in technology and corporate environments, Mahaffey has been a serial entrepreneur for decades and recently opened an organizational psychology practice. Adept at guiding her clients, particularly Black women, through challenges to success, she has valuable advice to share for those who are primed to reinvent their careers and live their best lives.


1) Lead With Gratitude

When you’re unsatisfied and looking to change your life, first appreciate what is supporting you in your current situation. If there is something in your life that you don’t want, but it provides a benefit, you have to first lead with gratitude.

“When I didn’t work for myself, I’d be on jobs saying, ‘Lord, thank you for this job that I hate. Now, we’ve had this talk more than once. It’s me again. Hear my cry. It is time for you to move me closer to my purpose. If I’m brave enough to step out on my purpose, don’t let me fall. Or help me to get back up if I fall,’” said Mahaffey, founder of Culture Greetings, an inclusive card line. “It starts with being grateful for what you have, even if it is something that you don’t feel suits you. But if it is serving a purpose in life – providing income, paying your mortgage – then you’ve got to be grateful for that.” 


2) Recognize That ‘No’ Can’t Hurt You

After gratitude, comes confidence. The way you get what you want is to claim it, especially in environments – like interviews, networking and salary negotiations – where you need to articulate your value. 

“I had someone put a bug in my ear early on about the wealth gap and pay gap, so I always knew to ask for more. I was never afraid of asking for the maximum or double what I thought they would pay me so I could get to where I needed to be,” said Mahaffey, who’s clients have included AT&T, Delta Airlines and Bank of America. “Every opportunity I get, I try to teach women about salaries, knowing what the position is worth and what you should ask for.”

While she has walked away from offers for which she knew she could get three to four times the salary, Mahaffey was not always brave. Here’s how she boosted herself up early in her career:

“I told myself that I needed to confront the salary concern – the fear of money,” she said. “I tell women, ‘first, acknowledge that you are afraid of it, acknowledge what you don’t know.”

Honing in on what’s next has been Mahaffey’s superpower. Before the introduction of OnStar®, she created an innovative technology that provided professional athletes with lifestyle requests via technology. And she was able to capture valuable analytics about how athletes used their money on leisure and what brands they preferred.

Mahaffey remembers being told that she would not land a contract with the NFL. “But I got it,” she recounts. “Then I found myself speaking at the owners, agents and player rep meetings and going from team to team to explain the benefit. Athletes were coming up to me and saying ‘we’ve never had a Black woman come and speak to us about anything,’ showing the disparity in the industry in who gets to provide professional services to sports leagues.”


3) Encourage Yourself With Positive Self Talk

So how do you prepare yourself for being brave in the face of possible rejection? Mahaffey recommends reframing your perspective. No one likes rejection. But you can’t take a ‘no’ personally and it is important to remember that sometimes rejections have nothing to do with you. 

“I do a lot of stuff scared, in the sense of we start scared because we don’t know what is going to happen,” she said. “But, I just talk myself into it. What can they say? No? ‘No’ doesn’t hurt.” 

Second, stay encouraged by affirming yourself and implementing positive self talks to counter  negative messaging.

“We have 50,000 thoughts a day and 80% are negative because of society, the environment and conditioning,” said Mahaffey. “If you want to meet the best version of yourself, you’ve got to start talking to yourself as if you are the best version.”

Positive self talk is not about denying reality or being unrealistic. Alternatively, it is about making sure you’re telling yourself good things about yourself, dealing with the possible, and if you’re not feeling 100 percent sure, faith-ing it until you make it.

“I don’t tell people to fake it until they make it. I say, ‘faith it.’ F. A. I. T. H.,” said Mahaffey. “There is movement in faith. There is possibility in faith. If you can’t go from, ‘I suck’ to ‘I’m great,’ you can say to yourself, ‘I know that I am on my way to my greatness. Every day, I get up trying to be a better version of myself, so that I can reach the heights I aspire to reach.’ “

If you find yourself not able to leave your current situation, look for opportunities to improve by leveraging what is available where you are. Is there free training, certifications, or tuition reimbursement available to you in your current role? Can you be assigned to a stretch project or serve in a leadership role in an employee resource group to access new skills?


4) Explore Your Purpose

Want to reach your career and life goals? Leading with gratitude and supporting your confidence with positive self talk should all serve you exploring your purpose, which may not come from your work environment.

“Some people are stuck because we have this idealistic perception of the workplace,” said Mahafffey, who is launching an affirmations app. “We spend most of our time at work. We think about how we see work on TV, where people love each other. They go out for drinks after work. A lot of us don’t have those experiences at work where we are able to find comradery, even though we have been told that work is where our purpose lies.” 

In your self assessment, ask yourself what you feel like you’re not having the opportunity to exhibit at work. If it is leadership, for example, look for opportunities in other areas of your life. “Be a leader at church. Go find an auxiliary to lead in your mosque, synagogue or sorority. Join the Junior League. Take the emotions out of it. If the workplace is not where you can find, live and walk in your purpose, go find where you can satisfy that – and keep work in its place.”

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