Communicating Authenticity with Charmaine McClarie
by Dana Fitchett

On Saturday, September 17, Charmaine McClarie guided the BlackFemaleProject community through a dynamic, enlightening, and practical workshop: Successful, Savvy, and Strategic: You!

Early on in the day, Charmaine named her goal as helping us to show up as all of ourselves—how to effectively bring all of our Blackness into the workplace while being thoughtful and intentional about how we navigate the challenges of professional life. She accomplished this goal not by explaining or telling us how to carry ourselves, but rather by engaging us in thoughtful activities and roleplays throughout our time together so that we could leave with applicable new approaches to real-time workplace challenges.

The first activity Charmaine led us in highlighted the power of perception and distinguished between what we say and how we’re heard. After brainstorming lists of self-describing adjectives, we dove into a conversation comparing and contrasting the words “passionate” and “emotional.” These words can be seen as similar—or rather, we can intend to use them similarly—but can actually achieve incredibly different impressions, some less desirable than others. While the quality of being “passionate” is often admired, to describe a woman as “emotional” suggests to some a degree of instability, weakness, or irrationality. Charmaine invited us to consider which of these impressions we want to give, as opposed to just considering what the self-describing terms we use mean to us. 

This exercise grounded the idea of the power of language in a very concrete example, and the point that most resonated with me was the idea that we can shift the word choices we make without shifting who we are. In this activity as well as the rest of her time presenting, Charmaine was clearly committed to addressing the question of authenticity, even before it was inevitably raised. To this point, she made the important distinction between knowing how to speak so that people hear you versus filtering yourself, and she also acknowledged the fine and blurry line between these two things.


At the center of Charmaine’s work with us was really the idea that communication is the determinant of whether or not all else we have to offer gets seen, understood, etc., and that communication, then, is really the determinant of success. She shared some powerful data about what people remember when spoken to: 38 percent of the memory is vocal or how we sound; 55% is visual; and only 7% is verbal, based on what we actually say. Thus, if we want to have positive impact on the impression we’re making, it’s in our best interest to align all three of these aspects of our delivery.

These are just a few snippets from the brief but impactful Successful, Savvy, and Strategic: You! Charmaine crafted a powerful, resonant, and real experience and those of us who were able to attend left better prepared to navigate the challenges ahead, and to answer the question: How do we bridge the gap between how people see us and how we want them to see us?

Special thanks to Jontanika Battle for providing speaker accommodation sponsorship; Kiwii and Khepera Films for photography; Che Abram and Ericka Duke for volunteering and PJS Consultants team members Cathy Barragan, April Fenall, and Ted Aquino for work behind the scenes.