Meet Tech Boss: Bozoma Saint John
“If your voice isn’t accepted, does it mean you stop talking? Hell no. You keep talking.” ~ Bozoma Saint John, Hall of Fame inducted Marketing Executive, author, and entrepreneur.
Black women are made to believe that the only pathway to success is to align their appearances and approach to their white counterparts.
But Bozoma (Boz) Saint John is here with a new narrative.
She’s built her entire brand around living her life out loud and being authentic, even at some of the most influential tech tables in corporate America, including Netflix, Uber, Apple Music, and PepsiCo.
“My only responsibility in shattering the glass ceiling is to be able to survive it,” Boz shared in an interview with Complex, emphasizing the consequences of being a Black woman stepping into positions of power.
“The cuts, the bruises, the fear, the trauma of [shattering the glass ceiling],” she said, “to simply survive it and then thrive is its own dynamic miracle.”
Here’s her story.
Boz went to college at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. She entered as pre-med and took the full slate of sciences and math classes.
When she took intro to African American Studies, she was hooked. So instead of heading to medical school, she moved to New York for a year, trying to figure out what she wanted to do.
After stumbling upon the world of advertising, divine destiny met her when her temp agency called and said that one of the offices they usually staffed needed an assistant to answer the phones for a few days.
That office was for Spike Lee’s advertising agency, Spike DDB.
What was supposed to be a temp job answering phones for a few days ended up as a job for a few years.
Spike Lee is different from the kind of man who writes easy things. He doesn’t serve as the lowest common denominator, and he will make you rise to the occasion.
After roles at Spike Lee’s advertising agency, she went on to multicultural marketing roles with PepsiCo.
Admittedly, she took the job despite much fear.
“It was fearful for me because so many of the people who were entering PepsiCo, and mostly any other marketing companies and brands, big brands were coming with MBAs, you know, they all came as a class together had the same pedigree, and I certainly did not have that,” she said.
She then managed brands in the PepsiCo beverages portfolio (including overseeing Beyonce’s iconic 2013 Super Bowl performance).
After, Boz took the marketing world by storm with her role as Head of Global Consumer Marketing at Apple Music and iTunes.
She famously presented the redesigned Apple Music and owned the stage during 2016’s Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, widely known as her breakthrough career moment.
The marketing powerhouse moved on to Uber in 2017 as Chief Brand Officer before taking on her role as Chief Marketing Officer at entertainment agency Endeavor and most recently held the title of Global CMO at Netflix.
In 2018, she was included in Forbes’ list of the World’s Most Influential CMOs. She was also named #1 Most Influential CMO in the world by Forbes in 2021. No big deal.
Her badassery doesn’t end there.
Harvard Business School even published a multi-media case study on Boz’s career titled “Leading with Authenticity and Urgency.”
Through this, she developed and taught a class at Harvard called “The Anatomy of a Badass.”
Literally teaching the class on badassery.
However, she doesn’t discount the difficulties of being the first into a position of any power.
“It is difficult because not only are people around you not used to your authority, but you also have to get used to the authority here without having had anybody in front of you to show you how to do it,” she said.
The most challenging thing was trying to model what she thought was successful, whether in how she spoke, dressed, or how Boz presented her hair.
“I tried not to paint my nails to fit into what I thought was the successful way to be as a business person, but the tech industry was difficult because it is filled with white men in sweats,” she said. “Quite the opposite of me.”
But even with her astonishing accomplishments, the top articles appearing in my search all focused on the drama around her departure from Netflix.
So, I called BS and got the scoop in Glennon Doyle’s podcast interviewing Boz because it’s HER voice I want to hear.
Though Boz is too classy to say outright that Netflix was ready for diversity in theory but not in reality, here is what I’ve gathered.
Diverse folks in these spaces feel the pressure to align with the existing environment.
Boz refuses to blend in.
She wears loud, expensive, beautiful clothes and doesn’t care about what anyone says as she clacks down the halls in her designer heels, making sure you know she’s coming.
Take it from her. Don’t be less, be more.
Representation matters – it’s not just a hashtag. Representation means having the ability to understand your consumer or your audience. Without having them represented in the room is just nonsensical.
Diversity of all kinds in decision-making rooms helps us understand our blind spots.
It’s not as if any of us don’t have them. We certainly do. So we all need people in the room who represent those parts and feel comfortable and safe bringing those parts into the workplace.
That’s why Boz is so adamant about hiring and working with a team who are representations of their whole selves in every capacity because that’s how we’re going to reflect the world. That’s how we’ll do the best work.
Without it – we fail. Point blank, period.
Boz doesn’t want to be a hidden figure. She wants HER voice to be amplified, not another’s interpretation.
She knows she’s a damn miracle and that her perspective and experience matter.
But she had to navigate her way in spaces to make sure that her voice was heard and to be the authority about the topics that she knew better than anyone else.
At times it is difficult because imposter syndrome can creep in. You wonder whether or not you belong in the room because other people make you feel like you don’t.
Boz’s advice: Draw from the well of confidence that you know exactly what you are talking about.
You’re not selfish or a bitch for asking to be seen.
Boz shares that she’s not even asking to be called a genius “even though I am.”
She’s asking to be treated with the same respect we treat ambitious men.
Because she wasn’t a part of the majority, Boz felt constant pressure to consider everyone else before herself.
After realizing she had been conditioned to accept this narrative, she decided it was time to switch conditioners.
Boz says, “I’m free in every sense.
That’s my superpower. I’ve fought hard for it, and believe me when I say it’s still a daily struggle to maintain my freedom.
Especially when the world tries to make me feel like I have to shift and change to fit into somebody else’s standard.”
She says, “I’m at the point where I’m only considering myself. How about that?”
That level of self-love and authenticity is how you open the doors for the next generation of diverse women in the corporate workforce.
Boz is no checkmark on nobody’s checklist.
We can all take a page from Boz’s manuscript, especially in today’s world with men like SBF and Elon Musk reigning as gods among mortals — when they are clearly just false idols.
Take it from Boz. The time to live as our most whole selves is now, ladies.