Huma Abedin rang in her 48th birthday by sharing a few hard-won pearls of wisdom about getting uncomfortable, facing the unknown, taking up space, and being true to yourself above all else.
The longtime aide to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, MSNBC contributor, and vice chair of the Forbes and Know Your Value “30/50 Summit,” gave the keynote speech at the 8th annual ColorComm Conference Signature Luncheon on July 28, which connects more than 400 multicultural executive leaders from across the communications, marketing, advertising, and digital industries.
When Abedin was deputy chief of staff for Secy. Hillary Clinton, she recalled a key lesson she learned at the time.
“I had a big job … very substantive, lots of important meetings, and I briefed the senior staff, the State Department, the White House,” she explained. “Cheryl Mills made history as the first Black woman to serve both as counselor and chief of staff to a sitting Secretary of State [and she] pulls me aside [to say] I have noticed that you haven't manifested yourself in any of these meetings, not one.”
Until that moment, Abedin admitted she never though she needed a seat at the table. Mills helped her realize her role as a leader in the office, on State trips, and her influence among world leaders.
“Sometimes you need somebody to do that for you,” Abedin said. “The women who came before us – Hillary [Clinton], Gloria Steinem, Dolores Huerta, Maya Angelou – they make us uncomfortable, they get loud, but that is how they've had an impact and they've done it on our behalf … That responsibility falls on all of our shoulders.”
The political analyst pointed out that today more than half of women who come from marginalized racial and ethnic communities across the country and abroad report that they have faced some form of discrimination in the workplace.
“There are ways to address it, to talk about it,” Abedin said. “You have to create those spaces and places for women to come … that is why ColorComm is so important … it's why I choose to spend as much time as possible with younger people because the possibility to progress, the founding of companies that you're doing, they're creating businesses and networks and telling your stories.”
The “Both/And” author left the audience with her top advice for living authentically, fighting for the opportunity all women deserve, and rising to the occasion.
“Treasure your female friendships … don't take [them] for granted,” she urged. “Find a mentor – somebody who can see things in you that you don’t see in yourself – somebody that can give you constructive criticism.
For Abedin, building her support community proved crucial to leaping outside her comfort zone.
“Consider doing the thing that scares you the most,” she added. “I am doing it now, which is speaking out to the world, sharing my life, going on TV, all things I never in a million years thought I would ever do – and I don't doubt that it was the right thing to do.”
The organization also recognized two NBCUniversal leaders with the ColorComm Circle Award, the only awards ceremony to honor women of color in communications: NBC News EVP of Programming, Janelle Rodriguez; and NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises EVP, and Chief Administrative and Marketing Officer, Monica Gil.
Attendees heard from several other Comcast and NBCUniversal executives, including MSNBC President Rashida Jones, who explained how she leads the network as a woman of color.
Telemundo chief administrative and marketing officer, Monica Gil, along with Comcast Corporation EVP and Chief Diversity Officer, Dalila Wilson-Scott, and Jeanne Mau, NBCUniversal’s SVP, TV Programming Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, participated in a panel moderated by MSNBC host Alicia Menendez.
That discussion focused on how women of color can break through in the corporate world, create space for themselves, bring others along, and lead authentically.
After four years of a conference hiatus, attendees celebrated the renewal and return of ColorComm. “If you can find that growing for yourself [and] reconnect in communities like this, the possibilities you can imagine and reimagine are endless,” Abedin said.