Podcast

Episode 90 – Bozoma Saint John, Authentically Amazing

Bozoma Saint John is an incredibly accomplished businesswoman who operates in some of the most glamorous, intense, and high-powered companies in the world. And what she’s learned about success may surprise you. Today, Boz and Jessica have an amazing conversation about the power of authenticity. From being proud of who you are, to rocking that bold lipstick, these two leaders cover it all!

Transcript

Jessica: Hey everyone! Welcome back to the Going Scared podcast. This is your host Jessica Honegger, founder of the social impact fashion brand Noonday Collection. Are you ready for honest and vulnerable conversations that will inspire you towards action? Join me here every week for conversations on living lives of purpose by leaving comfort and going scared.

OK. When you talk to someone who just feels fully comfortable in their own skin, who is operating from their place of essence and authenticity, you know what it does? It makes you, all at once, feel like you also can operate from that place. That is what my conversation was like with Bozoma Saint John, or, as her friends call her, Boz. Bozoma is the chief marketing officer at William Morris Endeavor, a global leadership of entertainment, sports, and fashion. She’s worked with celebrities like Beyonce and Dr. Dre. She has been awarded the Billboard’s Women In Music Hall of Fame and the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame Achievement as well as recognition on the Hollywood Reporter’s Women in Entertainment Power 100 list in 2018, but our conversation today called me forth into a place of authenticity, particularly authenticity in the workplace. Give this conversation a listen.

Jessica: You are the third member of the West African Voltron to come on my show.

Boz: Really?

Jessica: Yes.

Boz: Obviously, we know Tiffany, right.

Jessica: We know Tiffany.

Boz: Who else?

Jessica: Luvvie.

Boz: Luvvie, the Luvster, oh, Luv Stuff, as we call her, Luv Stuff.

Jessica: I love me some Love Stuff. And yeah, and then one of my really close friends is a Nigerian-American, and she wishes she was in it. So, she’s got all sorts of feels today. Very…

Boz: Oh, that is so awesome.

Jessica: All sorts of feels.

Boz: I love it.

Tribing On with the Girls

Jessica: But I wanted to start there. I wanted to hear a little bit more about the role that girlfriends have played in your life.

Boz: Yes, yes, yes. So, ooh, gosh, girlfriends. Where do I start? Well, my first girlfriends are my sisters. I’m the oldest daughter of four girls. And the years between myself and the youngest is only six. So, we’re all very tight, very close in age. And I mean, obviously, as you grow older, that’s a whole other podcast, about the relationship with sisters, can we do that for another time? However, when we were younger…

Jessica: Where are you in the lineup again?

Boz: I’m the eldest.

Jessica: You’re the eldest.

Boz: I’m number one.

Jessica: Wow, that’s a lot of pressure.

Boz: Oh, it is. Ooh, girl, we could talk about that, too. However, I think maybe for my family, the opposite was true, which is that you find that sisters probably fight a lot when they’re kids and then find their way as adults, right. But for us, we moved around so much when we were younger. My parents moved around a lot. And so, our only friends, when you go to a new place, is the people you’re with your family, your sisters. And so, even my sister who is closest in age to me, she’s only 15 months younger than I am, we would always be in the same school, so she’d be the one I look for at lunchtime or that first recess, that second recess.

Jessica: And one of the few Africans, because I know you grew up in…

Boz: For sure.

Jessica: Yeah, Colorado.

Boz: Yeah, exactly. So, I was always looking … so my sisters were my first girlfriends. But I’ve also very naturally found my tribe, especially as I became an adult, the girls that were in the same industry as I am or the ones who were, sort of, in the same life stage that you could share your successes, but also your insecurities and your questions, all the things with them. And so, girlfriends have played a major role. I mean, currently, as you said, yes, we have the West African Voltron, but aside from that, we have our Women of WAVs group that we have our own little private conversations outside of the men. And my girl chat group that make me feel amazing for my accomplishments or that I can come to you with questions about the Diva Cup, you know what I’m saying? These are all the reasons why we have these people close to us, so that we can really get the support that we need.

“My sisters were my first girlfriends. But I’ve also very naturally found my tribe … the girls that were in the same industry as I am or the ones who were, sort of, in the same life stage that you could share your successes, but also your insecurities and your questions, all the things with them.” Bozoma Saint John

Jessica: Yes, yes. I love that. Do you think having all of those sisters … Because I don’t think all women actually have built, maybe they have loose relationships with women but I know you’ve really gone deep, and do you think growing up with sisters is really what influenced you to know that women are safe and you have an incredible relationship with your mom?

