8 must-read books this Black History Month

Must-read books for BHM

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Be honest: how many books have you read since the start of the new year? If the number is a lot lower than you’d like to admit, you’re not alone.

Americans say they read an average of 12.6 books during the past year, a smaller number than Gallup has measured in any prior survey dating back to 1990. In the past, women read nearly twice as many books as men did, but the gap has narrowed as the average U.S. woman read 15.7 books last year, compared with 19.3 between 2002 and 2016. Over the same period, men’s readership declined by barely one book, to 9.5.

To mark Black History Month, MBAchic is highlighting Black MBAs, leaders, entrepreneurs, authors, and changemakers. Reading books by Black writers is especially important during Black History Month because by celebrating and supporting Black authors and publishers we can enable more authentic storytelling that reflects Black experiences, identities and voices. 

Jumpstart your 2023 reading list by diving into eight must-read books by Black authors. These women are leading organizations and driving change, inspiring us to bring our best selves to work (and home), and sprinkling some serious life and career knowledge inside every page. We promise you won’t be able to put down these must reads. So grab a cup of coffee, throw on your coziest pair of sweats and get going.

BHM Must-Read: We Should  All Be Millionaires by Rachel Rodgers

We Should All Be Millionaires by Rachel Rodgers

Major themes: Gaining economic power, tactical wealth building, money mindset, legacy building, financial freedom.

About the book: In her own words, author Rachel Rodgers wants to help you feel like a flourishing, wealthy badass who is completely unstoppable. Want to unlock a game plan to make more money, change your reality, and create a positive community impact in 2023? If you’ve been itching to dive into the data surrounding all the systemic disadvantages in women’s lives that affect wealth building, but you want actionable steps to change your financial future – read this book. Rodgers points out how on the whole, women earn less than men, pay more for our debt than men, are less likely to invest than men, and are 80% more likely to be impoverished in retirement. 

With a focus on underrepresented groups, We Should All Be Millionaires explores the widened wealth gap for Black women, women of color, LGBTQIA+ women, disabled women, women who are not thin, women who grew up low-income, and all women with intersecting inequalities. Arguing that when marginalized populations become wealthier, everyone wins, Rodgers outlines how women can stop shrinking and start expanding to make more money, understand how an unequal system prevents women from reaching financial goals, and engage in effective methods to gain prosperity. 

About the author: Author Rachel Rodgers is an intellectual property attorney, business coach, and writer. Rodgers started her career working for state and federal judges, nonprofits, and Hillary Clinton. She is also the creator of the Hello Seven Podcast and the founder of We Should All Be Millionaires: The Club.

What readers are saying:

“As Black women, we are accustomed to the story that we are required to struggle in order to find financial stability or success. This book needs to be read by every woman who is ready for a blueprint for being joyful, finding ease, and growing wealth while standing up for causes that need our voices and attention.”

— Rachel Cargle, Author and Anti-Racism Activist 

“This book will shift your entire mindset around finances, wealth and worth, and success.” 

— Jeneta Hot, MBAchic Founder 

Black History Month Must-Read: The Memo by Minda Harts

The Memo by Minda Harts

Major themes: Gender wage gap, career guide, women of color networking, corporate success.

About the book: The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table centers around empowering women of color to take action and face workplace obstacles head on in a pursuit of higher achievements and greater selfcare. From microaggressions to the wage gap, The Memo serves up actionable advice to navigating barriers and building a sustainable path to success. Specifically tailored for women of color, Harts acknowledges “ugly truths” that keep women of color from having a seat at the table in corporate America. Explore tactics to traverse office politics, negotiations and create impactful change to the system in this far cry from one-size-fits-all business books. 

To learn more about what healing looks like for women of color in the workplace and what role leadership can play in creating equitable environments where everyone feels empowered, valued, and seen, MBAchic sat down to speak with Minda Harts in 2022. Check out our full interview here to learn more about how Minda says we can all be working towards building more equitable workplaces.

