Chris-Tia Donaldson, entrepreneur, author, attorney and philanthropist, is a model for how women can intersect their passions to create a holistic self-care brand for women. While serving as an inspiration to others, Chris-Tia glistens her light on me, having taught me the importance of being quiet and still while making plans for the future and the importance of investing in myself and being resilient.
At age 36, Chris-Tia was diagnosed with breast cancer, but she did not give up. She leaned on her team at Thanks God It’s Natural, her organic skin and haircare product line, while she focused on healing and fighting breast cancer. During her treatment, she observed that few organizations existed to provide support and social services to women with transportation, child care, parking, or seeking disability leave from their place of employment. Today, she uses her success in the beauty space to advocate for women experiencing financial difficulties, who are undergoing treatment, to highlight health disparities due to race and socioeconomic factors, and to empower women to listen to their bodies through the tgin Foundation. Through her latest book, This is Only a Test: What Breast Cancer Taught me about Faith, Love, Hair and Business, Chris-Tia reflects on her journey as a black woman in corporate America and shares the lessons that life has taught her. From faith, family, and relationships to the importance of embracing gifts and defining success on one’s own terms, she shows how all women can follow their dreams while still staying true to their own needs, physically and emotionally.
Recently, we partnered together to host a self-care program for women in Chicago entitled, “Glisten + Grace: An Ode to Self-Love.”
For a bit, my mom was a single mother to two young kids (myself and my younger brother). She worked her way up at a bank from teller to AVP and mortgage underwriter. Physically, mentally and spiritually, she pushed herself out of her comfort zone and sought for both me and my brother to do the same. She has always had a spirit of constant improvement. I made it through college and law school with her support and guidance, and I know that taking this leap into recruiting was inspired by her and the desire to chase a career that fulfills me.
When I was at a law firm as a paralegal, most of the women around me were in administrative roles with very few partners and senior associates. Those women were making their own way to gain career success in a largely male-dominated power structure. Mentoring was not a thing; it was more like every woman for herself. Much of what I learned from them was observation—their own trial and error, if you will. There were a couple of women, however, who generously offered their guidance. Sometimes it was something as simple as tips on business travel as a woman alone. There was one partner, in particular, who gave me a piece of advice I will never forget: “Wrap your steel fist in a velvet glove.” We had a discussion about striking the balance of expressing an opinion or contributing to a discussion with different or bold ideas while balancing the right amount forcefulness, which as a woman is needed at times to even be heard. That advice is the gift that keeps on giving.
Later, as I started my legal recruiting career and long before I joined the firm, I was a client of MLA. One of my early encounters was with Marty Africa. She was a force and always her own woman. I could wax on about the many ways she influenced and encouraged me and about the things I learned from her, but her tidbits of advice echo in my mind to this day. Sometimes just watching her work was so incredibly valuable.
I will always be grateful for the support, encouragement, friendship and example of the professional women who have made a difference in my life. I may not have told them in so many words, but I hope they all know.
Nancy Reiner has influenced my life not only as a friend, but she changed my career trajectory. I met Nancy in the spring of 2008 after I relocated to Boston for my husband’s job. I, unfortunately, has been laid off right before we moved to Boston, and found myself somewhat rudderless at the time.
I started networking and interviewing. Nancy was opening a competitor search firm and hired me to join her. We figured things out together. She always treated me as an equal even though she has been a large law firm partner and knew everyone in Boston. She was quick with mentorship and sage advice when I needed it. After nearly four years together, she was recruited to join MLA. She very thoughtfully suggested that I would be a great addition to the interim legal team. And the rest, as they say, is history.
I would not be where I am without her, and I thank her for EVERYTHING—including writing the recommendation that led to us adopting Whitney.
My grandmother Margaret Fredella (nee Hay) was from a small town in upstate New York, and her parents did not believe in sending girls to college. She was, according to her, the only one in her family with any brains at all, so she found this policy unbearable. She ran away with the local bad boy, my grandfather, and they eloped and lived in NYC with their two children. Even though she never went to college, my grandmother wanted a career and she went to the one place that wasn’t a school or a hospital that hired women: the phone company. She likely started out as some kind of secretary, but by the time she retired, she was running a department of her own. (The photo is of her and her team.) The men are all wearing what was standard 1960s office attire, fairly casual, but she felt compelled to dress up every day—it was one of her tools for commanding respect.
Her other tools were her sharp mind and her unbeatable toughness. People called her “the dragon lady.” Decades later, when my mother also carved out a career at AT&T, people were still calling her mother that. The two women had different last names so no one realized the connection, and my mother heard a lot of stories about this feared and respected dragon lady. Apparently, it was her idea to charge different rates for telephone calls at different times of day. The company was looking for a solution to a traffic flow problem, and she independently studied the issue and presented the solution that was embraced for decades after by just about every phone service provider in the country.
Despite all this, I still have the “normal” memories of my grandma – cooking, cleaning, spoiling her grandchildren – because she had to live two lives. She worked full time in an office, and she worked full time at home. Grandpa would never have tolerated anything less, and it was his condition for permitting her to work at all. He considered it a great embarrassment that his wife would work in an office and forbade her from talking about it at home. Still, even though she was mostly quiet about the subject, she was clearly an inspiration for her daughter and her daughter’s daughter (me).
She used to tell me all the time, whenever I got myself into trouble: “For all your days prepare and meet them ever alike. When you are the anvil, bear. When you are the hammer, strike.” Because, like her, I am headstrong and outspoken, it took me a really long time to develop my anvil side, but she was right: There is strength in choosing your moments and biding your time. Had she not known how to be both anvil and hammer, she would never have been able to succeed professionally or stay married to her husband. I have a much easier time of balancing both, and I cannot possibly imagine how hard she must have worked or how tired she must have been.