 

When Women Trust Women

Boz: That is a very good question. Yes. Are women safe? I mean, there are definitely relationships, right, that make it difficult for women to trust women. And you are completely correct that I believe it starts in childhood. If you have any, kind of, trauma or issue with a mother or a sister or an aunt or a cousin or something like that, who has betrayed your trust, it makes it very difficult to trust other women as you grow.

I also think that society, of course, plays a lot into whether or not we … I don’t know, but value women’s opinions over men, that in adolescence, as we get into the later teenage years or young woman years, we’re looking for the approval, sometimes of men, right, of our bodies, or especially in the work environment, more than likely, your boss or your boss’s boss, or whoever the CEO is as a man and you’re looking for his approval in order to move up, right. And so, those are the voices that you trust and not necessarily those of your sisters and the women around you.

“Society, of course, plays a lot into whether or not we … value women’s opinions … we’re looking for the approval, sometimes of men … those are the voices that you trust and not necessarily those of your sisters and the women around you.” Bozoma Saint John

So, you’re absolutely correct. I think that for me, I was very fortunate in growing up in a family of women. My mother is one of five daughters. Like I said, I grew up in a house of four daughters, and cousins, where it’s … my closest cousins … two of the three kids are girls … I grew up with women. So, I trust women. Women are the people that I find comfort in, not men. And so, it has been, for me, absolutely necessary to continue to find my tribe of women as I grew older and had the choice versus just being born into it.

Jessica: I think it’s so powerful because it’s so unique, and yet your career path … I mean, hello, Uber. Hello, global consumer marketing at Apple. I mean, these are very dude-centric places where you have worked and yet it sounds like you have really taken your femininity with you into these places. Help me understand that a little bit.

I run a company and we are 95% women. I have about 60 employees, 95% women, so I’ve, kind of, surrounded myself with females. It’s only when I go into real CEO environments where I am definitely the minority and I’ve definitely had to, kind of, create a narrative around taking my femininity in those places, still wearing my statement earrings and my tight jeans if I want to in these places.

So, what’s your journey been around that? Because I know Uber was like a dude, all dudes. Bro, the bro culture.

Boz: Yeah, bro culture. Everywhere is a bro damn culture. No, really. I’m very proud of you, for the company you’re built or building. I mean, gosh, it sounds very wonderful.

Jessica: Yeah, it’s, kind of, ideal. I’m building my own utopia.

Boz: Yes, go for it, golly. So funny, I was talking to Ann Wojcicki recently, and she has a living situation that I was like, “Girl, what? I’m coming to move in with you.” She’s in San Francisco, and I don’t remember exactly, but her … and it might be her sister, it might some other girlfriends. They have a compound really, and so it’s the women and the children.

Jessica: Oh, that’s glory.

Boz: And they’re raising everybody together. And I was like, “What?” I was like, “I am coming there with my daughter and we are living with you.”

Jessica: But that’s African though. That is what I love.

Boz: It is. It’s super. Very much so, very much so.

Jessica: Yes, whenever I go visit my African friends, which I travel to Africa pretty frequently, half the time, I don’t even know whose daughter belongs to what mom, because it’s the tribe, it’s the tribe.

Boz: Absolutely, absolutely.

 

A Real Woman in the Workplace

Jessica: OK, so anyway, so your journey, your journey.

Boz: Yes. My journey. Yeah, I mean, it has been very much in the company of men. And you’re right in that I do bring my femininity because I just realized very early on that I just … the men wouldn’t see me as a man. They just wouldn’t. I would always be a woman.

Jessica: That’s such a simple truth that actually can have radical consequences on how you show up.

Boz: Absolutely. Well, because we spend so much time trying to peel back our femininity, right. You’re wearing the pantsuits, nothing against pantsuits, I like a pantsuit, too, but you’re spending your time with, the blue button-down shirt and the pantsuit and pulling your hair back and not wearing lipstick and “Oh, my red nail polish is too bright,” so that men don’t notice, as if men don’t notice that you got boobs.

Jessica: They’re always gonna notice.

Boz: You know what I mean? They notice that. And beyond the physical, I mean, I don’t want to gender stereotype at all, but we do have some other characteristics about ourselves that are very feminine. I specifically … and again, I just speak for me because I don’t want to stereotype anyone else but I lead with my emotion. When I’m upset, it is going to show up. OK, my voice is going to go up about three octaves. I may get tears in my eyes. I am going to be passionate, those are very much qualities, maybe just about myself and not just about being a woman but about myself that I allowed to show up. Because I realized that I wasn’t fooling anyone. I wasn’t fooling anybody. And by the way, it’s not just about femininity, it’s about my blackness, too. All of all of the things that make me me. Yeah.