About the author: Workplace and Equity Consultant Minda Harts is a bestselling and award-winning author of The Memo, Right Within, and You Are More Than Magic. She has built her post-corporate America career on speaking her truth and helping others to sift through the uncomfortable moments to find their own. Harts believes every person has a voice: it’s just a matter of deciding how to use it. She hopes everyone from prospective employees to C-Suite executives will consider how their piece of the collective puzzle can make their workplace better than they found it.

What readers are saying: 

“An essential and honest guide to taking our rightful place in the C-Suite with tangible solutions about how to break barriers and pave a new path for ourselves and the next generation.”

— Jamia Wilson, Director and Publisher of the Feminist Press

“We originally connected through Minda’s Secure the Seat discussion years ago, and I was immediately drawn to her honesty and openness in sharing her journey and expertise around experiences that were not widely discussed before 2020. The Memo is a book that everyone should read, to make you a stronger manager and contributor to any workplace and community.”

— Jeneta Hot, MBAchic Founder 

BHM Must-Read: Driven by Intention by Michelle Gadsden-Williams

Driven by Intention by Michelle Gadsden-Williams

Major themes: Setting intentions vs setting goals, defining your meaning by impact, transforming company culture, leveraging your assets, managing your financial life, and men as allies for female leaders. 

About the book: A book for impact seekers who want to make a real difference at work, in the world, and in their own lives, Driven by Intention: Own Your Purpose, Gain Power, and Pursue Your Passion as a Woman at Work by Gadsden-Williams packs a powerful punch. Driven by Intention shows how intention is about so much more than simply setting goals: it’s figuring out why we choose what we want to do and how we get this done in order to seamlessly execute and achieve our passions. Simply put, intention is the “secret sauce” of realizing your vision – at home, at work, or wherever you have passions worth pursuing.

How do you rise to the top in your field? Driven by Intention is an effective blueprint for success, offering inspiring examples to follow. Through thorough profiles of twelve highly accomplished women (and one executive chairman who is a male ally), tried and tested lessons are shared and explored. From women who had to forge their own paths, faced uncertainty or incredible odds and still managed to rise above it all and establish uber successful careers for themselves, you’ll find relatable strategies and tactics embedded in their honest stories. A must read if you’re seeking practical career steps to take now and ways to reimagine what comes next.

About the author: As Managing Director & Global Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion of BlackRock, Michelle Gadsden-Williams is responsible for further strengthening and accelerating the company’s efforts to foster an inclusive culture. Renowned as a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategist and thought leader, she combines decades of professional c-suite experience within corporate America with research-based insights, proven strategies, and effective exercises to provide the tools you need to change your life through intentional actions. 

Early in her career, MBAchic Founder Jeneta Hot recalls looking up to Gadsden-Williams as a respected leader at her firm and they connected during the relaunch of MBAchic: “we both spoke at the Wharton Women’s Summit where she delivered a powerful keynote about putting your hand up for opportunities and how cultivating your network and investing in your relationships earnestly will serve you for years to come.”

What readers are saying: 

“In writing Driven by Intention, Michelle Gadsden-Williams has developed a wonderful resource for professionals from all walks of life who are committed to bringing their best selves to all aspects of their lives. She presents a powerful take on what it means to contemplate our deepest desires and aspirations and to pursue that ‘inner voice.’ Drawing on insights from a variety of renowned leaders and her own decades-long experience as a corporate leader, Gadsden-Williams effectively inspires readers to live life on their own terms even when that contradicts a ‘socially approved path.’ She also motivates us to be relentless in pursuing our intentions—no matter how big or small they may appear.”

— Stephanie J. Creary, PhD, Organizational Scholar and Management Professor at University of Pennsylvania (The Wharton School)

Black History Month Must-Read: Shared Sisterhood by Tina Opie and Beth Livingston

Shared Sisterhood by Tina Opie and Beth Livingston

Major themes: Gender equity, racial equity, racioethnicity, advancing women, authentic relationships, collective action. 

