Boss Lady is a series that shares personal insights from creative women in business. This week, we chat with Dr. Francine Edwards, an Associate Professor of Mass Communications at Delaware State University. Dr. Edwards began her career in the television industry covering news, entertainment, and sports, as well as producing award winning documentaries and co-hosting live shows on the Black Entertainment Television network. Next she moved to public affairs, launching several celebrity endorsed healthcare campaigns before moving towards her passion of teaching.
1) Having worked at BET for 11 years, what is the most valuable lesson you learned from your time there?
Robert Johnson, owner of BET, was probably the most empowering boss I’ve ever had. His advice to his employees was to step outside of your own box and to always be looking for the next opportunity. Mr. Johnson always said that he didn’t expect us to stay at BET and that when we moved on, what people in the industry would see in us is the work ethic, creativity and skills we learned from BET being put into action.
2) What has been the key to your success in the world of mass media?
I’ve always been willing to learn, be innovative and I know how to reinvent myself.
3) What challenges have you faced as a woman throughout your career?
In looking at the workforce as a whole, women of color face colorism (in my own experience what I mean is a light vs dark complexion issue because that was something I dealt with early in my career) and I also find that there is a thin line between being aggressive and commanding respect and being perceived as too forceful. I believe that I’ve broken down walls by finding that balance and being able to provide proof of my worth/value in my research, production ability, and that fact that I have had the opportunity to speak at conferences or serve in leadership roles within various organizations.
4) When did you realize teaching was a passion of yours?
I started graduate school several years after the BET show was canceled. I was in a world that was polar opposite of the corporate or government sector; supportive, engaging and I truly felt valued. I could see the impact that I was having on students and that’s when I realized my true passion and the greatest blessing was being able to continue my love for the media, just in a different way.
5) How did you approach the process of seeking out new professional opportunities?
My career just fell into my lap. After completing the Master’s program at Bowie State University, the faculty encouraged me to pursue the PhD and they provide so much support. Howard University was the ideal place for me to pursue the PhD as well and there I had excellent mentors.
6) Why did you decide to work in communications?
I can honestly say it was a life-long dream. I always wanted to be like Barabara Walters. I admired the fact that she was a groundbreaking female journalists who paved the way for so many women in media. As I got older I realized the power of the media and wanted to be someone who could educate through visual storytelling. My proudest moments are winning NAACP Imagr awards for documentary and production work, so looking back I can see the impact that I had as a journalist and producer.
7) Who inspires you?
So cliche but I have to say my mother. She was an engineer at NASA who went back to school after having a family and supporting our dad with his educational aspirations. She worked in a very male dominated world but worked hard in her union to fight for equal rights for women in the workplace. She also made it a priority to balance her career and family and never once let us down.
8) What gets you up in the morning?
Knowing that my kids look up to me and expect me to be an example and source of encouragement for them.
9) What would you tell other women looking to kick off a career in communications/media?
The truth! Today’s broadcast world or media landscape is not what it used to be! What are you going to do to set yourself apart from the next citizen journalist/producer and those who are trained in the craft? You can’t make excuses and you have to find work-arounds to any problem that may present itself to you. And lastly, think quickly on your feet or you will miss the story.
10) What do you enjoy the most about your position at Delaware State University?
Everyday I get to make a difference in the life of a young person who may otherwise not have a chance or an adult to listen to them and take them seriously. This is a space where we are supposed to encourage students to be exploratory and accept both the challenges and victories and my job is to support them through both so that in four years they are ready for career success.