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“There is a seat at the table for you”

February 2024: Houston associate Princess Rogers shares her personal connection to this year's Black History month theme of "African Americans and the Arts", her own career story plus advice to the next generation of Black professionals.

Black History Month is a time to reflect
During Black History Month, I reserve time to reflect on the Black Americans that came before me, who put their lives on the line so that I can freely move about and have a seat at the table. It's a reminder to me that there has been and there still is a struggle to gain equal opportunity for Black Americans.

I feel personally deeply connected to this year's theme of "African Americans and the Arts."
The first books that I ever picked up outside of school were by Black authors like Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison. I fell in love with Black film at a very early age, and it's been great to see how African Americans' contributions to film have evolved over time. Furthermore, Black culture has had an undeniable impact on the fashion and music industries. For example, hip-hop has a global influence, impacting generations beyond just music, dance and fashion. We also see hip-hop having an impact on education, marketing, politics, and even technology.

Seeing the diversity of the people at White & Case was important to me
I came here as a lateral associate two years ago. There's plenty more work to do here, and across the legal sector in general, but I can see the diversity in who the Firm is hiring, from the summer associate class upwards. It's important to see people who look like me, so that I know that the next step is attainable.

Education and training is important: we all have biases
Simply having a diverse workforce doesn't necessarily mean it's completely equitable or inclusive. We all bring different biases, both conscious and unconscious. We do a lot of workshops to recognize and overcome implicit and explicit biases and understand institutional racism. Everyone can learn something, no matter their background. However, what matters the most is that everyone who goes along to those workshops does a meaningful self-check afterwards.

Being a Black woman brings its own unique challenges
As a woman, I know that many of my female colleagues experience the same challenges in terms of how we address certain situations or communicate. What can be seen as assertive or powerful in a man, can come across as "sassy" from a woman. And potentially even as "angry" or "aggressive" if you're a Black woman. The Black Affinity Network, and our Women's Network here in Houston, are both useful sounding boards to discuss these kind of challenges.

Find your champions
In my own career, I have found that having a sponsor – someone who will advocate for you – is really important. I have a few mentors. Their support extends beyond mentorship and advice, they are also actively ensuring that I get to where I am trying to go, gain the experience I desire and have the right frame of mind on my way there. They are often available to help me navigate particular situations and see the bigger picture.

Make room for people who challenge you too
Mentorship and sponsorship are important, but you also need to hear from people who will challenge you. That's not to say that they'll knock you down, but you want to hear from someone objective. Try to maintain a good level of self-awareness and be open to alternative takes on whatever decision you are facing.

My advice: remember you deserve to be there
My biggest advice to Black professionals is to not lose sight of who they are. We all experience imposter syndrome. This coupled with many other challenges can really impact your self-esteem. Remember what it took to get here, know that there is a seat at the table for you and never forget that you deserve to be there.

Artwork in header banner ©Kip Omolade, Child of the Crown (detail), 2024