Careers

Uber's Bozoma Saint John says she should have ignored this career advice from a female executive

Not all career advice is good career advice.

In an interview with journalist Rebecca Jarvis for her "No Limits" podcast, Uber's Chief Brand Officer Bozoma Saint John reflects on the well-intentioned advice she got from a female executive that turned out to be bad for her success.

She says that early in her career, a senior female executive advised her to never wear red nail polish or red lipstick in the workplace.

"It would be a bold message, and you don't want to do that," she says the executive told her. "You want to be sort of understated and let people take you seriously."

Bozoma Saint John is the Chief Brand Officer at Uber.
Getty Images
Bozoma Saint John is the Chief Brand Officer at Uber.

While Saint John says that she knows the woman hoped to help her career, the thought of silencing her presence actually hurt her.

"The damage it did was made me question whether or not I could be bold in an office because I am a bold person," said Saint John, who served as an Apple executive before joining Uber in June 2017.

"I'm bold in personality, I'm hella tall and I'm hella black," she added. "It's not natural to me. It would make me unproductive in what I do because I would be so focused on being quiet that I can't really show up."

For the first six months after receiving and accepting that advice, Saint John admitted to walking around in a slump as she focused on hiding her personality.

"I was slinking around and not really showing up and not contributing," she said.

Eventually a good friend asked her what was going on, observing that, "This isn't you." Saint John says a light bulb went off that made her realize the only way to succeed is to bring your full self to work.

It's advice that's been offered by many women in leadership positions, including PepesiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, who routinely advises professionals to "bring your whole self to work."

"By bringing your whole self to work you can bring full ideas and the wholeness of you," said Saint John. "You are the only you — so why not bring that?"

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