Edda Collins Coleman is a Managing Director at Cogent Strategies, a certified woman-owned small business specializing in government relations, communications and digital analytics. This interview was conducted by Sheerica Ware Wilkins, a Corporate Research Fellow at Meridian. It is part of a series highlighting and celebrating women leaders during Women’s History Month.
You co-founded a non-profit called the All in Together Campaign (AIT) that is geared towards activating the civic power of women in private senior leadership, and have had great success in convening thousands of women in technology and other sectors. What’s the advantage of businesswomen leading in the social impact space?
Women are often the key decision makers in their households and every other space they inhabit. When we think about the importance of social impact, especially as it relates to recovering from the ongoing health and economic crises, look no further than the local economy to see how women are the ones rebuilding our cities. Especially women of color, who represent the fastest growing segment of small business owners which continues to be the foundational element to our economic restoration. So, I find our presence in spearheading social engagement initiatives to be a seamless transition. We are the natural born leaders in our communities and have been taking things in our own hands and succeeding in the space.
How has your work as a longtime advocate for sickle cell (a disease that greatly impacts people with Sub-Saharan African ancestry) shaped your thoughts on the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on the Black community?
COVID-19 and its ramifications definitely continue to shed light on the inequities of our health care systems on people of color. There is dire need for health equity across the board – right now we are seeing Black communities being hit the hardest by COVID-19 and the compounding socioeconomic factors of the ongoing healthcare crisis continue to widen the ever-growing gap of access to proper medical care.
What’s the best advice you ever received from another woman of color?
Always bring someone else with you. Vice President Harris has repeated a similar sentiment quoting her mother who said, “You may be the first but do not be the last.” Take for instance, the political impact of Black women and the significant role we played in the most recent 2020 elections. That was a community of Black women, working together to support VP Harris – which is emblematic of how I was raised. I was taught to lift as I climb and to pass my expertise along so that the next young Black woman is properly armed to succeed. Don’t just put someone in the room, make sure they are prepared so when they are called upon, they are ready to claim their seat at the table.
What advice do you pass along to other young Black women hoping to lead in your industry?
Make sure you are able to be the most liberated version of yourself no matter where you work. It’s exhausting to have to hide yourself while trying to show up professionally. Black women have had to make so many adjustments just to climb the corporate ladder. If you have to leave your authenticity at home, then it may not be the space for you.
Diplomacy is an art, having a mentor to guide you is fundamental.
How did the mentorship you were provided shape your approach to paying it forward?
Mentorship further helped solidify my philosophy on paying it forward. The roles I’ve held and organizations I’ve chosen to work for assist in fulfilling that mission. I’m immensely proud of the work I did with the Executive Leadership Council that provides corporate America with the pipeline to diverse talent both domestically and abroad.
You’ve mentioned being hopeful about the path forward for foreign policy under the Biden administration. What’s on your mind for the future of diplomatic relations?
My first thought is that diplomacy is back. I’m confident in the actions taken by the foreign affairs committee led by Congressmen Meeks and McCaul within the first weeks of the new Congress. I also trust President Biden’s years of international experience and have new hope as we continue to build back better. By rejoining the Paris Agreement, we are showing that we are ready to work together and the swift confirmation of our new UN ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who was born ready for this opportunity, confirms that the world’s leaders are welcoming us back with open arms.
My second thought is the critical importance of representative leadership at the State Department. The deputy spokesperson for the Department of State is a Black woman for the first time ever. When American messages go out to the world with Jalina Porter’s name and face on them, this will be the face of America. This is key, we are already on the path forward. I’m excited to see what happens next.
Lastly, what does legacy look like for you? What do you hope to leave behind professionally?
My grandmother and her friends would remind me that I am on this planet to help someone else – to lift as I climb. In that same sentiment, I want my legacy to be rooted in my efforts to show the world just how great we are as a people. Much like I stand on the shoulders of my grandmother, and those before her, it is my hope I can do the same for those who come after me.
Read more about Edda’s professional background and current work at Cogent strategies. For more thought leadership from Edda follow her on twitter @EddaColeman.