“I lead with my emotion. When I’m upset, it is going to show up. … I am going to be passionate, those are very much qualities, maybe just about myself and not just about being a woman but about myself that I allowed to show up. Because I realized that I wasn’t fooling anyone.” Bozoma Saint John

Jessica: Was there a time when you weren’t showing up like that?

Boz: For two months. For half a second, for half a second. I had the real fortunate, really a blessing of having my first boss, my first boss was Spike Lee, and he’s super black. Right? I mean, everybody knows that. And so, working for him for four years, in the first four years of my career, allowed me to really step up in that space and just be who I am, in my blackness, which was one … obviously one part of my identity.

By the time I got to PepsiCo, which was the job right after working with him, and I realized that, “Oh, this is a super stark white environment, mostly men.” I wanted to fit in. All of the leadership were white men, all of them. And I didn’t want to be the weirdo who did not identify. And so, I tried to wear the suit. I tried to wear … I said the blue button-down. I’d wear the khakis on the casual Friday. I tried to learn how to golf, hated it.

Jessica: You are kidding me. You really went all in.

Boz: Oh, I went. I was committed. Well, because I want to succeed.

Jessica: Of course.

Boz: Who among us doesn’t want to succeed?

Jessica: And you’re young.

Boz: Yes. And you’re ambitious. And I wanted to win. I absolutely wanted to win, stop at nothing, right, to win. I was going to do everything humanly possible to try and get in with those boys. And they did not let me in. Absolutely not. And by the time I realized that there was no getting in, that I’m just gonna be me, so I’m gonna show up with a leather skirt then and my long-ass nails…

“I absolutely wanted to win, stop at nothing, right, to win. I was going to do everything humanly possible to try and get in with those boys. And they did not let me in. Absolutely not. And by the time I realized that there was no getting in, that I’m just gonna be me.” Bozoma Saint John

 

 

From Hide to Pride

Jessica: Might as well just be me.

Boz: Yeah, might as well, and you know what? I’m gonna play better at this game anyway, because I’m going to be able to bring all the things that you think you can do that you don’t, you can’t do. All of this stuff that you think you know, that you don’t know, I’m going to bring that. I’m going to be the expert, so I’m going to be the expert in pop culture. I’m going to be the expert in women. I’m going to be the expert in social causes and things that you’re too busy to know about. Because guess what, at the end of the day, you’re going to need to know that stuff if you want to sell to these people.

Jessica: Well, and you ended up leaving leading PepsiCo into music marketing. So, who’s at the golf course now?

Boz: Exactly. Now, guess what? Now you gotta leave the golf course and come to studio with me. And who’s going to let you in?

Jessica: I can’t help but think … I heard the story about your mom that you … So, you’re 12 years old, you’re growing up in Colorado and everyone … you’re having your track group or whoever over to your house on Friday night and your mom refuses to order pizza takeout.

Boz: Oh, yes.

Jessica: She says, “No, I’m cooking Ghanaian food.”

Boz: Yeah, that’s right. That’s absolutely right. It was so brilliant because, now that I’m a mom, I understand her motivations and probably the fear that drove her, right? As any parent would tell you, right, it’s less about planning what’s the best thing for your kid, you’re just trying not to screw them up, right? That’s your constant fear let me not mess up this kid.

And so, I can assume that now, her motivation for saying, “Listen, you are Ghanaian, OK? These people, they look at you, they see your face, they see your dark skin, they say your name and they know your Ghanaian. There’s no way that you are something else. So, just know that you’ve got to be proud of that thing. You cannot pretend. You cannot assimilate into somebody else’s culture and think that, all of a sudden, they forgot that you were different. But guess what, that difference is still going to be celebrated. But you can celebrate it. You can be proud of it. And if you’re proud of it, maybe they’ll see the pride that you have and be more curious about why is it so … you’re filled with so much pride about that thing. And then maybe they’ll be to appreciate it. But if you’re not full of pride, if you are hiding it, if you’re trying to make it lesser than, if you think it is lesser than, so will they, and therefore you won’t be strong and you won’t be significant.”