About the book: Ready to dig deeper into race and gender equity? Shared Sisterhood offers readers the opportunity to join a movement to drive gender and racial equity in organizations. Using personal stories and thorough research, the authors expand on space beyond individual solutions toward collective action, where people from historically power-dominant and marginalized groups work together, so that all women experience the benefits of professional growth and equity. In 2018, Dr. Opie realized she needed “a White Sister to help me: a paradigm exhorting sisterhood needed a sisterhood to create it.” Soon, she writes, the “shared sisterhood sparks flew.” Since then, she and professor Beth A. Livingston have worked together to spread the word to leaders across organizations, with thousands of followers joining the cause. In this book, they explain how to use vulnerability, trust, empathy, and risk-taking to build Shared Sisterhood. The three keys to Dr. Opie and Dr. Livingston’s approach are digging in, bridging the divide, and advancing all women across organizations through collective action. 

At the end of each of the first six chapters there are reflection questions thoughtfully organized into three categories: Thinking, Feeling, and Doing. This book is bound to help you balance your path forward as you make a concerted effort to create long lasting social impact with grace and personal accountability.

MBAchic caught up with Dr. Opie just as Shared Sisterhood was hitting shelves to talk about workplace equity, why our differences need to be celebrated, and why she feels optimistic despite a racio-ethnic landscape that can be downright hostile. Catch our interview here

About the authors: An award-winning researcher and Associate Professor of Management at Babson College, Dr. Opie advises small and large firms as a consultant. As the creator of the Shared Sisterhood movement, she helps organizations work towards gender and racial equality. As she puts it, while being a woman is not a requirement to join the sisterhood – being ready to dive into hard conversations is. Dr. Livingston is an Associate Professor in Management and Entrepreneurship at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business. As a researcher, speaker, and consultant working with companies and nonprofits, her work focuses on human resources, gender and diversity, and the management of work and family structures. 

What readers are saying: 

“In this powerful book on how to build bridges across race and gender divides, Opie and Livingston share actionable advice for handling difficult conversations with compassion and vulnerability—and advancing structural and cultural change in your workplace.” 

— Adam Grant, #1 New York Times bestselling author, Think Again; host, TED WorkLife podcast

“Tina Opie and Beth Livingston are incredibly generous with their expertise and time, drawing on years of experience and research and working with countless organizations, and they offer lessons for everyone, regardless of your position, to be truly inclusive and successful in the workplace.”

— Jeneta Hot, MBAchic 

BHM Must-Read: Where You Are Is Not Who You Are by Ursula Burns

Where You Are Is Not Who You Are by Ursula M. Burns 

Major themes: Business leadership, economics, African American and Black studies

About the book: In this no-nonsense book, part memoir and part cultural critique, Burns writes movingly about her personal journey toward becoming the Chief Executive Officer of the Xerox Corporation. Where You Are Is Not Who You Are discusses overcoming barriers, as well as the challenges and realities of the corporate world. Keeping it candid and outspoken, Burns gives readers a remarkable peek inside the c-suites of corporate America through the eyes of a Black woman. She compares the impact of the pandemic to the financial crisis of 2007, condemns how corporate culture is destroying the spirit of democracy, and offers perspective on how being the “only or the few” in a room can be an empowering space if you know how to play it right. 

Empathetic and dedicated, idealistic and pragmatic, Where You Are Is Not Who You Are demonstrates that no matter your circumstances, hard work, grit and a bit of help along the way can change more than just your life. It can change the world. Burns prints lessons derived from her mother throughout her memoir, and isolates six key takeaways on the final page. We will leave you with two of the takeaways here, but you’ll have to read the book to unlock all six:

“Leave behind more than you take away.”

“Don’t let the world happen to you. You happen to the world.”

About the author: As a business executive, Ursula Burns is best known for her time serving as chairman and CEO of the Xerox Corporation. Breaking barriers as the first Black woman to serve as CEO of a Fortune 500 company, she regularly attributes her success and drive to her mother, a Panama immigrant who worked every possible job to help Ursula and her two siblings succeed. She attended Brooklyn Polytech, now known as Polytechnic Institute of New York University, and landed her first position as an engineering intern at Xerox in 1980 at just 19. These days she is a board member for enterprises like VEON, Diageo and Uber, with many viewing her corporate climb as the model of success for anyone wanting to move up the ranks of leadership and pioneer in their field. 

