Scharrell Jackson founded the speaker series Leadership in Heels because, during her ascent of the corporate ladder, she often felt unaccepted for who she was — a Black female leader in the world of high-level accounting firms.
Career opportunities led the Los Angeles native and UCLA graduate to Orange County more than a decade ago. Today she is the principal and COO of BPM LLP; previously she was a full partner, COO and CFO of Squar Milner, one of the nation’s 70 largest accounting firms, and one of California’s leading independent advisory firms. But climbing the corporate ladder wasn’t easy. As she once said in an interview with Voyage LA, “I’ve learned to be comfortable being uncomfortable and to embrace who I am and what I have to offer.”
Jackson recognized that much of the treatment she experienced was based on circumstances beyond her, but this didn’t mitigate feeling constantly challenged to become someone others wanted her to be. She asked herself if she’d always settle for feeling less-than while watching male counterparts enjoy the very opportunities not accessible to her.
Jackson recognized that as a purpose-driven leader, one of the things she could use successfully was her voice, and so, she did.
She launched Leadership in Heels in 2015 to empower other women navigating their own ascent of the corporate ladder. Leadership in Heels is a series of speaking engagements and networking events now held virtually, where women are encouraged to talk about matters of the heart. Jackson created these events to be “safe spaces” where women are motivated and inspired to connect authentically and intimately with one another, while gaining tangible tools to drive their leadership forward, both personally and professionally.
Jackson says women’s strength as leaders is that they “dig deep” and “identify solutions to rise above the challenges they are facing to become stronger and better equipped leaders. Women see where they are stuck, and learn how to set boundaries and push forward.”
But more needs to be done. A study of employees at Hewlett-Packard revealed that men apply for a job when they possess 60% of the qualifications, while women apply when they possess 100%. Reports in both the Harvard Business Review and Forbes confirm that while women surpass men in earning college degrees, women leadership across industries ranges between 5% and 20%.
“So many women operate from a place of fear and as a result do things they don’t want to do because they say yes when they don’t want to say yes, or because they try to live up to others’ expectations versus their own,” Jackson observes. But, she says, “When we prioritize ourselves, we do not overextend ourselves, we have respect and regard for ourselves, and so, what we give is our best.”
Through the series, Jackson offers women the opportunity to look at themselves, to face who they really are, and to own who they want to be. She believes that when women help one another show up for themselves professionally and personally, women are willing to take bigger career risks and to negotiate more aggressively.
“What do we say to ourselves?” Jackson asks. “What’s our self-talk? Have we set goals for ourselves? Are we prioritizing ourselves in our daily life? Are we moving according to what we feel or what we want? If a woman can honestly ask herself those questions and can roll up her sleeves to do the internal work that will align her answers with what she wants, then Leadership in Heels has done its job. Whether we are discussing wise women, wise choices, or bold leaders who go where others are afraid to go, I’m trying to equip women with ways to move the needle forward.”
Along the way, Jackson has found inspiration herself at Leadership in Heels. She says she often thinks back to comments made by an attendee named Amy Smith. “Amy was speaking at a specific event, and I’ll never forget one of the things she said. It’s a phrase I use often, which is, ‘Fear can have a voice, but it cannot have a vote.’ Amy went on to talk about how we will all have times when we’re afraid, and sometimes that fear can cause paralysis because we don’t move forward. She told the group that fear is OK, but that fear cannot have a vote. Decisions cannot be made taking fear into account. Ever since she said that, I’ve taken it with me as probably one of the most profound things I’ve heard from someone during our series.”
The concept of authentic leadership in corporate spaces is not new, but Jackson believes part of her job is to remind women their lives are their own, and how they show up in their lives is a choice. They may not be responsible for everything that happens to them, but they are responsible for how they respond to it. She says, “That’s not just what I tell women, that’s my attitude in how I approach everything — with my family and my colleagues. Self-awareness is important, as is being surrounded with like-minded women to help provide tangible tools on the journey.”
Source: Orange County Register