“You cannot pretend. You cannot assimilate into somebody else’s culture and think that, all of a sudden, they forgot that you were different. … But you can celebrate it. You can be proud of it. And if you’re proud of it, maybe they’ll see the pride that you have and be more curious.” Bozoma Saint John

And although she did not articulate it like that to me at the time, it was absolutely the case as I grew up. And so, yeah, those Friday nights where she refused to serve pizza, but instead cooked hot pepper soup and forced my friends to eat it, while I was literally embarrassed beyond belief, as an adult absolutely reminded me that I never have to assimilate, I don’t have to pretend that I like to golf. I don’t need to pretend that I’m going to eat a salad, you know what I’m saying? I don’t have to pretend that it’s OK for you to mispronounce my name, you know that I will correct you until you say it right, because I’m proud of it, and I’m proud of my culture and I’m proud of the way I grew up and I’m proud of all the things and therefore you’re going to find value in it because I find value in it. It was such a great lesson, such a great lesson.

Jessica: We actually have a son from Rwanda and we were hanging out last night in the hot tub, we have these family hot tub nights, and he said … started talking about his black power and I … Yeah, it’s just this whole idea that you’ve got to own exactly who you are, and he’s obviously in a family where he does look different than his mom and his dad. But the pride, the pride that you’re … more is caught than taught, and your mom just … you caught it. You caught it from your mom, you caught it from your dad. When did you know that you were on this leadership path, to really be a trailblazer? You are someone who’s like, “I’m not gonna mimic, I’m not gonna copy. I’m gonna blaze my own trail.”

 

Collaborative Leadership

Boz: Yeah. Gosh, I don’t know if it ever came to me all at once. And if I’m being totally transparent, I don’t know that I know it now. Gosh, how do I answer that? I feel like it’s really a journey to leadership. And I would say that it’s more like … This is gonna sound so silly, but it’s the only way I can think of it right now, at this moment, is almost like just gathering more friends along the journey, just more people who clap and cheer and go with you because they believe you.

That’s what it feels like to me today, and it’s perhaps what I have felt all along, right, that it hasn’t always been like, “Oh, how many people are with me.” It’s always just been … well, how many people are really passionate about the idea that I have or the thing that I said and they’re going to also do it, or they’re going to cheer me on to do it, or they’re going to convince these other people to come along the journey, too. And that has been leadership for me, and so that it has never been about, again, the numbers of people or the title. And even in places where I’ve had the title, where I still have to fight for the recognition or for the acceptance, it has still felt to me like, “OK, how do I get these people to really understand what I’m saying and come along with me.”

Jessica: That is such a collaborative approach to leadership. I’ve never heard anyone describe it like that. Tell me what’s been some of your biggest leadership absolute mess-ups that you’ve learned from over the years?

Boz: The mess-ups.

Jessica: Because that’s where we grow.

Boz: Exactly, that is where we grow. Well, maybe it’s part of … It kind of sits alongside of what I just said. And these were probably early lessons, which were that you really cannot go the road alone. I mean, you cannot … none of it, none of it, never when you stand up on the podium accepting that award or being inducted into the Hall of Fame or into that article where they’re praising you for being the most creative … none of those things you got there by yourself. The ideas maybe started with you, but then you needed other people in order to make them live and grow and get bigger and get the, kind of, recognition that was necessary in order to achieve that kind of stature.

“You really cannot go the road alone. … The ideas maybe started with you, but then you needed other people in order to make them live and grow.” Bozoma Saint John

And early on, I thought it was just me. I thought I was … well, I am the most brilliant, but I thought it was it was just my own willpower and muscle would get me all the accolades, right? You just push through. I feel like I’m one of those people who just by sheer will, I’m going to get it done, you know what I mean? And I still have that kind of energy now, but I just know that my sheer will means that I’m going to get a ton of people with me, and we’re going to make a movement, rather than just me pushing against the idea myself. And I made that mistake early on thinking that it was just me. And even if I had four people reporting to me, that it was my idea and you guys are going to do it because I said so. It shouldn’t be like that. OK, people will do that to a limit. Because yeah, you’re their boss and they’re going to do what you say. But most people are going to go that extra mile because they truly love you. And they want to see this idea win, not because you told them to and not because you have power.

“I feel like I’m one of those people who just by sheer will, I’m going to get it done, you know what I mean? And I still have that kind of energy now, but I just know that my sheer will means that I’m going to get a ton of people with me, and we’re going to make a movement.” Bozoma Saint John

Jessica: So, did you have to really learn how to slow down and value relationships and people over outcome? Because it sounds like probably how your … maybe people under you or even your colleagues would describe … in your 20s that you worked with will probably describe you very differently than the people you work with right now.

