Bozoma the Magnificent
Bozoma Saint John is well-known for her effervescent and energetic approach to life and work. A popular presence across social media, Saint John is intentional about building her brand as a “badass.” Her signature style of bright and bold silhouettes and fashionista credentials matches her confident persona.
The CMO of Netflix has had a long and illustrious marketing career, including stints at Apple, Pepsi, Uber, and Endeavor. Having held a number of C-suite roles in global and innovative corporations, Saint John is something of a rarity: a Black female executive who is unabashedly clear about creating her own platforms to showcase her professional expertise and life lessons.
In a recent interview with Black Enterprise, in light of a reported $7 million annual salary at Netflix, Saint John noted that “I always asked for whatever a white man is making in that same job.”
I operate in a space of amazement. I truly can't believe the opportunities that I have and the places I'm able to go or the people I'm able to meet.
The mother of one has not only carved out a high profile in her full-time job, but she also keeps herself busy out of the office. Not one to shy away from a challenge, during the pandemic Saint John has not slowed down in her mission to shine and share her wisdom with other women. In June, Saint John launched the Back to Biz podcast with veteran journalist Katie Couric. “In this very moment in time where we are looking at diversity in different ways by listening to different voices, it’s that much more poignant that it’s the two of us asking the questions,” Saint John said in an interview with Variety.
Taking her badass persona even further, Saint John launched the Badass Workshop over the summer. The 60-minute workshops are described on her website as a “blueprint for success.”
“This platform has been carefully curated by me specifically for you, and will provide the tools to create conscious choices for building your life on your terms,” she writes.
CircleAround caught up with Saint John to hear more about her projects and her approach to staying happy and healthy.
CircleAround: Despite the pandemic, you’ve launched new projects like the Back to Biz podcast and the Badass Workshop. How did each of these projects come about, and why are they important offerings during this uncertain time?
Bozoma Saint John: In this time of increased discussion but seemingly less understanding, Katie [Couric] and I wanted to talk about topics that we could potentially help shed light onto. Our different styles, experiences, and approaches to topics also helped to add dimension to the conversations with empathy and humanity. I'm so glad that we were able to bring people together to understand their perspectives in this time of a health crisis, combined with political, racial, and social unrest.
I've often been asked how I've been able to create my career while still being me — because we don't see a lot of people who look like me in the corporate spaces and seats I occupy. I've answered these questions in brief social media responses to comments, or in Q&A sessions on stages, but I felt that I needed to take the time to expand on the lessons I've learned [with the Badass Workshop]. Given our current state in being sheltered at home, I decided that there's no better time than the present to sit down to go in depth.
CA: How else are you keeping busy “at work” during the pandemic? How are you keeping focused and engaged?
BSJ: I have a lot going on! Ha! For me, it's more so about prioritizing the important tasks and making sure that I'm observing boundaries since, like many of us, my professional and personal lives are so intertwined that I need to make sure I'm taking care of myself. That means I've become very dependent on my schedule. I take meaningful time for meals, exercise, and sleep!
CA: What surprising positives have been evident during the pandemic, if any?
BSJ: It's probably not surprising, but for me the most positive outcome of the pandemic has been my time with my daughter at home. Even though we are both still busy with work and school, at least we're in the same space, so the quick five-minute check-in during the day is such a gift. And I treasure it.
CA: Your positivity, energy, and smarts shine through in everything you do. What keeps you grounded and focused?
BSJ: I operate in a space of amazement. I truly can't believe the opportunities that I have and the places I'm able to go or the people I'm able to meet. And so I'm wildly enthusiastic about it all, because I don't take any of it for granted. It's a miracle to be here, so how could I not be amazed?
The key is to be impatient. Don't wait when you're told to wait until next year for the increase you deserve today.
CA: Speaking from your own experience, what are the kinds of challenges women are likely to encounter as they advance in their professional careers? What tips do you have to overcome those obstacles?
BSJ: The challenges women are most likely to encounter as they advance are not new — it's still about value. How much are women worth? We still fight for pay equity and consideration for promotions/advancement. The key is to be impatient. Don't wait when you're told to wait until next year for the increase you deserve today or wait until the next cycle to be considered for the big project or job. That impatience will keep you pushing forward and being unapologetically relentless.
CA: You’ve had an incredibly successful career. What kind of advice can you offer specifically to Black/POC women looking for tips on how to excel?
BSJ: Ask for help. The old trope of being "strong" is a lie. Asking for help doesn't mean weakness. We have to be able to be vulnerable in spaces — and that is very hard given how much our trust has been broken. But there are great people who will champion us and give great advice. We just have to be vulnerable enough to ask for help and find them.
CA: Self-confidence, self-awareness, and ultimately being true to yourself is core to your business and brand. When and how did you discover these superpowers?
BSJ: It's a practice over time — there was no "aha" moment. I find confidence daily by continuing to prove to myself my ability to excel — and to get back up after failure.
CA: How do you incorporate these values into leadership and/or mentorship?
BSJ: People get better over time. Sure there is raw talent, but even the most successful people in every industry have become great because they invest time into their craft. So I expect and encourage my teams and those I advise to put in the time.
CA: Can you tell us about any women who have inspired you at different moments during your career, or even in the present moment — and why?
BSJ: My mother constantly inspires me because she's a true innovator. She was always hustling to find a way to make her own money, even though she was a homemaker. She made sure that she was creating businesses and sharpening her own abilities. I've also been inspired by women like Jerri DeVard and Anne Fudge, who are my personal icons in marketing/advertising, because they allowed me to dream bigger dreams and see that I could be myself at the board table. I'm also inspired by personal friends like Arianna Huffington, who has continuously advised me along the way in my career journey.
CA: What is a common thread that you see women entrepreneurs face?
BSJ: The common thread is a general lack of support, so the opportunity in that is to build the network by utilizing friends/family/community to reach the goal. Women are often faced with the choice of starting/maintaining a family versus being ambitious in their careers. It's an obvious one, but one that we still need to shine a light on in order to make a more equitable society. We all need a village of supporters. Those who will cheer even our most ambitious ideas.