What readers are saying: 

“Run, don’t walk, to buy this book about the amazing life and career of Ursula Burns, who rose to lead and help save the Fortune 500 company, Xerox. If you’re looking for life and business lessons about how to navigate both as a black woman, this book is for you. If you’re wondering why girls should study STEM subjects and become engineers in our changing economy, you’ll understand why. And if you’re ready to be inspired during this difficult time in America, Ursula’s story of being a poor immigrant’s daughter delivers.”  

— Hillary Rodham Clinton

Black History Month Must-Read: Lead to Win by Carla Harris

Lead to Win by Carla A. Harris 

Major themes: Business, transformational leadership, power, Pearls of Wisdom

About the book: In the follow up to Expect to Win and Strategize to Win, multi-hyphenate and powerhouse Carla Harris dives into the evolution from individual contributor to manager and all the transformation that is required of an emerging leader. Drawing on decades of experience as a veteran on Wall Street, a speaker, author, mentor and accomplished gospel singer, Harris shares the eight things leaders must invest in, to have real impact in their workplace and beyond: authenticity, building trust, creating other leads, clarity, diversity, innovation, inclusivity and voice.

This book comes at a time where everything about how we live and do business as changed, and Harris examines the changes required of leadership today to remain influential and successful at managing teams and organizations and developing the next generation of leaders. If you’ve grown to enjoy Harris’ “Pearls of Wisdom” over the years, don’t miss this book to help bring you to the next level in your life and career.

About the author: Carla Harris is a Managing Director and Senior Client Advisor at Morgan Stanley, previously serving as Vice Chairman of Wealth Management and Chair of the Morgan Stanley Foundation. Harris has extensive industry experiences in the technology, media, retail, telecommunications, transportation, industrial, and healthcare sectors, and was appointed by President Barack Obama to chair the National Women’s Business Council. She sits on corporate and nonprofit board and previously served as Chair of the prestigious national organization, The Executive Leadership Council. She joined Morgan Stanley after completing her MBA from Harvard Business School and is the author of Expect to Win and Strategize to Win

What readers are saying: 

“Our world has changed — and so must the way we lead. Thank goodness, then, for Carla Harris. In this powerful book, she draws on the wisdom accumulated during her own astonishing career to illuminate how leaders can become more intentional, effective, and transformative.”

— Daniel H. Pink, #1 New York Times bestselling author of THE POWER OF REGRET, DRIVE, and TO SELL IS HUMAN

“In Lead To Win, Carla Harris shares her battle-tested ‘Pearls of Wisdom’ for powerful leadership in the 21st Century,  pandemic impacted environment. Her focus on the pearls of Intentional Leadership is thoughtful,  practical,  and executable.  This book offers a recipe for leadership success if you are already sitting in the C-suite, a founder of an early stage company,  or someone aspiring to lead others in any venue. An insightful add to your must-read list.”

— Robin L. Washington, Board Director, Salesforce, Honeywell, and Alphabet, former CFO, Gilead Sciences

“Carla Harris is a powerhouse who has always inspired our community, and Lead to Win describes how much of our leadership evolution relies on investing in and building trust and faith in ourselves. I’m reminded of a conversation a few years ago that MBAchic joined with our friends at the HBS Women’s conference, where Harris shared that ‘fear has no place in your success equation.’ Immediately after she said that, MBAchic’s discussions were ablaze with praise and confirmation that Harris said exactly what we all needed to hear. To lead powerfully and impactfully, the journey starts from within, across a number of dimensions.”

— Jeneta Hot, MBAchic

Black History Month Must-Read: The Urgent Life by Bozoma Saint John

The Urgent Life by Bozoma Saint John — out this Month, preorder before Feb 21

Major themes: Grief, business leadership, creativity, ambition and resilience

About the book: In her highly-anticipated memoir, Saint John shares her journey full of love, loss and survival, leading marketing for iconic brands that shape our world and suffering devastating losses along the way. Her inspiring journey is less of a “how to make it to the C-suite” guide and more of an extraordinary account of her personal life, and how the events at work and home shaped her and the life she leads. She’s revealed that it was the death of her husband that changed everything, moving her to live an “Urgent Life” from that point, and offers to readers her hard-won lessons to live an intentional, fulfilling life (and career) that is free of fear.