Boz: Yeah. And I would say that maybe it wasn’t so much as slowing down but learning what everyone else’s motivations are so that you can keep up the speed. I don’t think there’s one person who works with me now or worked with in the past would say that I slow for anything. It’s probably the biggest criticism.

Jessica: That was the wrong word to use.

Boz: Yeah, no. I move so fast. Oh my god, and I’m impatient, Lord, help me. I am impatient. I want it done today. I want it now. I want the results yesterday. Like I said, I am pushing, I’m pushing, I’m pushing constantly that idea. That one person say like, “Oh, no, I don’t think that’s gonna happen or I’m not sure that we can do that.” What? That’s my trigger, I start spazzing.

Jessica: Don’t ever say no.

Boz: No, don’t say that to me ever. Don’t say it, somebody say, “You know what, I don’t know if it’s gonna work that way. But I think if we do it this way, it might work. Or that’s a good idea, but what if we added this thing to it?” Oh, man, I love that. I’d go yes, yes, yes. Go do that. Go do that thing. Because my idea is not necessarily the end-all-be-all. I would much rather hear somebody else have a different idea or a different way to approach it.

 

Communication and Creativity

Jessica: Yeah, that’s true. You’re a marketing executive, and you are a creative. I wish I could just be a fly on the wall in a creative meeting with you. Because you’re a hard driver, and you’re running fast, but you’re also working with a lot of creatives that need this, sort of space. And every creative has a different process. And so, what would you describe as a really energizing meeting for you? What did you do to kind of create that? When you get home from work, and you’re like, “That was a good day,” what are some of the things you did to create that?

Boz: Yeah. Oh, OK. So, this is a little more complicated because … Again, I’ve learned over time, over years, about how different people like to work, right, and that not everything works for everyone at the same time. So, even today, I don’t have brainstorms anymore because a lot of people don’t work well in that environment. They feel pressure and they feel anxious.

Jessica: And they feel like they have to be the one in the room to say the coolest thing.

Boz: Yeah, with the brilliant idea. Yes, and then all you get are people just parroting and talking nonsense, you know what I mean? Because they’re just trying to show off. And then you have the really brilliant ones who are really scared and don’t want to say their idea out loud either because they haven’t really thought through it or they want to just test it out and see if it really works and they don’t want to say it until they’re sure. And so, it doesn’t then work. You don’t get great results that way.

So, for me at this moment, I love one-on-ones. Really, I do. One-on-ones are really great because then you can better achieve being able to get somebody’s best when they are doing it their way. And again, it’s just a lesson in putting myself second, right, is that it’s really the idea of servant leadership, where I am much more able to say, OK, in that one-on-one situation … “I just had a meeting with this other person, they said X, Y and Z. What do you think of that? What’s your idea about this project that we’re working on? How would you do it differently? Or do you agree?” Those type of leading questions that allow us to talk it out.

I also like … there’s some people on the team who don’t necessarily like that, sort of on-the-spot thinking, right? And so, it means putting the idea out, and then asking people to think about it. And those who want to come talk about it, let’s set up time and talk about it. And those who just want to take a couple of days to figure it out, do that, right, and then we can talk about it. So again, it’s about really understanding how people work and then working towards their needs.

Now, because I’m a leader and because I have deadlines, because I have things I need to get done, this is also about good communication, right, so that people know what you expect. Again, for instance, there’s not a person who works for me that will tell you that if I asked them to do something that I expect an answer from them or acknowledgement from them next week. I want that acknowledgement right this minute, as soon as you get it. I need to know that you understand what I’m saying, and that you’re going to go do the thing and I need updates along the way, so that I know that you’re doing it. Maybe it does take you a week, but I need to know that what’s going on. But that’s my trigger.

It’s not so much what’s at the end, but the process along the way that’s going to make me sane because there’s so many bosses and leaders out there who will … I call it punishment, right … punish their teams for not working at the pace or not doing it the way that they want it to be done. But it’s actually just misdirected. Because one, you didn’t communicate the way that you needed to get the information to your team, right. They don’t know how to work with you. And then also, you’re not working at their pace, you’re not working with them on how they need to get things done. Because no two people are the same. You can’t run a team thinking that one size is going to fit all or one way to motivate people is going to fit everybody.

