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I will be blunt: As a black woman, I’m a minority — especially in business. Being raised in predominantly black communities and schools, however, I never felt like it. My home community in Birmingham, Ala., left me with a strong sense of self, dedication to my heritage and pride in my skin color. This only strengthened when I embarked on my collegiate journey and attended Clark Atlanta University, an HBCU near downtown Atlanta, where I am a rising sophomore. This summer, I also began my path as an intern at one of Atlanta’s most prolific tech companies, Sage.
Being shaped and embraced throughout my life by culturally rich and diverse African-American communities, I may have been in the “majority” rather than constantly having my status as a minority reinforced. My ambition and drive have always been among of my defining traits, leaving me with a strong craving to begin my professional life. However, this phase, which I am and have always been so excited about, was also intimidating.
“Corporate America” is a term that often strikes intense doubt in the hearts and minds of African-American youth. By my fellow peers and what I saw in media, I was sold a narrative of the white-collar world as unwelcoming to people like me or especially challenging to break through. Too often for many people of color, I know that this narrative proves true. When I applied to Sage, a company I was enthusiastic about and knew would present incredible learning opportunities, these reservations were still quite present — but I am not the type of person to let uncertainties stop me. Now, a couple of months under my belt, I can say with confidence that this internship experience has introduced me to an evolved and inclusive corporate setting that shattered many of my preconceived doubts.
As the youngest intern in the program, a woman and an African-American, many might expect my experience to consist of stories about not being taken seriously or facing more adversity than my peers. What started out as me seeking to build my resume has transformed into an opportunity for me to grow and develop my skills in all areas of business, and learn to be a leader, taking real ownership over significant initiatives. The corporate food chain may be alive and well at other companies around America, but I have found professionals that are enthusiastic about nurturing my talent and pushing me up the ladder, not keeping me at the bottom.
In fact, something that immediately stood out when I started my position was the number of dynamic women working in leadership positions all over the company, in all areas of expertise. Through this opportunity, I have been able to see a fantastic example of what it takes to be a confident and skilled leader in today’s ever-changing business world. The program has set me on a path to become a leader myself and given me the chance to lead my own projects — and by “project,” I don’t mean memorizing coffee orders. I am leading the redevelopment of Sage’s education program, which is housed in eight countries across the world. Knowing that my work is adding real value to the company has forced me to think as creatively as possible, work efficiently with other team members and problem solve on the fly. All of these skills, I know, will be crucial as I move along in my career.
I’ve also had the incredible opportunity to work and connect with people around the globe in ways I do not think I would have been possible at another company. Being a global citizen is important to me, and not many people can say their first internship has expanded their worldview and perception of diversity and inclusion in the workforce so much. To that extent, earlier this year Sage released its “Diversity & Inclusion in Atlanta” report, which was developed to evaluate the current D&I landscape in the city and opportunities to foster a more inclusive workplace of the future.
My personal horizons are broadening each and every day as part of this experience. I am primarily working on the education program, but am always encouraged to try new things and am considering shadowing other departments like public relations or digital marketing to add to my holistic view of how the organization operates as a successful tech leader. Additionally, this opportunity has allowed me to learn from forward-looking teams that know what it takes to run a business in general, something I hope to do one day.
To those who may feel the uncertainty that I had prior to my experience, I encourage them to work through those initial doubts and seek an environment like the one Sage has fostered. They may be surprised at how good it can be.
About the Author
Madison Grant is an intern at Sage Group.