Count this book to be one that compels you to live the width of your life, as Saint John describes it, referencing a quote from Diane Ackerman: “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find out that I have just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width as well.” Look forward to hearing your thoughts once this book is out (preorders are hugely important so order yours before Feb 21 if you can).

About the author: A creative genius, influencer and American businesswoman who started at Spike Lee’s advertising agency and went on to have an amazing career leading marketing for some the world’s most iconic brands (Netflix, Pepsi, Uber, Apple Music and more), Bozoma Saint John is no stranger to achievement, ambition and unfortunately, loss, grief and resilience. On their cover, Adweek called her “one of the most exciting personalities in advertising” and she has been inducted into the American Advertising Federation Hall of Achievement, as well as the American Marketing Hall of Fame, among others. She also was named the #1 most influential CMO by Forbes in 2021.

What readers are saying: 

“A remarkably moving read about love, loss, and resilience. Bozoma Saint John is a force of nature, and her memoir will make you laugh, cry, and think hard about the meaning of your life and the relationships that matter most.”

– Adam Grant, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Think Again and host of the TED podcast Re:Thinking

“The highlight reel of life can be misleading. It’s only when you look beyond the happy moments to look deeply into the times of darkness to see the real truth of a life. Bozoma Saint John’s The Urgent Life shines a bright light on the intricacies of the shadows she’s been in, and illuminates the beauty of her urgent life.”

— Serena Williams

Black History Month Must-Read: The Prepared Leader: Emerge from Any Crisis More Resilient Than Before by Erika H. James and Lynn Perry Wooten

The Prepared Leader: Emerge from Any Crisis More Resilient Than Before by Erika H. James and Lynn Perry Wooten

Major themes: Crisis management, diversity and inclusion, management strategy, and positive leadership. 

About the book: After living through the pandemic, many of us feel like crisis mode was activated, at least temporarily. But in The Prepared Leader: Emerge from Any Crisis More Resilient Than Before, the authors argue whether the next crisis is here now, or right around the corner, the time to prepare is always. Capturing more than two decades of the authors’ research, the authors argue that in addition to people, profit, and the planet—prepared leadership should be the fourth “P” in a company’s bottom line. 

This fast-reading and actionable book will provide tools and frameworks for addressing and learning from crises, including the five phases of crisis management, how to avoid common mistakes under pressure, and how to build a crisis leadership team. With real-world examples, readers can dive into powerful leadership actions, like Burger King CEO José Cil who began planning for the aftermath of a crisis right in the middle of one, or how Wonya Lucas, CEO and President of the Crown Media Family Networks, aligned and mobilized an executive team during a time of crisis.

About the author: From their vantage point atop two of the most prestigious institutions, authors and collaborators Erika H. James and Lynn Perry Wooten (who met in class while pursuing their PhDs) offer a roadmap to help leaders remain steady in the storm. Trained as an organizational psychologist, Dean James of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania (and former Dean of Emory Goizueta Business School) is a leading expert on crisis leadership, workplace diversity and management strategy. As President of Simmons University, Dr. Wooten is an expert on organizational development and transformation who specializes in crisis leadership, diversity and inclusion, and positive leadership. 

What readers are saying: 

“Brilliant and fast-reading… A must-read for anyone who aspires to successfully navigate a major crisis.”

— Ed Bastian, CEO, Delta Air Lines

“This is a crisis management playbook that every [aspiring] leader should have in their toolkit. It’s packed with real insights and examples, frameworks and questions to ask yourself as you lead your team or organization. While there is opportunity in every crisis, Dean James and President Simmons break them down and step you through, helping you navigate, grow more resilient and prepared, and be able to identify those possibilities that you might otherwise miss.”

— Jeneta Hot, MBAchic 

Have you already read any of the books MBAchic is recommending? Be sure to share your takeaways with us here or connect with us on social media to recommend some top reads we can share with our community.

8 must-read books this Black History Month

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