Jessica: I mean, it’s so interesting because you are uber creative, uber smart, and yet you’ve taken this entrepreneurial path within a very corporate setting. What do you think has helped you or even for our listeners who are listening right now who are who are entrepreneurial, but they’re working more within a structure, more of a corporate structure, what advice would you give them to, kind of, blaze that entrepreneurial trail?

Boz: The thing about any success, I feel like I used to believe the adage that said, find a way to get paid for the thing that you’d like to do or whatever, however it was said, it’s probably more eloquent than that, something, take a version of that, I don’t like that so much, just because I feel like it’s … Listen, I may like to drive, but if I became a truck driver, I’d probably hate to drive. You know what I mean? So, I don’t know necessarily about that.

But I do believe in finding the passion point in the job that I’m doing, so that I can then iterate. My core belief, and, again, maybe it’s a simple statement that speaks to something deeper, but my core belief is that nothing is the same after I leave it. Nothing, not a space, not an idea, not a presentation, not a coffee, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing. And so, what am I going to do in that space to iterate? There should really be nothing in my life where I came and nobody knew I was there. And I feel like at the core of entrepreneurship is that sense, you want to create, you want to create something new. Maybe it’s not brand new, maybe it’s an iteration on somebody else’s idea. But whether that is to start a new business, or a completely new business, right, or it is to create a new space inside of a big company, it is my expression of an entrepreneurship, that the spaces that I’m in are just never the same after I leave, that I am creating something new within it all the time.

“There should really be nothing in my life where I came and nobody knew I was there. And I feel like at the core of entrepreneurship is that sense, you want to create, you want to create something new.” Bozoma Saint John

 

 

Misjudging Miss Universe

Jessica: So simple and yet it drives so much clarity into how you can approach your job. OK, I saw that last week … I am friends with Sazan Hendrix and she, I know, was a judge on Miss Universe. And so, I saw you and her in her Insta stories, and I was…

Boz: Who I am in love with, oh my god.

Jessica: She is such a blast. She is so fun.

Boz: Yes, oh, she is.

Jessica: I want to hear about that. Because, OK, I’ll be completely honest and blunt.

Boz: Oh, girl. How much time do we have? Because I have so much to say about this.

Jessica: OK, because I want to hear because I was following her on her stories. And then when I saw you show up in her stories, I was like, “Oh my god. I’m interviewing her next week.” And I did think like, “Uh, Miss Universe, is that … OK?” So, I had this, sort of, “What’s happening here?”

Boz: Yes, what is happening? Oh my god, I’m obsessed. I’m obsessed. I’m obsessed. I can’t wait to talk to you about this.

Jessica: OK, so tell me, tell me.

Boz: OK, I’m gonna tell you, I’m gonna tell you exactly what’s going on. OK. So, here’s the deal. OK, so full disclosure, Endeavor owns Miss Universe. Right? So, when I joined Endeavor…

Jessica: OK, actually, I didn’t know that. So, that makes a whole lot of sense.

Boz: Yeah. But when I joined Miss Universe, but by the way, there’s a lot of things at Endeavor that I’m like, “Hmm, I don’t know about that. We should shut that down.” So, it’s not as if I couldn’t come in and say, “I don’t agree with Miss Universe. We need to get rid of it.” I could have said that, but I didn’t because of this reason. One, I believe, fundamentally believe that the way that society looks at women and judges women has been formed a lot around these types of contests, and it is the most recognizable judging pageantry stage that a woman has in the world, hands down, bar none, there’s nothing second, nothing even close to second. If you say Miss Bangladesh, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Jessica: Right. That’s so true.

Boz: You know what I mean? You know who she is, you have an image in your head, it’s done. It is the way in which we judge women. It’s beauty and how she walks and how she presents herself. Is she articulate in some sort of passive, non-aggressive way? Does she smile prettily? All of that stuff, right? So, if we are able to evolve the way that we use that platform to redefine women, then we’re going to change the world. And while that might sound like such a big, crazy, maybe arrogant thing to say, I really do believe in it. And so, I want to be a part of that change. I want to be part of that evolution.

And to me, it doesn’t mean that we get rid of the whole thing, because that’s actually quite unrealistic. We’re going to judge women based on these metrics, if we don’t change the competition itself. Getting rid of it doesn’t get rid of the issue. It’s almost like being ..we just turn a blind eye, stick your head into the ground. No, that’s not gonna change anything, we need to change the platform. And changing the platform, again, isn’t about abolishing any one particular area of the competition. It’s just about making it more modern.

