An Interview with Charmaine McClarie
by Dana Fitchett
When Charmaine McClarie and I first shared space at BlackFemaleProject's 2016 Spring Conference, I felt connected to her dynamic energy well before she presented any information or advice to those of us in the audience. Long, lean, self-assured, and undeniably—but effortlessly—glamorous, she was sporting a fresh pixie cut, edgy cat-eye frames, and a fabulously unique structured black top. When her time to share came, I was only more drawn to her.
Charmaine, an Executive Coach with over 20 years of experience and an impressive list of accolades in her field, is President of McClarie Group, a Los Angeles-based consulting firm; on faculty at multiple higher education institutions; and a mentor in formal and casual capacities.
My initial impression that Charmaine is a sister who is unapologetically herself was validated and amplified when we spent time connecting one-on-one for this piece. I was eager to soak up Charmaine’s story and wisdom, and humbled by her genuine interest in soaking up mine as well; this is just evidence of her commitment to “pass the baton any way that [she] can,” combined with her love for being stretched by others, as she says it. Discovery of self-worth is at the center of her personal story and at the center of her coaching work. “My objective… is to help [people] see what they really bring to the table,” says Charmaine. “It’s an affirmation as opposed to a question.” Even though our conversation was motivated by me interviewing Charmaine, I realize when I reflect on it that she was walking her talk in the ways she engaged me; she was discovering and affirming me as I was discovering her.
Still on the topic of discovery, Charmaine wants “people to be excited about the discovery… that it is potential. It’s responsibility. What are some of the rewards for that? And what are some of the consequences for knowing who you are?” This concept of the consequences of knowing who we are resonates with me, and I ask her to say a bit more about it. She shares, “Some of those consequences are the consequences of the people we surround ourselves with… When we surpass what somebody else had in mind, it’s almost like survivor’s guilt.” But Charmaine is blessed with the ability to see through complex and multiple lenses; she knows that being a strong, unique, self-assured Black woman will have different effects in different spaces. “I know when I come in the door, it’s a whole lot of folks that are not expecting me… I also know that, when I come in the door, sometimes the floodgates are open… For some folks, they assume, ‘Well, she had to have gone through a whole lot of hoops to get here.’”
We talked a good amount about the idea of thriving professionally and what that looks like. For Charmaine, to thrive professionally is “to be really clear about who you are and how you want to show up.” The process of self-discovery is then the precursor to self-assurance and self-definition, powerful and vital tools for all of us. Charmaine shares that, “If we don’t define ourselves, others will. And their definition will inevitably be inadequate.” Given dominant narratives of people of color and women—and of Black women specifically—the stakes are even higher for us.
And even when we get all of these tools under our belts, there’s still one more crucial step to actualizing all the work we’ve done: “Really stepping out is the lesson,” according to Charmaine. Acknowledging that even though some people just “have it,” that’s not what determines their success: “The reason that they really have it is because they step out. There are lots of Oprahs walking around this world. Oprah stepped out.” Inequitable social realities impact the likelihood of who tends to step out, of course. “The difference for people of color,” Charmaine says, “is that we don’t always have the example of what that looks like when we are growing up.”
I’m excited for the opportunity for the BlackFemaleProject's community to step out during “Successful, Savvy and Strategic: YOU!" a Leadership Workshop facilitated by Charmaine on Saturday, September 17, 2016.
Successful, Savvy and Strategic: YOU!
Visit www.savvyyou.eventbrite.com for more information and to register online.