And so, people ask me all the time, they’re like, “What about the bikinis? What about the swimsuit competition? Isn’t it demeaning?” And I’m like, “OK, so let’s talk about this.” Right? I, again, focus group of one, OK, me, just me, I’m a complete whole woman. OK, if you look at my Instagram, you will see that when I go on vacation, I’m in bikinis and I pose my ass off. OK, I’m over here showing off my abs and my ass. If I am in a club with my girlfriends, I’ve got my drink in my hand and I am turning all the way up. When I’m in the boardroom, you will see me challenging people’s ideas and concepts or I’m sitting at the top of the room and I am leading the mission. If I am with my daughter, and I am doing some little crafting, or I’m cheering her on her basketball game, I am a whole mom. All of these parts are important.

If you tell me that because I’m in a bikini I cannot also be in the boardroom, you and I are going to have a problem. If you tell me that me that celebrating my daughter or leaving the office early in order to go cheer her on makes me less passionate about driving the bottom line, we’re about to have a problem. All of these things are the makeup of a whole woman. So, I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with showcasing that or finding the best who represents that for us.

“If you tell me that because I’m in a bikini I cannot also be in the boardroom, you and I are going to have a problem. If you tell me that me that celebrating my daughter or leaving the office early in order to go cheer her on makes me less passionate about driving the bottom line, we’re about to have a problem. All of these things are the makeup of a whole woman. So, I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with showcasing that or finding the best who represents that for us.” Bozoma Saint John

Now, I do think that there’s an evolution to be had though because it shouldn’t just be about who’s the skinniest, right? Or who has the flattest stomach. But I look at Miss USA currently, and that home girl is fit. I mean, I’m talking about, like, fit fit. She means that her nutrition is on point, it means that she is caring about her body and working out. Therefore she is concerned about her own health. Women’s health is a real issue. OK, we are dying at rates with heart disease and issues more than men. And so, we do need to be concerned about our fitness. So, can we make the “swimsuit competition” more about fitness and our health than something else? Yes, we can.

Can we change the narrative about this? The question that they have to answer which, in the past has been, “How are you going to solve world peace?” or some other answer, “Do you cook well?” or “What’s your favorite dish?” That question … can we evolve that because we’ve forgotten that most of the contestants who enter these pageants are graduate students. We forgot that. They are graduate students who have higher degrees, who are reading books upon books upon books. Let’s ask them about economic development, because guess what, most of them who graduate from this program or who win titles and therefore cash prizes use that money to start their businesses.

When I found out that the economics around the past alums shows that a majority, overwhelming majority of them become entrepreneurs in their countries and therefore begin to change the economic structure of their countries, girl, what? I was flabbergasted. We don’t think about that. We only think of these bimbos in bikinis. We don’t think about the whole woman. And even today, in the United States of America, there were five women on Capitol Hill who came through the Miss Universe organization. And so, we don’t think about the fact that we then leave from these types of institutions more empowered to take on leadership roles, to, yeah, have a voice because we’ve practiced it over time.

So, to me, the winner needs to redefine so many things. And I’m so glad that Miss South Africa, who for the first time in history is a black woman with short, natural hair, is now the epitome of what we see as the most beautiful, as the most accomplished, as the most educated woman on the planet, that she’s our Miss Universe. She’s the one. She’s the icon. She’s the one that we’re going to look at and say, “I want my daughter to be like her.” What a powerful platform that is, and I want to continue to evolve it.

Jessica: Well, you just give me the chills all over. I got the chills. And I’m like … I like you. You’re a reformer. And I love that because it’s all about embracing the ands and the paradox and everything you’ve said is just so freeing. Yes.

Boz: Right? I’m like, “Let’s cut the cord. Let’s do the whole thing over. Let’s just evolve the conversation.” Because, again, I’m a woman who loves some lipstick. OK, but lipstick is my armor, I use that when I walk into a room. Yes, you’re gonna watch the way my mouth moves because I have something to say, you know what I mean? Why should I be ashamed of that? I don’t understand that. Let’s fix this. Let’s fix this judgment that we have on these women. Let’s actually use it as a motivator, as an empowerment platform, and yeah, we can totally change the world.

 

Boz Saint John Going Scared

Jessica: Well, Boz, we like to close out our interviews by asking people how they are going scared right now. And I know it would be easy to look at you and listen to you, and I can hear your boldness and your confidence and man, it is so refreshing and inspiring to me. But I know that we all are scared. We all have fears. Where’s the place where you’re going scared right now?

Boz: Whoo. Man, so interesting because my fear doesn’t stem from anything about myself. You’re right, I feel very confident in myself and in my abilities and, in my future and my destiny, I feel really confident about it. There’s not much that I look at, and I’m like, “Ooh.” If I want to do it, I can’t do it or I’m afraid or imposter syndrome. I don’t feel that way by myself.

But I am scared about my mothering and the future of my daughter. It is the thing that keeps me up at night. It is why I stare at her while she’s sleeping. It is what I worry about, even for myself, right, because then I worry about, OK, how much am I spending on the road versus how much time am I at home? Am I pouring into her? What kind of woman is she going to be? I want her to be great. I want her to be the greatest. And I want the things that I’m doing now as a role model for her to be exemplary, so I hold myself to a pretty high standard because I know she’s watching and she’s emulating. But I, yeah, I walk in motherhood really scared. Yeah, I just want to be great. I want her to be great.

“But I am scared about my mothering and the future of my daughter. … And I want the things that I’m doing now as a role model for her to be exemplary, so I hold myself to a pretty high standard because I know she’s watching and she’s emulating. But I, yeah, I walk in motherhood really scared.” Bozoma Saint John

Jessica: Has to be the most vulnerable place in our lives.

Boz: Absolutely, for sure. For sure.

Jessica: Yeah. And you have quite the mother, so.

Boz: Yes.

Jessica: Yeah. And I find, I grew up with a stay-at-home mom, and I’m taking such a different path than her. So, I think some of that is the path my mom took, I mean, it got her me and I’m pretty awesome.

Boz: Yes. Right? Yes.

Jessica: So, all of my mom serving on the PTA and doing all the things that I’m actually not doing for my kids, it’s like, “argh.”

Boz: I know.

Jessica: I know. But then also my daughter is already talking about all the things that she wants to do to change the world and how she’s a leader and how she wants to marry a man, because my husband is actually a stay-at-home husband, and she’s like, “I’m gonna marry a guy who he’s the one who’s also helping with the house and everything.” But it’s hard.

Boz: See? But you are so right because my mom was stay-at-home mom too. It’s so funny, the other day, I was talking to her because … my daughter’s 10, and she’s really loving to read. I read a lot. And she’s really beginning to read. But I remember my mom reading aloud to us, me and my sisters. She read us Four Women. And she read a lot of books. One of my favorites was Four Women, maybe because it was the four of us and the whole thing, right? But she did that every day, every day, she read aloud. We would gather around her and she would read, and she read a chapter or a chapter and a half. And I have never done that. I have never actually, I mean, maybe when my daughter was two or three, maybe some bedtime story, but not in years I have read to her.

And I was just talking to her the other night, it’s just … I feel so terrible because it’s … I wish I could, I wish I had the time to be able to read to her and it’s such a good bonding experience, and we’re sitting there, we’re lost in the story together.” And my mother looked at me like I was completely nuts. She gave me that look. She was just like, “What are you talking about?” She’s like, “You take this child on a plane and take her to all of these events. And she walks the red carpet with you, and she stands proudly holding your hand. And she poses in front of the camera, you can see the beaming pride on her face. And she gets to see you talking on the stage.” And she was like, “You don’t think that that is as important or as special?” And I was like, “Right, OK, right, right. OK, let me get myself together. Let me find out what other stage I could go on.” You know what I mean? It just corrected me, right away.

Now. I don’t know. I don’t know what my daughter is gonna say in 30 years from now. She’s gonna have some other experience and going to reference this moment and use it as an example of how she’s either doing it the same or doing it differently. But again, it’s why I walk scared. I’m just like, “OK, I’m going forward, trying to do the best that I can do, and making sure that I’m not screwing it up.” But there are lots of examples from my mother that I wish I could emulate now that I’m not.

We are close to wrapping up our New Year’s series. This has been such and interesting series where we have covered topics around mental health, physical health, workplace health … next week we are going to be talking about home health. You’ll be hearing from my architect and my interior designer about the two-year remodel process that we just went through. I cannot wait for you to tune in to this one.

Now, if you want to be the first to see the before and after photos, make sure you subscribe to my email list. Head on over to jessicahonegger.com. I’d also love to hear what you’ve learned from this series. We’re pulling together our interviews for our next series, and your input really, really matters. So, leave it on iTunes. Head on over there and leave a review so that we know what’s resonating with you and so that more people can find these sorts of conversations.

Our wonderful music for today’s show is by my good friend Ellie Holcomb. Going Scared is produced by Eddie Kaufholz, and I’m Jessica Honegger. Until next time, let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.